Are cars responsible for the destruction of the environment? With an increase in deadly natural disasters, toxic gas emissions, and massive disruption of wildlife, it sure seems like they might be.
HOW CARS AFFECT THE ENVIRONMENT
The average American spends approximately 17,600 minutes driving each year. That’s like watching every episode of Shameless about five times. With that kind of time commitment, no wonder our cars are so important to us.
Sometimes it seems as if we wouldn’t be able to survive without them. The Earth, however, does not share our same sentiments. Cars and other motor vehicles have a significant effect on the environment, and they are bringing about drastic changes that people and other wildlife may not be prepared for.
The image shown visualizes some of the threats cars pose to the environment. At the rate we’re at now, there might be another mass extinction happening in the near future. This would be the first one caused by humans.
Some ways that cars damage the environment are by:
- Releasing toxic gasses into the air we breathe
- Having engines that produce even more of these toxic gasses
- Increasing the potential for weather disasters
- Spurring the death and destruction of wildlife all over the world
- Adding to the death and disease rates in people
Most Cars Are Not Built to Help the Environment
Over 99% of new cars sold in the 2012 used the internal combustion engine. Despite having a really cool name, the internal combustion engine is devastating to the environment. Every time a car with one of these engines is started, the ignition releases carbon dioxide and other gases through the tail pipe and they become part of the atmosphere.
This in turn affects not only the air we breathe, but the earth’s ozone layer as well. Motor vehicle emissions cause 72% of the nitrogen oxides and 52% of the reactive hydrocarbons in our atmosphere. Both of these emissions significantly damage the ozone layer.
In case you didn’t know, the ozone layer protects us all from most of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation, without it your cute summer tan would turn into a festering, blistered mess … if you didn’t literally burst into flames … so it’s kind of important.
Your car does not even need to be moving in order for it to have an effect on the environment. In 2011, 2.9 billion gallons of fuel was wasted because of congestion, which is enough to fill four New Orleans Superdomes. As if sitting in traffic wasn’t bad enough, now you know it kills the environment.
On an individual level, the average person wasted about 19 gallons of fuel because of congestion in the same year, which is more than double the average 8 gallons wasted in 1982. In less than 30 years we have become so dependent on cars that we are willing to sit through hours of doing nothing, just so we can travel in them.
Cars Can Cause Climate Change
Because the ozone layer is supposed to protect us from the sun, damage to it can lead to an increase in temperature. This temperature increase can be catastrophic to the environment and bring about disasters like storms, droughts, and floods.
A warmer climate has the ability to accumulate, hold, and drop more water. This means that wet areas are getting more wet and dry areas are getting drier. This drastic climate change also permits more drastic kinds of weather. What could have been a rainy afternoon can turn into a heavy thunderstorm, or worse.
In 2015, the Lucas Oil off Road Racing Series, presented by Loan Mart had to postpone round 9 of the Golden State Nationals because excessive rain had ruined the tracks. After a half a day of constant downpour, crew members worked frantically to clear up the muddied racetracks for the next day.
For the first time in 166 years of weather records, Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma have been the first set of category 4 hurricanes to ever occur together in the same year. Spending 117 hours as a named storm, Harvey set a record by being the longest hurricane to remain a named storm after land fall. Causing death and destruction all along the coastal United States, these disasters are not something to be taken lightly.
Along with damage to the ozone layer, the greenhouse effect is another toll cars take on the environment. By trapping hot air into lower parts of the atmosphere, the greenhouse effect is making summers seem longer and winters seem shorter.
While the greenhouse effect can balance out the drastic temperature change that can happen from day to night, it also has the ability to “trick” plants into blooming out of season and to cause sea levels to rise. Coastal areas such as New York, Los Angeles, and Miami are in danger of being completely taken over by rising sea levels. Spreading farther from the United States, areas all the way to Mumbai, Sydney and Rio de Janeiro also potentially share the same watery fate.
Changes in the Environment Caused by Cars Affects People
80% of lung diseases are caused by pollution from cars, trucks, and other vehicles. Even if you yourself do not drive your car every day, you most likely live in a neighborhood or city with people who do. Every commuter, every delivery truck, and every transportation service contributes to the polluted air we all breathe in every single day. Unless we live a Kid-in-a-Bubble kind of lifestyle, there’s nothing we can do about this at the moment.
In 2013, an MIT study found that approximately 53,000 people in the United States die every year due to car emissions that cause pollution. While the conveniences of cars and public transportation are available to anybody with a bus pass or an Uber account, this unfortunately also means that we are walking through a thin layer of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses pretty much whenever we step out the door.
This polluted air passes through the air and into our bodies through our mouths, noses, and even our eyes. Although these gasses are much thicker in the air in busy, crowded cities, they still affect us wherever we live.
Environmental Change Caused by Cars Effects Other Animals too
Animals are disappearing at an alarming rate because of climate change, pollution, and deforestation. Unable to adapt to a harmfully altering environment, many animals cannot keep up with climate change like humans can.
A squirrel cannot call in sick because the weather is bad, he just has a harder time finding food and possibly dies because of it. Harsh. Furthermore, Deforestation leaves smaller animals without a place to live, and larger animals without a source of food. In a world with a 24-hour grocery store in every town, it is hard to imagine not having access to food because of the weather.
The greenhouse effect and the deterioration of the ozone layer leaves animals outside of their preferred ecosystems and exposed to conditions they are not suited for. Every metric ton of carbon dioxide released into the air, or 2,500 miles of driving, is equivalent to approximately three square meters of melted artic ice. I’m not talking about the tiny ice cubes you have stored in your freezer, I’m talking about gigantic glaciers that have been sitting in -30 degree temperatures for decades, melting because of air pollution. This can leave certain animals more susceptible to predator attacks.
For example, one of the penguins’ biggest predator is the leopard seal. A common method of hunting for leopard seals is to wait under floating ice caps in the water. More air pollution means more melting glaciers, more melting glaciers means more floating ice caps, and more floating ice caps means more adorable penguins being eaten for dinner; that makes for some not-so-Happy Feet.
Although cars might seem infinitely precious, especially when they are used to deliver hot wings to our front door at 2 a.m., they are no friend to the environment. Air pollution, climate change, death, and disease threaten us every time we start up our cars, order an Uber, or step onto a bus.
While we can reduce these effects by carpooling, and driving with eco-friendly vehicles, we still have a long way to go if we want to implement these strategies in every town and city in the United States. I just hope the Earth’s environment will last that long.