Why Vehicle Choices are Important
Pollution problems are often a significant factor in what car we choose to use. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, transportation is the single largest source of air pollution in the nation. So it makes sense that our privately owned automobiles, which are most people’s primary source of transportation, are our household’s biggest polluters. Internal combustion engine vehicle pollution (mostly from gasoline) includes:
Knowledge surrounding most of these automobile pollutants has been around a long time. But greenhouse gas is becoming increasingly important it has a noticeable affect on earth’s climate. Carbon dioxide accumulates in the earth’s atmosphere, trapping heat. The secondary effects include wider temperature swings, record high temperatures, rising sea levels from melting polar and glacial ice, and radical changes in local microclimates leading to severe storms, droughts, and tornadoes.
Two other factors also relate to the fuels that our cars use. The first is the cost of gasoline, which has been on a steady uphill trend since 2000, from $1.75 per gallon of regular unleaded to a peak of about $4.25 in 2008. In 2011, the retail price of unleaded gasoline was about $3.50. Considering that the increases in fuel costs are outstripping changes in families’ buying power, those costs are becoming a larger factor in family budgets. And related to the cost of car fuels is our national and personal security. We can no longer be assured of abundant, cheap fuel. Instead, oil companies are going after harder-to-obtain sources, such as oil deep in the oceans—which presents even more environmental risks. Entire nations are spending huge sums of money to secure oil and gas supplies in the east and Middle East.
Alternative vehicles, especially electric, avoid many of these problems. Electric vehicles avoid standard fuel-related problems. They still take fuel, though it’s electricity coming from whatever source your utility uses—or from your own homemade solar electricity. But electric vehicles with battery storage are much more efficient than their internal combustion engine counterparts.
Alternative fuels (such as waste vegetable oil) for conventional vehicles can avoid contributing some types of pollution and avoid national security problems. And making sure that your vehicle choice is a fuel sipper instead of a gas guzzler helps a lot, both economically and environmentally.