Modern life is heavily reliant on cars and other internal combustion engine vehicles, with a single vehicle in use by one-third of the world’s population. While automobiles provide a much needed convenience, their growing use brings with it environmental consequences. Of particular concern is how cars contribute to global warming.
Global warming occurs when Earth’s atmosphere is heated by greenhouse gases, or GHGs, produced by humans. Cars and trucks emit CO2 and other GHGs through their exhaust and are one of the major sources of GHG emissions, accounting for 18% of annual emissions worldwide. The burning of gasoline in engines also releases NOx, a type of air pollutant. When sunlight hits it, the NOx reacts with other airborne compounds to form smog and ozone, which act like insulation in the atmosphere, trapping heat and causing further heating of air and nearby land and water.
Vehicle emissions also heat up Earth’s water, causing sea levels to rise and underwater global warming to occur. Marine creatures, including fish, coral reefs, and plankton, face harms from this rising water – particularly species in shallow waters and estuaries. Additionally, rising temperatures puts Polar Regions, responsible for regulating the planet’s climate, at risk of melting and releasing massive amounts of GHGs.
In addition to global warming, cars can cause air pollution. Particulate matter in the air is formed when vehicles burn fuel, causing a smog-like haze over cities on sunny days. This air pollution is linked to numerous respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses.
Despite the environmental damage cars can cause, they are here to stay. Government regulation of vehicle emissions has been successful in reducing pollutants. Increased use of alternative power sources, like solar, electric, and hydrogen can make cars emissions-free. Advances in technology, such as the automatic shutdown of non-essential car functions when idling, can also significantly reduce emissions.
Consumers have the power to make their cars more efficient. Buying a fuel efficient or hybrid car, or using public transportation or carpooling are just some of the ways to reduce how much fuel is used. Car companies are also increasingly investing in cars that are emission-free.
We must make strides to reduce our use of cars and its impacts on global warming, but the responsibility does not solely lie with the consumer. Government and automakers must take an active role in creating more efficient vehicles, developing incentives for car owners to switch to alternative energy sources, and creating regulations to manage vehicle emissions. Only by combining consumer action with technological and governmental advancements can we hope to drastically reduce the damages caused by cars and make the world a healthier and more sustainable place.