I often hear folks complain about cars and the pollution they cause. This seemed a little off so I did some investigating.
Out of all the ways to go green, including reducing energy use, buying green products, and driving less…
Which one is the best for the environment?
The EPA keeps a tally of these things on their Climate Change page and in an Inventory of US Greenhouse Gas Emissions (pdf).
The results are astounding. Cars account for only 17% of all emissions. While 80% comes from home use, business, and food.
2009 US Greenhouse Gas Emissions
- Business — 35.6%
- Electricity — 33%
- Personal vehicles — 17.8%
- Agriculture — 7%
- Residential — 5%
- US territories — 1%
* Business = factories, business vehicles, office buildings
** Residential = gas heating
*** Includes CO2 and all other gasses
To put it another way. If you buy a recycled product or reduce your energy use, that has 2x greater impact than driving less does.
This means things like hang drying your clothes, buying recycled toilet paper, reusing floss, and turning off the A/C, are much more important than biking to work.
I know, I know, this just doesn’t seem right.
The numbers don’t lie…so next time you get in the car think, instead, about how you can reduce your energy use or buy a sustainably created product.
More on the Numbers
If you think about driving, most of the recommendations are for health concerns instead of pollution problems. Things like biking to work and reducing traffic congestion. Or, it is about geopolitics and our reliance on other countries for oil.
The thing is, most of the car industry is green and even innovative. There are smog checks, 40 mpg cars, engine filters galore, a huge used car industries (i.e. reuse), and awesome junkyards (recycle).
From the top, where the rich subsidize the innovations like electric cars. To the bottom, where the middle and poor buy used to save money. The entire industry appears to have itself aligned in an environmental way.
Compare that to the energy industry and green product market where that alignment isn’t quite there yet. Buying a used car saves money and helps the entire industry, and it is considered cool/smart. Whereas, buying recycled or hang drying your clothes makes you kind of extreme, and not all locations offer products.
Not to mention the incentives are tiny. The pennies and dimes I save in electricity use make me to question the extra effort. The only thing that keeps me going is “think of the kids”, lol.
This may be a good place for smart government. A good example would be the car industry, where those who drive a lot or purchase low MPG cars pay much more at the pump. They also pay more taxes and if you look at how much tax is loaded into each gallon, it’s a lot.
Perhaps there could be an extra tax on those who use more electricity. Make those who own big houses or a million appliances pay more. Use that money to fund clean energy projects.
I’m seeing this happen in a few regions but not at the scale where it needs to be. I say tax the hell out of wasters and over-users otherwise it makes all my reductions inconsequential.
Plus, it sure would be nice to get rid of these coal and gas power plants…
Which one would you rather have in your backyard?