All over the world people are experiencing air quality changes due to vehicle emissions. Particularly in the peak of summer, cities have worsening air quality to the point where it has become “”normal”” to hear air quality warnings. In Pakistan, vehicle emissions are responsible for nearly 90% of their air pollution. That is no wonder when you consider that 500 mature trees are needed to combat the emissions for every 20,000 km driven. There are currently more than 220 million registered automobiles in the U.S. alone and 1/3 of the average American city’s land is devoted to serving the car.
According to the National Transportation Board, congestion will increase by 5.6 billion hours in the period between 1995 and 2015, wasting 7.3 million gallons of fuel unnecessarily. The Highway Users Alliance feels the solution to the congestion problem would be to build more roads. Others feel that providing safe pedestrian and bike paths and improving public transit should be considered. Tollbooths are sometimes used as a powerful persuader for alternative transit and car-pooling. In San Francisco, where vehicles containing three commuters do not have to pay toll fees, people now meet in parking lots in order to fill cars for the ride into the city. It may seem obvious, but few of us recognize that car-pooling reduces emissions by 50% with only two participants (one driver/one passenger).
Because of growing scientific evidence, vehicle manufacturers are rising to meet the consumer demand for more environmentally friendly products. Toyota and Ford, for instance, have incorporated hybrid electricity and hydrogen fuel cell technology in vehicles. Solar powered cars have also been released on the market. Sadly, though, few of these are within the average home’s budget. Bio-diesel buses are also being introduced in many communities. These are powered by fuel attained from sewage plants or other bio-masses. Another encouraging thought is that individuals and organizations have convinced the government of the legitimacy of their concerns. In response a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ was issued to manufacturers in 2001. It urges voluntary compliance to reduce emissions by 75%, to be fully implemented in 2006.
Disposability is another issue for vehicles, but corporations and governments are rising to this challenge. The Dutch, for instance, charge a tax on new purchases which pays for, among other things, research on finding ways to reuse every piece of the vehicle. Individual companies, such as BMW, take back their vehicles for recycling. One can always try to make a buck or two and sell the used vehicle at a car lot or though the classifieds. On the other hand, try junk car lots – where vehicles are broken down and either sold as parts or scrap steel.
For those of us that must continue driving used cars, there are still many ways to help in this global war against air pollution. At the station, purchase the cleanest burning fuel available. By replacing the filters and plugs regularly, keeping the motor well-tuned and maintaining properly inflated and balanced tires, you can improve fuel efficiency by as much as 15%. And did you know that simply accelerating and decelerating your car’s engine smoothly and gradually can reduce emissions by 100 times? If you let the tank get less than 1/4 full, the chances for fuel injection and fuel tank condensation issues are increased. Another small change to aim for is to turn off the engine whenever you can; idling creates more pollution and uses more fuel than necessary. Idling, incidentally, is responsible for nearly 3% of air pollution. If possible, try to use a single vehicle for your family if it is at all possible. We have been able to share a single vehicle for nearly 10 years despite both of us working at different establishments and running home businesses.
Also, try incorporating the shopping lists to reduce the number of trips to town. For us, planning the menu for a week at a time has greatly reduced the number of grocery shopping trips. We keep a piece of paper on the fridge to jot down anything we are low on as it is discovered. It is important to examine the recipes to prevent extra trips. When shopping in town, park somewhere central and walk to the various stores.
Alternatives for the environmentally-concerned pleasure-seeker exist as well. First, please consider hiking, skiing, biking and canoeing or kayaking in the outdoors. In the city there are commuting alternatives such as biking, walking, skateboards and roller blades. These are all self-empowering, health-promoting activities that operate at very little financial expenditure and result in fewer emissions, and a safer, quieter environment. We can all help the air quality issue by planting landscaping and trees wherever we can. Perhaps if cities were able to offer property tax incentives for planting trees, owners, businesses and schools would be more inclined to invest in the plants. Already, clubs and groups are planting erosion controlling shrubs and trees along riverbanks across the nation.
There is no hope that humans will give up the pleasure and convenience machines provide us with – neither should we be asked to do so. But with all the work towards reducing consumption, to increase wild lands, to protect bio-diversity, and to decrease global warming, it is just crazy to allow any of our machines to be manufactured in an environmentally damaging state any longer. Thankfully, manufacturers and governments have been listening to consumers, and as a result, our machines and industries are being improved. However, we must not release the pressure on them to continue improving their policies and help create a healthier planet.
We can all take action right now and become proactive citizens by making a real and measurable difference – if we choose to do so.