What do cars contribute to global warming? | Carbon Action | Climate Change, Carbon Emissions and Footprinting Training Courses

What do cars contribute to global warming?

Date: 11/11/2014 in General

Co-Authored by Toyotatoyota logo

Global warming is the biggest challenge facing us. Whilst we look for solutions to the problems it causes (rising sea levels and climate change in particular), there is still the possibility of slowing it down. That requires addressing the causes.

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Studies have looked at the effect of livestock on global warming, whether urban or rural lifestyles contribute more carbon to the atmosphere and broken down where each type of greenhouse gas is coming from. You can even see where the biggest industrial contributors to greenhouse gases are located (in the US at least).

Where do cars fit in?

Looking at the figures, particularly from the US Environmental Protection Agency, transport, largely automobiles, is way down in fifth. The biggest global contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, from highest to lowest, are:

  1.        Energy Supply
  2.        Industry
  3.        Forestry
  4.        Agriculture
  5.        Transport
  6.        Residential and Commercial Buildings
  7.        Waste and Wastewater

That's only part of the picture though. The effect these gases have on global warming can be countered by other gases each sector releases.

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NASA put together its own study (covered by cleantechnica.com), looking at the net effect each area had on global warming and came up with some different results.

For instance, while the energy and industry sectors are sitting pretty in the top two spaces on the list above, "they also emit sulphates and other aerosols that cause cooling by reflecting light and altering clouds".

Cars, on the other hand, do not. They just belch out carbon dioxide without any of the cooling gases other sectors provide. NASA found that this meant automobiles, and thus transport, were in fact the largest net contributors to global warming across the world, beating out factories and energy generation, trumping agriculture and even deforestation.

The Solution

We're already seeing the effects of climate change caused by global warming and flooding from rising sea levels. Whilst that makes it tempting to assume nothing can be done, there may be ways climate change can be slowed, global warming reversed, and the environment preserved.

These are long-term solutions though, and we won't have a chance to implement them if we don't slow global warming in the short-term. If cars are the largest net contributor to global warming, that's an obvious area to start making a difference.

The best way to do this is to stop using your car as much, relying on public transport instead, or car sharing, or getting on your bike.

That's not always possible though; in some cases a car is necessary. That doesn't mean you can't still cut your carbon footprint though, through driving in an eco-friendly manner or purchasing a hybrid vehicle. Electric vehicles are an option too, but one area where cars are still necessary are rural communities or long journeys where electric vehicles might not be able to achieve the distance required.

Sales of hybrid and plug-in cars are rising year on year, and research shows this trend should continue. If it does, and we bring the effect that our favourite form of transport has on the environment down, we may be able to make some headway on slowing global warming and its effects.


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