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Global warming is a very real problem – and it seems it’s responsible for everything from extreme storms to rising sea levels and the huge floods the UK is seeing year-on-year. Estimates suggest that developed countries need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% in the next 30 years to have any chance of staying below an average temperature rise of over 2ºC.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the main greenhouse gas, and is the gas that accounted for over three-quarters (82%) of total UK greenhouse gas emissions in 2013.
And as our cars spit out tons of CO2, it’s naturally assumed that they’re one of the biggest drivers behind greenhouse gas emissions. But are they as big a problem as we are led to believe?
The impact of our cars on the environment Government figures show the transport sector was behind almost a quarter (21%) of UK greenhouse gas emissions in 2013, and this was almost entirely from CO2 emissions from diesel and petrol engines.
And passenger cars are the most significant source of these emissions.
However, while the number of vehicles on the road is on the rise, as is the number of miles these cars are covering, emissions from passenger vehicles have actually decreased since the early part of the millennium due to lower petrol consumption and an increase in more fuel efficient cars.
So if, as drivers, we’re doing our bit for the environment – no matter how passively we’re doing it – what else is behind the pollution problem?
Where’s the beef?
It can be argued that cows are even worse than cars when it comes to climate change.
Agriculture is another massive driver of global warming and is behind 15% of the world’s total emissions, half of which is from livestock.
And it’s believed that red meat production requires 28 times more land to produce than pork or chicken, 11 times more water and results in five times more climate-warming emissions.
So profound is the problem of farmyard greenhouse gasses that Professor Tim Benton, Professor of population ecology at the University of Leeds, said: “The biggest intervention people could make towards reducing their carbon footprints would not be to abandon cars, but to eat significantly less red meat.”
So, the animals – not to mention our appetite for them – are to blame!
And there’s even a theory that suggests we’d have faced an even bigger problem had cars never been invented – the problem of excess horse manure.
Nine feet high and rising
Although the impact of methane gas on the environment is significantly less than that of CO2, it still plays its part in the global warming problem.
And had cars never been invented, then we could find our roads strewn with piles of horse manure that would be polluting our nostrils as well as the air around us.
The problem was getting so out of hand towards the end of the 1800s that The Times estimated that by 1950, London would be buried in nine feet of horse manure. Meanwhile over the pond, New Yorkers believed that horse dumps would have risen as high as Manhattan’s third story windows.
And just as technology – in the form of the mass-produced automobile – saved us from a particularly unsavoury future, so technology could come to our rescue once more as ultra-low emission and electric vehicle technology continues to advance.
What do you think? Are cars the real driver behind global warming? And will electric vehicles help solve the problem? Let us know in a comment…