Car exhaust is easy to see in the winter, as the water vapor product of combustion condenses on exiting the warm tailpipes into the crisp air. This never bothered me, even back in the days when we could also smell it as the ripe aroma of unburned hydrocarbons, and definitely not since it’s been cleaned up to where a man can hardly use a car to commit suicide in his own garage.
But lately, sitting at stoplights, in traffic or waiting for trains, I find myself increasingly disturbed by the sight of these emissions and the sound of my own idling engine, visible and audible evidence of, at best, wasting fuel and at worst, wasting time, both for me and for the planet.
I recently added MotorTrend to the group of magazines I receive each month, and noticed that, along with gas or diesel miles per gallon and kilowatt-hours per 100 miles (for comparison to among conventional, electric and hybrid drivetrains), the editors include carbon dioxide emission rates in pounds per mile. Values I found in the February issue range from 0.66 for a Honda CRV AWD Touring that gets 27 miles per gallon to 1.33 for a Mercedes G550 4Matic SUV that measures 14 miles per gallon.
As a measure that, for fossil-fuel-powered vehicles, is really just miles per gallon in a different format, it’s pretty pointless, but as a way to point out that there’s a hefty carbon dioxide cost associated with every mile we drive these kinds of cars, it’s a point well made. My 64-year-old mind thinks, wow, about a pound per mile. Who knew?
But if and when the costs of global warming become apparent enough to make it a line item in the budget, I’ll be long gone, and maybe so will you. The folks dealing with it—my children, your children, their children—will have a hard time making us pay for our willingness to ignore that per-mile cost.
Some of them have gone to court to get our attention, and have entered a class action lawsuit to get the federal government to do more to prevent climate change. A number of county and city governments are suing fossil fuel companies, saying the companies should pay the costs of the damages incurred by their products. So, far, the courts aren’t stopping them.
Several state attorneys general have joined in an investigation of ExxonMobil for suspected lying to the public about the risks of climate change, or to investors about how those risks might hurt the oil business.
As I sit in my idling fossil-fuel-mobile, slightly disturbed by the sight of exhaust that never bothered me before, I’m starting to think about those pounds per mile of carbon dioxide emissions, feeling a little guilty about the world I’ve condoned and its potential future. I imagine an increasing number of young people are much more aware, and getting ready to do something about it.
Between the waste and the emissions, I’m starting to want to turn in my fuel-burners for electrics. The ranges of the latest electric vehicles are getting high enough to handle even my most extreme commuting day (about 200 miles). Locally, the Illinois Tollway system, which I use, is looking at adding on-the-go charging to some lanes so cars can add kilowatt-hours as you drive. Meanwhile, some electric vehicles have internal combustion range extenders that let you drive them across the country if you want to use them that way.
According to the Chicago Tribune, right now, electric cars represent around 1% of total car sales in the U.S. “But the arrow’s pointing straight up for the electric car market,” it says. “Automotive journalists are writing about the impending twilight of the internal combustion engine. Ford Motor CEO Jim Hackett has said his company expects two-thirds of all vehicles sold by 2030 to be either electric or hybrid, and his company is planning its future accordingly. And the New York Times reported. General Motors expects to have
20 electric car models in its fleet by 2030.”
That’s starting to make sense to me.