Will Cars Ever Be Sustainable?

Cars on Freeway

Were you as excited as a child about flying cars as I was? Thinking about a future in which cartoons and science fiction can become a reality is always a thing of wonder. And then, one day, you wake up in smog-filled Los Angeles or Beijing, and wonder if an environmentally friendly world is even possible.

Contemplating a future in which our most ambitious sci-fi fantasies coexist with sustainable transportation is an equation with many variables that we must solve. Pinpointing all problem areas and implementing appropriate alternatives will lead to a gradual, but steady, move toward sustainable vehicles. This article will walk you through why cars are so bad for the environment, and will explore whether cars of the future can be made to be truly sustainable.

What Makes Cars Unsustainable?

With almost 1.5 billion vehicles in circulation, our cars’ cumulative impact on the environment is significant. Combustion releases carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Not only is carbon emitted when driving, but it is also emitted just to produce the average car. For example, it takes 35 tons of carbon dioxide to make a Land Rover Discovery, one of the more carbon-intensive cars to make (and to drive!).

To make a sustainable car, we have to take into account the impacts of its production, of its use when driving, and of its disposal. For example, reusing and recycling car parts makes vehicles more sustainable. However, batteries and the plastics in headlights, bumpers, and panels are usually not salvageable.

Steps Being Taken to Make Cars More Sustainable

Traditional auto manufacturers like Toyota are creating energy-efficient alternatives that use fuel cell technology. These new vehicles remove pollutants from the atmosphere during oxygen intake, making them little air filters circulating on our roads.

General Motors expects 50% of its vehicles by weight to be sustainable by 2030. The sustainable materials that will make up the company’s cars will not deplete nonrenewable raw material sources and will re-enter the production cycle once their usefulness passes.

Electric car manufacturers are constantly innovating in energy storage and battery capacity. In its 2020 report, Tesla predicts that electricity in the United States will weigh heavily in favor of solar, wind, and battery storage, accounting for over 81% of new electricity generation capacity. This is promising, as many cars in the future will likely be electric.

The Future of Cars

Auto manufacturers can make plans and estimates, but the rate at which technology is moving can often throw off even the most studious predictions. New technologies can appear that make car engines more efficient and new fuel sources can make running a vehicle cleaner than ever. Until we find a way to get around without cars, a host of developments aim to make cars more environmentally viable.

Among the innovations that will influence car sustainability in the near future are greener tires and increased battery storage capacity in the form of battery body panels. Navigation and self-driving systems will make wasteful driving habits a thing of the past, while smart traffic lights will ensure cars consume the least amount of fuel necessary in urban settings.

Contributing to Car Sustainability

Understanding the impact of technology on our health and environment will guide us to better choices. For now, we can choose the least harmful option available by scrutinizing car manufacturers’ practices. What kinds of quality inspections do auto manufacturers use to ensure the quality and impacts of their cars? Do they regularly check their processes and products to ensure vehicles operate as planned? Are checks conducted often enough to recall faulty, polluting vehicles promptly?

It’s also important to note that right now, it’s often more environmentally-friendly to buy a used car, even if it still runs on gas. Even producing the cleanest, most sustainable car still requires materials and energy input, so until technology brings us a truly sustainable car option, it’s best to buy a car that already exists rather than buying new.

Asking these questions and looking into car companies’ research and development efforts will help you to choose the most sustainable car for your needs. Meanwhile, new technologies stand to make your next car vastly more sustainable than any model you’ve ever driven.

Blog post written by our guest writer Lena Milton.

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