Fewer Cars Or Efficient Cars? Balancing Sustainability And Manufacturing
Those who can afford it are jumping to buy electric and hybrid vehicles based on the dominant narrative that they’re better for the environment – but are they actually better? And when is the right time to buy? Use this guide to help you decide on the most efficient option for you.
New Materials and Manufacturing Emissions vs. Driving Your Old Vehicle
When you buy a new car, consider the manufacturing costs and emissions compared to the car you already have. Mike Merners-Lee and Duncan Clark, expert carbon foot printers, calculate the carbon footprint of getting a new car at about 720kg CO2e per $1300 spent. This means a larger, more expensive car will produce more carbon emissions than a smaller one.
“The carbon footprint of making a car is immensely complex,” write Mike Merners-Lee and Duncan Clark in their Guardian report. “Ores have to be dug out of the ground and the metals extracted. These have to be turned into parts. Other components have to be brought together: rubber tires, plastic dashboards, paint, and so on. All of this involves transporting things around the world. The whole lot then has to be assembled, and every stage in the process requires energy. The companies that make cars have offices and other infrastructure with their own carbon footprints, which we need to somehow allocate proportionately to the cars that are made.”
This is an intense process, and it naturally has high emissions. But the manufacturing of the car is not the highest contributor to emissions. According to an MIT study on the life cycles of new automobile technologies, it’s the car’s carbon emissions that have the biggest impact on the environment.
The study shows that about 75 percent of a car’s lifetime carbon emissions come from the fuel it burns, not from its production. Another 19 percent goes towards the production and transportation of the fuel a car uses, and only six percent goes towards emissions.
With this in mind, there are some cases in which purchasing a new car is much better than sticking with an old one. For example, if you drive a vehicle that gets 15 miles to the gallon without advanced carbon filters, you’ll leave a higher carbon footprint than if you buy a newer vehicle with an eco-booster that gets 30 miles to the gallon.
However, if your car is only a couple of years old, and you trade it in for a larger, more expensive vehicle that claims to be higher efficiency, you’ll end up with a higher carbon footprint.
Also, old vehicles can pile up in landfills, backyards, and the side of the road, sending emissions into the environment and soil that can be harmful. If you are planning on retiring your vehicle for a more efficient version, it’s important to have the vehicle recycled to promote a cleaner auto industry.
The Cost and Emissions of an Electric Vehicle
The electric vehicle has made an impressive wave in the automotive industry, claiming zero emissions and a brighter future for drivers. However, it’s not as black and white as it seems.
Although it’s getting cheaper with modern technology, the cost of an electric vehicle is high. A mid-size vehicle is easily upwards of $45,000. The cars tend to be smaller, but the high cost of the vehicle indicates a higher manufacturing emission rate according to the calculations of Merners-Lee and Duncan. This means that an electric vehicle is not zero-emission, as many would have you believe.
Is an electric vehicle practical? Gas is more convenient and cheaper than electricity. You won’t be able to take your electric car everywhere, since charging stations are sparse, and you may not be able to wait the time it takes to charge it. However, it’s great for driving around town or on your morning commute, which is the greatest contributor to your personal carbon footprint anyway.
Then there’s the cost of charging a vehicle, which can range anywhere from $2.00 to $8.00 per 60 miles. In some cases, charging a vehicle can be cheaper and better for the environment, but if you’re driving a mid-size or large vehicle, it will likely be more expensive.
If you have the spare change and want to make the investment in a cleaner environment, an electric car could be an excellent purchase. Most find, however, that the world is not quite ready for total integration of electric vehicles.
Hybrids are a Nice Balance
Hybrid vehicles are a good balance between sticking with your old vehicle and buying an electric car. A hybrid runs on gas, but it uses a self-charging electric battery to handle some of the functions so that you can get gas mileage upwards of 50 mph.
The production of hybrid cars admittedly releases more emissions than a traditional or electric vehicle, primarily thanks to the complex hybrid battery. However, when you consider the fact that manufacturing emissions are inferior compared to fuel usage and transportation, this is a small trade.
If it’s time to put your old car to rest, a hybrid can be an excellent solution for those who want to save money and reduce their personal carbon footprint.