President George Bush ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop regulations that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions generated by automobiles. Yet in all the hysteria over pollution and global warming, domestic vehicle manufacturers have taken an undeserved knock for being environmentally unfriendly.
The truth is — at least on pollution — North American automakers are remarkably green, and vital to our economy and standard of living. Consider the facts. Burning a cord of firewood — the amount many woodstoves go through in a winter — releases as many smog causing emissions as 10 new SUVs will over their entire lifetimes on the road. As many pollutants will be released by painting a 10×12- foot room with oil-based paint as by driving an SUV from Toronto to Vancouver, and back. So many improvements have been made to vehicle emissions in the past two decades — some, admittedly, forced on automakers by governments, others motivated by consumer demands — that it now takes 37 new cars to equal the pollutants produced by a single new vehicle in 1987.
Thanks to advances in engine and exhaust technology, a new gasoline fuelled Chevy Suburban, one of the largest personal vehicles on the road, produces fewer pollutants than a Smart Car because the latter, although powered by a tiny 799 cc engine, nonetheless uses diesel fuel, which releases more particulates into the air.
It’s true that on greenhouse gas emissions, which are allegedly contributing to global warming, fuel efficiency is the key. Carbon is a natural by-product of the burning of fossil fuels. Still, carbon dioxide is not a pollutant and does not contribute to the brown haze and smog alerts that are the #1 environmental concern of most urban Canadians.