Say you’re looking to buy a car.
How do you pick the best car for the planet?
There’s already a lot to consider when choosing a new ride, and factoring in climate change makes it even trickier.
Well we’re here to guide you through it… even if we can’t come to the dealership with you.
Hey, I’m Joe.
Let’s get something out of the way right out of the garage: cars don’t just produce emissions when we’re driving them.
Making a car–any kind of car–takes an enormous amount of energy, and so does disposing of it.
So when we talk about a car’s climate impact, we have to consider factory to junkyard, not just on the road.
So, that applies to all types of cars.
But there’s still a lot of options to consider.
First up, we’ve got our good ol’ internal combustion engine cars.The ones we’ve been zooming around in for over a century!
They can be powered by propane, ethanol, even biodiesel, but most run on gasoline and regular diesel.
These kinds of cars and trucks account for nearly one-fifth of all US greenhouse gas emissions .
But you’ve still got some options that can reduce the impact of even a gas-burning car.
Fuel efficiency--how far you can go on one gallon or liter of gas--depends a lot on vehicle type, model and age.
Older cars can be less fuel efficient, but buying a used car technically produces less emissions than a new one, because no extra energy went into producing the used car.
Luckily there are a few easy tools you can use to compare cars' fuel efficiency.
We've linked them down in the description.
And when it comes to which fuel, carbon dioxide emissions from diesel cars do tend to be lower...but diesel cars emit more of other kinds of air pollution, that may not affect the climate, but do make air less healthy to breathe.
Considering all this, many climate- and environment-conscious car buyers are turning to electric vehicles--or EVs.
These run on electricity stored in a battery–basically a scaled-up version of the battery tech in your laptop or smartphone.
When it’s empty, you plug the car into an outlet to recharge it.
EVs don’t burn any kind of fuel--they don’t even have a tailpipe--so they don’t release any emissions….
...when they’re on the road.
Remember, making a car–any car–and all of its parts takes energy, and this can create its own emissions.
So how clean are electric vehicles, really?
Today’s electric cars typically run on lithium ion batteries, which contain elements that are really rare and hard to find–like cobalt.
The process of mining and processing these raw metals into usable battery components requires a huge amount of energy.
Even the wiring, casing, and the stuff that holds the battery together are expensive… money-wise and energy-wise.All this considered, manufacturing an electric car produces about 68% more greenhouse gas emissions than manufacturing a regular car.
Here’s the kicker: When an EV is plugged in, it’s pulling electricity from the power grid.
Depending on where you live, that electricity that could be generated by coal, natural gas, nuclear, wind, solar… or in most places, a mix of these.
So driving an electric vehicle will probably still produce emissions, just not from the tailpipe.
When you factor in manufacturing and charging, there’s no truly zero emissions car on the market yet.
Here’s the thing.
Even though making an electric car produces more emissions than making a gas-powered one, and EVEN though many electric cars get their energy–at least partially–from non-renewable sources...over their entire lifetime most electric cars still produce less than half of the emissions of gas-powered vehicles.
Electricity generating plants are simply more efficient at turning combustible fuel into energy than a car engine is at turning gasoline into energy.
So, are hybrid cars a good middle ground?
Well, non-plug in hybrids–which have gas engines and batteries charged when the car is moving or braking–are basically just really fuel efficient regular cars with a more emissions-heavy production process.
The impact of plug-in hybrid cars–small gas engines and batteries charged by plugging in–is hugely dependent on the energy source charging them.
Manufacturing emissions are higher for hybrids too, but in many cases the on-the-road emissions savings is more than enough to make up for that.
The biggest factor in whether a plug-in hybrid contributes more or less emissions than a regular car is the source of the electricity going into its battery, similar to those questions surrounding electric cars.
There are a couple of other futuristic options out there too, like hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, which use hydrogen gas to power an electric motor!
The technology is tricky, the infrastructure just isn’t there--yet--and as of right now they are SUPER expensive.
It's too early to suppose how they may stack up compared to gas and electric vehicles in a practical way, but if you want a whole video on how they work and how they could transform our emissions in the future, let us know in the comments below.
The real answer to this question of “which car?” could be...no car at all.
If you live in an area that’s highly walkable or bikeable or that has convenient public transportation, it may not make sense to drive every day.
But the hard truth is we've built a world that depends on automobiles, so we need to drive toward a cleaner car future.
Just think--if everyone in the US drove electric vehicles, we could cut our total car-produced carbon emissions in HALF, even without changing how we make our electricity!
We’re in a huge time of transition when it comes to how we get around in a climate-friendly way.
So buckle up--I’ve got a feeling it’s gonna be fun ride..and hopefully you can use