Stepping Back from the Brink: Working to Stop and Reverse the Ecological Damage Caused by Modern Industry

By Thomas Backus
2010, Vol. 2 No. 03 | pg. 1/2 |

In recent years, it has become clear through scientific investigation and public opinion that the current state of environmental degradation and ongoing damage are a practice that cannot be carried into future generations if mankind wishes to maintain a healthy, habitable planet in which to advance and thrive. Because our ‘methods of damage,’ or ways in which industrial and human progression have marred our environment, have been an ongoing and multi-faceted process, it only makes sense that the stoppage and reversal of such a process be sustained and multi-faceted as well.

The first steps toward becoming a greener society lie within a necessary shift in thinking. If Americans, or others in the industrialized world, have no motive to switch to more environmentally friendly practices and products, they will not. Thus, it is essential to encourage society to possess a desire to become more eco-conscious for either personal or financial reasons; then, society itself will drive the environmental movement. The first step in the multi-faceted plan of ecological reform will be to educate the public of the current problems and instill an incentive or sense of conviction in people to become more environmentally friendly. Then, and only then, will the movement become self-perpetuating and driven by societal demands, which are the most important driving force behind a society’s customs and practices.

In keeping with the theme of a continued, tiered approach to remediating previously held ideologies and ecologically damaging processes in the United States, the issue of US dependence upon the economically unstable, finite, and environmentally damaging resource of crude oil through the consumer automotive industry should be addressed as a first priority. The EPA said it well in their 2010 report, stating:

“Every gallon of gasoline your vehicle burns puts about 20 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere—the average vehicle emits around 6 to 9 tons of CO2 each year. Unlike other forms of vehicle pollution, CO2 emissions cannot be reduced by pollution control technologies. They can only be reduced by burning less fuel or by burning fuel that contains less carbon. One of the most important things you can do to reduce your contribution to is to buy a vehicle with better fuel economy. The difference between 25 miles per gallon and 20 miles per gallon can prevent the emission of 10 tons of CO2 over a vehicle’s lifetime.”1 (See Figure 1).

Figure 1

This in itself, however, will need to be a step-by-step process. Changing the way Americans think about automotive fuels and technologies will never happen overnight, and should not be approached as such.

A first step in managing the pollution created by the US automotive industry, our single largest source of carbon dioxide emissions, needs to begin with optimizing the way we use the that currently exists. Current infrastructures, fuel technologies, and driving practices make an already damaging system worse, by using the resources it has inefficiently.

Take, for example, the usage of clean diesel technologies in the consumer automotive industry. Many Americans carry the stigma of labeling diesel-powered vehicles as loud, dirty, and unrefined machines. This is supported in Figure 2, displaying trends in consumer interest in emerging technologies.

It is evident based on the high ranking of gasoline-hybrid technology and low ranking of clean diesel technology that people simply are not nearly as interested in diesel as an option as they are in hybrids. This persists despite the fact diesels have been proven to be nearly if not equally efficient, carry less of a price premium, and deliver a more normal driving experience. In decades past, the belief that diesel powered vehicles were inferior in performance, cleanliness, and reliability would not have been far from the truth. However due to scientific advances in filtration, additives such as urea, and diesel refinement, diesel fuel can now be implemented as a clean burning, low emitting fuel which is much more efficient than gasoline. As stated by the EPA in their 2010 Fuel Economy Guide,

“Diesel-powered vehicles typically get 30-35% more miles per gallon than comparable vehicles by gasoline. Diesel engines are inherently more energy efficient, and diesel fuel contains 10% more energy per gallon than gasoline. In addition, new advances in diesel engine technology have improved performance, reduced engine noise and fuel odor, and decreased emissions of harmful air pollutants. Ultra-low sulfur diesel fuels also help reduce emissions from these vehicles.”1

Figure 2


Across the and most of Europe, the consumer automotive industry is dominated by diesel powered vehicles. Gasoline is reserved for only the most elite performance vehicles. Take, for example, the Volkswagen Jetta TDI, or the BMW 335d. These are both extremely well engineered, dependable, and efficient vehicles, which because of their diesel engines, attain mile-per-gallon ratings comparable to and often exceeding modern gasoline-electric hybrids such as the Toyota Prius.

Additionally, as shown in Figure 3, the average CO2 emissions are accordingly lower for clean diesel vehicles than comparable gasoline vehicles, bolstering the argument for their usage and serving to counter the notion that diesel power trains are dirty unsophisticated machines. Rationally, diesel powered vehicles like these are the norm in the UK and across Europe, but because of American traditions and ways of thinking, they barely turn a profit in US automotive markets. For example, an August 2007 survey conducted by the US Department of energy asked respondents to,

“Assume that a HYBRID vehicle and a clean DIESEL vehicle both would cost $3,000 more than a comparable GASOLINE vehicle and both would reduce your annual fuel use by 30%. Which of the following would you choose for your NEXT NEW vehicle purchase?" (Choices were gasoline, diesel, or hybrid).

Only 12% of all respondents indicated that they would purchase a diesel vehicle under these conditions. Over half of the respondents said they would choose a hybrid vehicle for their next new vehicle purchase. Over 60% of those with a college would choose a hybrid vehicle.”6

Clearly, breaking down Americans’ fear of diesel vehicles will be a major hurdle in the first steps of this proposed plan, however it will be one of the only such obstacles.

From Student Pulse