Some Statistics

The typical American male devotes more than 1,600 hours a year to his car. He sits in it while it goes and while it stands idling. He parks it and searches for it. He earns the money to put down on it and to meet the monthly installments. He works to pay for petrol, tolls, insurance, taxes and tickets. He spends four of his sixteen waking hours on the road or gathering resources for it. And this figure does not take account of the time consumed by other activities dictated by transport: time spent in hospitals, traffic courts and garages: time spent watching automobile commercials or attending consumer education meetings to improve quality of the next buy. The model American puts in 1,600 hours to get 7,500 miles: less than five miles an hour. (6)


The Car and Global Warming

Motor vehicles are the single biggest source of atmospheric pollution,contributing an estimated 14% of the world's carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel burning, a proportion than is steadily rising. Add the emissions from exploration, transportation, refining and distribution of fuel, and this figure if 15 to 20 percent of world emissions.

  • The average American car releases 300 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from a full, 15 gallon tank of gasoline. (1)
  • The average European car produces over 4 tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. (1)
  • Methane (another global warming gas, 21 times more powerful than carbon dioxide) is also emitted by cars. The level is quite low, only about 1% of UK emissions, for example. But, they facilitate the annual buildup of methane in the atmosphere—0.9% increase per year—by emitting large quantities of carbon monoxide.
    Carbon monoxide interacts and uses up hydroxyl radical in the atmosphere. Hydroxyl radical is the principle chemical for destroying methane. Emissions of carbon monoxide increase global warming by removing a defense against the buildup of methane. (1)
  • In all, transport is estimated to account for 20-25% of all greenhouse gas emissions. (13)


The Car and Pollution

Exhaust fumes cause acid air, pollution, cancer, lead-poisoning and a variety of bronchial and respiratory illnesses. The average car emits a cocktail of more than 1,000 pollutants

  • Tetraethyl Lead: added to fuel to increase the output power of the engine. Effects: it is extremely toxic and can effect almost any organ of the body. Low level exposure over a long period most commonly effects the nervous system and blood. Can impair the mental abilities of children. 7 out of 10 children in Mexico city have had their development stunted by lead poisoning from cars. (1)
  • Benzene: occurs naturally in crude oil. High benzene crudes sometimes added to fuel to improve the properties of premium unleaded gasoline. Highest concentration levels outdoors are in urban areas, and especially near petrol stations, petrol tanks and benzene producing/handling industries. Effects: a proven carcinogen. Studies on benzene-exposed workers show statistically significant association to acute leukemia. (1)
    No safe level of airborne benzene can be recommended, as benzene is carcinogenic to humans and there is no known safe threshold level (2)
  • Carbon Monoxide: cars are the major source of carbon monoxide, accounting for over 65 percent of emissions in OECD countries. Effects: one of the most directly toxic substances, it affects human health by impairing the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood causing impaired perception, slowing reflexes and drowsiness. It can increase occurrence of headaches and effects the central nervous system, the heart and the transference of blood around the body. In large doses, it is fatal. (1)
  • Nitrogen Dioxide. Effects humans and plants, reducing growth and causing lesions in sensitive crops, whilst in humans causing irritation to the respiratory tract, reducing lung function and possibly increasing susceptibility to viral infections. (1)
  • Nitric Oxide and Nitrogen Dioxide: together play major role in formation of acid rain and in Europe are thought to contribute up to half of the acidification of rain. In OECD countries, 47 percent of nitrogen oxides come from road vehicles. (1) They also contribute to the formation of ground level ozone, affect the acidification of soil and cause changes in ground flora—the development of nitrogen loving species at the expense of other species—and the over development of micro-flora in seas and lakes, creating a lack of oxygen in the water which kills wildlife. (7)
  • Low Level Ozone: The production of ozone is an indirect consequence of car pollution. It results from photochemical reactions between hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides. Ozone is the main ingredient in photochemical smog, which effects eye irritation, headaches, coughing, impaired lung function and eye, nose and throat irritation. Asthmatics and children are most at risk. On a single bad day in Athens the smog can kill 8 people and send up to 200 people to hospital. Background levels of tropospheric ozone are thought to have doubled in the northern hemisphere over the past century. (8, 1) Ozone is also the single most important pollutant affecting vegetation. It damages food crops, particularly potatoes, tomatoes, wheat and spinach, with leaf diseases. This causes farmers to switch to less sensitive crops, leading to loss of biodiversity. With present ozone levels in Switzerland, agricultural losses cost at least US$200 per hectare. Ozone damage also affects forests in America and Europe—pines and larch are particularly sensitive. (7)
  • Sulfurous Emissions: cause soil and water acidification, damage to plants (especially trees, mosses and certain lichens), and smog. (7)
  • Catalytic Converters are able to reduce emissions of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and nitrogen oxides but need regular inspection and maintenance to work effectively.
  • Catalytic Converters have been shown to reduce emissions of carbon monoxide by 80 percent under test conditions. But, despite their use for 3 decades in the U.S., high levels of carbon monoxide remain a problem in urban areas. This is probably due to a combination of very high emissions when catalysts are cold and ineffective, complete catalyst failure and deliberate misfuelling or tampering. (1)
  • Catalytic Converters have been shown to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide by 95 percent, but in actually use emissions depend on speed. Minimum emissions occur between 40-60 miles per hour and increase with higher speeds. (1)
  • Car certification can cause confusion. A Japanese car certified under the Japanese procedure, which has a maximum speed of 110 kph, when tested on UK roads was found to have excessive emissions of carbon monoxide at higher speeds and in fact produced more carbon monoxide than a non-catalyst car. (1)
  • A WHO report found that long term air pollution from cars in Austria, Switzerland and France triggered an extra 21,000 premature deaths per year from respiratory or heart diseases—more than the total number of annual traffic deaths in the three countries. (3)
  • The Institute for European Environmental Policy has published a report showing that car drivers breathe in up to three times more toxic exhaust fumes than pedestrians or cyclists. Cars do not protect drivers from pollution, as motorists are driving in a "tunnel of pollution." Car drivers in the centre or outside lanes are subject to a huge buildup of toxic gases. Cyclists and pedestrians who stay close to the curb avoid the worst of the pollution as they are not in the pollution tunnel. (3)
  • The Swedish National Chemicals Inspectorate has reported that wear and tear on car tyres releases tiny airborne particles called PM10s, which may cause cancer. Car tyres are the main source of PM10 pollutants, which have also been linked to 10,000 premature deaths in Britain each year from lung and heart disease. (3)



Most cars run on gasoline or diesel. These are derived from petroleum, more usually called oil. Globally, motor vehicles use one third of the world's oil—finding oil involves habitat loss, oil spills, air and water pollution, large emissions of carbon dioxide, regular humanitarian abuses and wars.

  • By 1985 transport, in the shape of cars, buses and trucks, used 39 percent of Japan's oil, 44 percent of Western Europe's and 63 percent of the USA's consumption of oil. (1)
  • Since 1976 the U.S. has used more oil than it produces—imports account for 40 percent of use and are one-third of the nation's trade deficit. (1)
  • Pressure for cheap oil lies behind ever increasing pressure to drill environmentally sensitive areas including almost the entire outer continental shelf from the Atlantic to the Arctic ocean, the Ecuador Amazon River Basin, the coast of Australia and various tropical forests. (1)

Oil Spills

  • In 1991 the Oil Spillage Intelligence Report recorded that, globally, 31.75 million gallons of oil (around 100,000 tonnes) were spilt in 1990. (1) The 1989 spillage rate was more than double that. Half the quantity came from 3 major oil spills:

    • the Exxon (10.7 million gallons in Prince William Sound, March 1989.
    • the Kharrg 5 (20 million gallons off the coast of Morocco, Dec 1989)
    • the Aragon (7.35 million gallons off Madeira, December 1989) (1)
  • According to the Alaska Oil Spill Commission, oil discharges the size of the Exxon Valdez disaster occur somewhere in the world once a year. On average, a spill of a million gallons occurs every month. (1)


Non-Accidental Pollution

Figures for sea pollution vary. The OECD notes that most estimates cite a total input into the world's oceans of some 3 to 4 million tonnes per year: about half comes from marine sources, with the rest coming from land.

  • Marine Sources: The US National Academy of Science calculates that shipping accidents only account for a quarter of ocean pollution from marine sources, with non-accidental marine transport accounting for twice as much. This is due to ships taking on sea water as ballast and then discharge the oil-contaminated water back into the sea; from deliberate washing out of oil tanks prior to taking on new oil, from bilge pumping; and from tank washing before maintenance. (1)
  • Land Sources: urban and industrial sources and atmospheric pollution account for 1.7 million tonnes of oil entering the seas from land. More oil enters the seas from automobile exhausts and from oil changes by city garages that are dumped down the drains, than from any other source. (1)


Oil and Humanitarian Abuses

There are numerous incidences of the search for oil, the greed of oil companies, and the environmental destruction of oil leaks leading to protest and revolt by effected local groups—usually the poorest and most marginalised sectors of society. In Columbia, the U'wa tribe have threatened mass suicide if Occidental Petroleum are allowed to drill in land adjacent to their home—an area they consider sacred—as the arrival of the oil company would spell death to their culture and way of life any way. They have been forcibly evicted by the military and several activists killed.

In Nigeria, oil drilling by Shell Nigeria sparked a revolt from the Ogoni's that has been strongly repressed and lead to the deaths and murders of many Ogoni activists. To read the full story, follow this link to MOSOP Canada's web site.

These are just two examples of the abuses around oil. Sign up to the Car Busters monthly bulletin to receive reports on others as they happen.


Pollution During Manufacturing

"The rate of production of new cars is difficult to assimilate: an annual output of 48 million means that, somewhere in the world, one new car appears every second. In eight hours, 40,000 new cars will have been built; in a day, 100,000. With a growth in the human population of some 90 million a year, the arrival of two new babies is accompanied with the arrival of one new car. And this rate of growth is, we are assured by the transport lobby, set to continue. Mackenzie and Walsh, in their report Driving Forces, estimate that the world total of trucks and cars—more than 500 million—could double to one billion in the next twenty years." (4)

Manufacturing process involves not just the raw materials such as steel, iron, rubber, plastics and aluminium, but large amounts of substances that deplete the ozone layer, are greenhouse gasses, or use huge quantities of energy.

  • Iron and Steel Making: needs large amounts of coal and limestone. A major producer of sulfur dioxide, acids and slag waste.
  • Aluminium Production: involves substantial soil degradation in bauxite mining. Smelters release sulfur dioxide and are substantial energy users.
  • Zinc and Lead Industries. Considerable waste problems and a variety of health threats.
  • Copper Smelting: sulfur dioxide emissions.
  • Platinum Production: six million tonnes of ore a year have to be refined for catalytic converters
  • Emissions From Other Pollutants: sulfuric acid for batteries; heavy metals and VOCs in paints; mercury in circuits; CFCs and other greenhouse gases used in foam seats and body parts; asbestos in brake pads. (1)

An average of 27 tons of waste is produced during the manufacture of one car.(12)


Pollution During Disposal

Disposal of old cars and car components—tyres, batteries and oil further increase the environmental impact of the car.

  • Cars use 10 percent of OECD plastics production, for a whole range of fittings, from fuel tanks to door handles. Disposal of the large amounts of PVC, polyurethane, polyprone and high density polythene used in cars is difficult. Over three-quarters of a million tonnes of scrap plastic were produced in 1990 just from cars in Europe. (1)
  • In 1988, 209.5 million car tyres, 42.7 million truck tyres and 19 million road tyres were produced in the USA alone. Over 320 million were sold in Japan, France, West Germany and the UK Of all these tyres, only 30 percent are re-treaded, the bulk of the remainder are dumped. There disposal is very problematic. Heated in the absence of oxygen, tyres produce vast quantities of oil, more than a gallon rep tyre, accompanied by thick black smoke. Dump fires are extremely polluting. (1)
  • Car dumps themselves cause local pollution with high concentrations of lead, cadium and zinc. (1)
  • On average, each dumped vehicle contains six litres of lubricating oils, three litres of fuel , five litres of cooling liquid and three litres of sulfuric acid. (1)
  • 100 million batteries are discarded per year. Their sulfuric acid contents represent a substantial environmental threat. (1)
  • In Western Europe, Japan and the USA nearly 40 million cars are discarded every year. (1)


The Environmental Cost of One Car

Extracting Raw Materials:
26.5 tonnes of waste
922 cubic metres of polluted air

Transporting Raw Materials:
12 litres of crude oil in the ocean
425 million cubic metres of polluted air

Producing the Car:
1.5 tonnes of waste
74 million cubic metres of polluted air

Driving the Car:
18.4 kilos of abrasive waste
1,016 million cubic metres of polluted air

Disposing of the Car:
102 million cubic metres of polluted air

A car causes more pollution before it's ever driven than in its entire lifetime of driving. (5)


Road Building

Road building involves the loss or irreparable degradation of delicate ecosystem all over the world, with material for new roads coming from large scale rock quarrying and gravel extraction, as well as road construction itself through sensitive habitats and even protected ecosystems and national parks.

  • New roads need materials for construction, take land previously devoted to amenity use, or food production, fragment the countryside and increase traffic and development areas over a wider region. (1)
  • Most roads consist of sand, gravel and rock with a tarmac surface. Each mile of UK motorway uses 250,000 tonnes of sand and gravel. Throughout much of Europe these "aggregates" are often extracted from ecologically sensitive areas such as river valleys. (1)
  • Justification for new road building is usually reducing congestion. It does not work. Increased car use leads to more road building: more road building leads to increased car use.(3)
  • Road construction often endangers biodiversity and habitats and can cause species extinction: a survey of southwest England found that 372 important wildlife sites and 161 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI, featuring high biodiversity) are under threat by development of transport infrastructure. (7
  • Road construction alters water tables, disturbs the entire water cycle and increases the run-off of heavy metals to surrounding areas. Covering more land with concrete prevents water from seeping into the ground and may cause flooding. (7)


Deaths and Accidents

  • Estimates of road fatalities worldwide vary massively: anywhere from 500,000(9) to 880,000(10) or even 1.17 million(11) people die on the roads every year — 10 million are estimated to be injured.
  • Forecasts indicate that by 2030 this will have risen to 2 million deaths a year, and 50 million injuries. (7)
  • The cumulative death total in the period 1995-2030 is estimated to be 50 million.
  • Globally, accidents produce about 800,000 permanently handicapped people per year. (7)
  • In the U.S., the American Lung Association estimate that between 10,000 and 24,000 people die each year as a result of traffic related air pollution. (7)
  • The work of epidemiologists and public health specialists in the U.S. and U.K. indicate that up to 60,000 Americans and 10,000 British are killed each year as a result of particulate pollution. (7)

Also on this subject:
Der Tod hat einen Motor and Motorisierung ist tödlich - two articles by German author Klaus Gietinger


Cars vs. Trains: Cost comparison

In October 2004, the German magazine Focus Money did a cost comparison of car travel versus train travel. It found that:
  • for 12 of the 18 studied routes, a family of four traveled more cheaply by train
  • seven of the studied routes are faster by train than by car
  • A roundtrip from Hamburg to Munich (1552 km) cost 323 euros by car, 48 euros less than by car. (And that includes transport costs to the train station and from the train station to the final destination in town.)

These figures are probably easily transferrable to other European countries, less so to the United States, where fuel is still artifically cheap. More info (in German): http://www.oekonews.de/id/3798


External costs of car traffic in the EU

A study published at the beginning of October 2004 by the IWW and Infras research institutes found that the the health and environmental costs of traffic in the EU are 650 billion euros, 83% of which is caused by automobile and trucks.
The figures:
  • External costs of traffic in the EU15 countries: 650 million euros
  • 7 percent of GDP lost to health and environmental costs of transport
  • 83% caused by street traffic
  • rail freight transport causes 17.9 euros in external costs per 1000 tonne-kilometre
  • truck transport causes 87.8 euros in external costs per 1000 tonne-kilometres
  • passenger rail: external costs of 22.9 euros per 1000 person-kilometre
  • private automobile: external costs of 76 euros per 1000 person-kilometre

Report available online in English


Pollution reduction on carfree day

At the 2004 Carfree Day in Montreal, Canada, measurements taken by the city showed a 90% reduction in the level of nitrogen monoxide (NO) and a 100% reduction in carbon monoxide (CO) within the area closed to cars that day as compared to readings taken the same day at an intersection where motor vehicle traffic was normal. Also, a 38% drop in the ambient noise level was also recorded within the carfree zone. Source: http://www.amt.qc.ca/comm/enville/index.asp


China's Car-Culture Revolution: The Statistics

  • China has eight vehicles per thousand residents, Brazil has 122, Western Europe 584, and the US 950
  • The amount of cars on Chinese roads has increased from 1 million to 12 million since 1990
  • This year analysts expect 2.4 million cars to be sold in China, and 5 million vehicles altogether
  • Beijing estimates that by 2020 there will be 140 million vehicles on China's roads
  • Ford and GM expect that China will surpass the US (where 17 million vehicles are sold per year) as the largest car market in the world by 2025
  • There are currently 15,000 highway projects planned in China

Source: The Ecologist, Volume 35, No. 2, page 63. 2005



  1. The Environmental Impact of the Car, Greenpeace International, 1991. ISBN 871532 361.
  2. World Health Organisation Guidelines for Europe for Benzene in Air.
  3. Car Busters Magazine
  4. MacKenzie, J.J. and Walsh, M.P. Driving Forces: Motor Vehicle Trends and their Implications for Global Warming, Energy Strategies, and Transport Planning, World Resources Institute, Washington D.C., 1990.
  5. Cradle to the Grave, Umweltund Prognose-Institut Heidelberg, 1993.
  6. Energy and Equity, Ivan Illich,
  7. Lost in Concrete: An Activists Guide to European Transport Policies, A SEED Europe, 1996, ISBN 90-75840-01-2. Available for purchase via Car Busters Resource Centre.
  8. End of the Road: From World Car Crisis to Sustainable Transportation, Wolfgang Zuckermann, Chelsea Green Publishing Co., 1991. Available for purchase via Car Busters Resource Centre.
  9. BBC Report : 1998 figures
  10. Global Road Safety Partnership, 1999 figures. http://www.i-connect.ch/grsp/grspdev/problem.htm
  11. US State Department quoting WHO figures http://travel.state.gov/road_safety.html
  12. One Earth http://www.oneearth.org
  13. "Towards a better consideration of climate change and greenhouse gas emission targets in transport and spatial/ land use policies, plans and programmes", Thomas B Fischer, 2001 http://www.oneearth.org

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