The Need for Sustainable Transportation: Consequences of America's Addiction to Oil
Vehicle emissions are the main source of air pollution in the United States. The number of vehicles on the road and the amount of air pollution are growing every year.
- Despite significant progress in the development of cleaner gasoline- and diesel-burning vehicles over the last 30 years, the impacts of expanded vehicle use in the US have eclipsed environmental gains. Every three seconds, another new car is sold. Americans account for less than 5% of the world's population, but they drive more than 32% of its vehicles. The average American drove nearly twice as far by auto in l995 than in l970.
- Emissions from this expanding population of gasoline- and diesel-fueled vehicles cannot be assimilated by the environment and are a growing threat to public health. Exhaust from the nearly 217 million vehicles used in the US is the single largest source of air pollution in the country. Vehicles account for more than half the emissions of four out of six "criteria pollutants" targeted by the EPA and regulated under the national Clean Air Act. As of 1998, on- and off-road vehicles generated:
-- 79% of carbon monoxide emissions in the US.
-- 30% of smog-forming pollutants (including nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons).
-- 21% of all 2.5-micron particulates from non-dust sources.
-- 51% of the 33 most hazardous air pollutants.
- Largely because of vehicle emissions, 121 air quality districts in the US now violate the 1970 Clean Air Act's National Ambient Air Quality Standards - 18 years after the 1982 deadline for compliance. Mainly densely populated cities, these districts are home to almost 40% of US residents - some 102 million people. Vehicle emissions are the source of 60% to 90% of all urban air pollution.
There is a virtual asthma epidemic in the US, and diesel trucks and buses are a primary culprit.
- Asthma rates are rising. Research conducted by the Pew Environmental Health Commission found that, between 1980 and l994, asthma rates rose by 75% overall and by 160% among children under age four. The commission predicted that the number of asthma victims would more than double within 20 years, from 14 million in 2000 to 29 million by 2020. Not all the reasons for this epidemic are known, but it is clear that the very fine particles in diesel exhaust and the smog created by diesel emissions irritate the lungs and are a major trigger of asthma attacks.
- Asthma-related hospital emergency room visits are on the rise. In l995, asthma accounted for 1.8 million visits to hospital emergency rooms.
- Asthma is costing our country more and more every year. In 2000, the costs of asthma-related medical care were more than $11 billion.
Vehicle emissions are particularly damaging to the health of children and vulnerable urban populations.
- Asthma-related problems now account for one-third of all pediatric emergency room visits. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, acute asthma attacks have increased 100% among children in the last 15 years, and asthma is today the most common reason why students miss school. From l980 to l993, rates of asthma-related deaths among children rose 78%.
- Minority and economically underprivileged communities suffer disproportionately. According to the President's Task Force on Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks to Children, the death rate of African-American children from asthma is over four times that of white children. A ground-breaking study conducted at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine found that asthma hospitalization rates for children from poor, minority neighborhoods in New York City were up to 21 times higher than those for children from affluent neighborhoods. The study concluded that diesel exhaust was a major contributing factor in poor communities, where bus and truck traffic is heavy and the majority of diesel-fueled bus depots are located.
Diesel emissions are an increasingly recognized cancer threat.
- According to the US EPA and California's Air Resources Board, diesel exhaust contains more than 40 toxic substances, including known human carcinogens, probable human carcinogens, and reproductive toxins.
- In a 1999 report, the South Coast Air Quality Management District in Los Angeles concluded not only that mobile pollution sources are responsible for about 90% of the total cancer risk in the area, but that diesel particulates, in particular, account for 70% of that risk.
- In a 2000 report, the National Toxicology Program (overseen by the US Department of Health and Human Services) added diesel exhaust particulates to its list of substances "reasonably anticipated" to be human carcinogens. This classification was based on findings of elevated lung cancer rates in occupational groups exposed to diesel exhaust and was corroborated by animal studies.
Vehicle emissions are major contributors to ozone depletion and climate change.
- The US is the number one generator of carbon dioxide emissions in the world. We produce 25% of the world's total, of which 30% comes from vehicle emissions.
- Despite urgent calls for global reductions in carbon dioxide emissions made at a series of international conferences since 1992, US emissions continue to rise - increasing 11% from 1990 to 1998.
Oil dependence is an economic and political issue that increasingly threatens national and global security.
- Reliance on oil from politically volatile regions is already having broad national and international security implications. Operation Desert Storm, undertaken in part if not primarily to protect US oil supplies in the Middle East, involved 670,000 Americans and a cost of $60 billion. America's oil addiction continues to influence our relations with oil-producing countries.
- US reliance on foreign oil has soared since 1992 - the year we enacted the Energy Policy Act designed to reduce that dependence. In l992, net petroleum imports for all uses accounted for 40.7% of total consumption; six years later, imports had increased to 51.6%. Assuming petroleum for transportation is imported at the same rate as petroleum for other uses, imports of transportation fuels increased 38% in that six-year period. As more and more fossil-fueled vehicles hit the road worldwide, increasing competition for depleting oil supplies will threaten our continued access to foreign sources.
- Many leaders in the developing world are eager to industrialize and to base their transportation systems on the fossil-fueled internal combustion vehicle. Were China (where only one out of 652 people owns a car, out of a population of 1.2 billion), India, Pakistan, and Indonesia to increase their automobile use to anywhere near US levels, competition for the world's oil supplies would threaten global economic and political stability. And the resulting pollution would have an exponential and perhaps irrevocable impact on the environment for future generations.
As our rate of oil consumption increases, the threat of resource depletion grows.
- Fossil fuels, formed over the course of 65 million years, are now being burned 100,000 times faster than the rate at which they can be regenerated by natural processes.
- While some economists assert that affordable oil will always be available, it is the most limited and rapidly depleting fossil fuel on the planet. More than one-third of the world's oil production, and 67% of all oil consumed in the US, is used for transportation.
- The conventional automobile is only about 12% efficient in delivering the energy released from combustion to the wheels. It is one of the most wasteful, as well as one of the largest, consumers of the world's most limited fossil fuel.
- From l992 to l998, the US transportation sector's consumption of gasoline and diesel rose by 10.8% -- from 139 billion gallons to154 billion gallons. Every second, Americans travel more than 128,000 miles and burn over 150 barrels of petroleum. At current rates of use, more oil will be burned in the next 20 years than has been burned throughout all of human history