For some, especially many within the automobile industry, climate change is somewhat of a controversial topic. Regardless of your stance on climate change, it is important to understand what the science tells us about the correlation between gas-powered cars and climate change. 

The fact is the rate of climate change has increased dramatically in the past half-century. As we move closer towards electric vehicles, it is helpful to understand just how much of an impact gas-powered cars have on the environment. This review highlights what climate change is, how cars contribute to climate change and a review of alternative solutions to gas-powered cars.

What is climate change?

Climate change refers to the changing of the weather and our overall environment due to the release of greenhouse gasses into our atmosphere. The following is a review of the process, causes and impact of climate change. 

The process

The most notable greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide (CO2). Cars release CO2 while burning fossil fuels. CO2 is problematic as it traps heat in the atmosphere, which ultimately warms up the air around us.

As the heat increases in our atmosphere, it ultimately leads to higher temperatures, which affects our environment in a negative manner. This is the process of climate change, one that can be controlled or even reversed if prompt action is taken to decrease carbon emissions

The causes

This review focuses on the impact gas-powered cars have on climate change, but there are other contributing factors. Essentially, anything that releases carbon dioxide into the Earth’s atmosphere contributes to climate change. In addition, the release of methane, nitrous oxide, water vapor, tropospheric ozone and fluorocarbons also impact the rate of climate change. 

The long-term impact

Climate change from greenhouse gasses can lead to higher temperatures, increased sea levels, desertification in some areas, increased rainfall in some areas, stronger and more frequent storms and poor air quality. The rate of climate change is, however, disputed among the scientific community, although most experts agree climate change is something worth addressing. 

The link between gas-powered cars and climate change

Now, the topic at hand, how do gas-powered cars specifically affect climate change? A car relies on fossil fuels, which burn and release carbon dioxide into the air. One car does not have much of an impact, but there are now over 1.4 billion cars in the world, almost all of which are powered by gasoline. 

Some cars, of course, contribute to climate change more than others. The more fuel-efficient a car is the less of an impact the vehicle likely has on climate change. In addition, cars can create issues of smog, especially in large cities. Smog occurs when there is a heavy buildup of fog from the smoke and other pollutants that come from gas-powered cars. 

Alternative solutions to gas-powered cars

A common misconception is that the fight against climate change means a war on the automobile industry. However, fighting climate change means just the opposite, and it provides innovation and new opportunities for the automobile industry, particularly with the development of electric vehicles. 

However, we are not yet at the point where electric vehicles are capable of meeting the public’s needs (driving distance, etc.) and the price is still too high for fully-electric vehicles for them to become commonplace. There are other ways to combat climate change, including the development of vehicles that run on alternative fuels and more fuel-efficient vehicles. 

Electric vehicles

As discussed, we are still a few years (at least) away from electric vehicles becoming far more common. However, this does seem to be where we are headed in the future. In fact, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order that bans all gas-powered cars in the state by 2035. This is done in an attempt to deal with climate change and reduce the long-term frequency of wildfires in California. 

As gas-powered cars are phased out, electric vehicles will undoubtedly take their place, and many car manufacturers are beginning to spend their money and resources on the development of affordable, desirable and reliable electric vehicles. 

Alternative fuels

When discussing climate change and the effect cars have on climate change, much of the discussion is centered around electric vehicles. However, there are alternative fuels that can decrease carbon emissions from vehicles by up to 80 percent. One more popular alternative fuel that is continually being studied is known as cellulosic biofuels. 

Fuel-efficient vehicles

Last but not least, focusing on vehicles that are more fuel-efficient to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change is another solution. For many, electric vehicles is the ultimate goal, but fuel-efficient vehicles are something we can focus on now, along with other combative efforts such as carpooling when possible, commuting less and making efforts to ensure our vehicles are as fuel-efficient as possible. 

Additional benefits to electric vehicles

The benefits of gas-powered cars are well-known. They are proven to work well for long-distances and we have found a way to make gas prices relatively affordable. However, electric vehicles are less proven, which is why many are hesitant to make the transition. Nevertheless, once the transition is made to fully electric vehicles, many expect to see Improvements in the environment. Several notable benefits of electric vehicles include:

  • Improved air quality
  • Reduced fuel costs
  • Slowed rate of climate change

Currently, the drawback of electric vehicles are the limited distance they can travel without fuel on a full battery and the cost, which is still much higher than the average gas-powered car. However, as manufacturers continue to improve their electric vehicles, we should be able to resolve both of these issues. 

The bottom line

In summary, gas-powered cars affect the climate by releasing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. The greenhouse gasses trap heat, leading to an increase in the earth’s temperature over time, which has a detrimental impact on the environment. We are still a decade or more away from a major transition away from gas-powered vehicles, and understanding the importance of doing so is an important first step in the fight.

Aaron Westbury
Aaron is a content writer with a passion for cars. He enjoys learning new things and loves to share what he learns with others. Aaron also has a Bachelor's in English and years of experience as a writer, and he constantly seeks to improve and make his writing more informative and helpful for readers. Although a writer by day, Aaron enjoys his free time by getting outdoors and staying active anyway he can.

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    3 Comments

    1. I think it important to do our part and be mindful of climate change. My next vehicle will definitely be a hybrid. I love how this really maps the effects of gas powered vehicles. Great article layout.

    2. Electric vehicles will always have the largest advantage in many situations, instantaneous maximum torque. However, prolonged high speed travel or towing is poor with electric vehicles.

      The amount of C02 emitted during production of batteries is never considered with electrical vehicles. Also, lifetime emissions from EVs C02 emission statistics never seem to account for where the power is coming from. It should be measured in kilowatthour (Wh) and shown using averaged power plant emissions for that amount of power over x amount of miles to see what the real emissions are.

      Sometimes, proposed CO2 reductions stop making sense when the power is from fossil fuel plants. In the US, approximately 61% of electricity is created from coal and natural gas.

      https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/electricity/electricity-in-the-us.php#:~:text=Coal%20was%20the%20second%2Dlargest,gas%20turbine%20to%20generate%20electricity.

    3. I remember watching a show a while ago. They said that if people focus on buying brand electrical cars, it would leave more of a carbon footprint than just sticking with older cars. They weren’t saying gas cars are better. just that getting new ones would be more harmful than keeping an old until it can no longer run. I believe if was something about the mass production and the rare earth metals that are used to make electrical cars.

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