How Does the Global Warming Pollution from Cars Compare to Other Major Sources Such As a Coal Power Plant?

Ask a Scientist: S. Tompkins from Charlotte, NC, asks “How does the global warming pollution from cars compare to other major sources such as a coal power plant?” and is answered by Clean Vehicles Senior Engineer Jim Kliesch.

Looking at the big picture, about a third of U.S. global warming pollution comes from moving vehicles: passenger cars and trucks, big rigs, airplanes, trains, waterborne shipping, etc. Passenger cars and trucks are the biggest slice of that pie just because of the sheer number of them we have on the road.

In broad terms, the environmental impact of a vehicle is affected by three things:
the emissions from producing the vehicle
the emissions from operating the vehicle
the emissions associated with the vehicle’s fuel (see below)

Typically, the production of a vehicle accounts for only about 20 percent of its overall environmental impact, so for our purposes, I’m going to focus on emissions from the vehicle and fuel.

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2 comments for “How Does the Global Warming Pollution from Cars Compare to Other Major Sources Such As a Coal Power Plant?

  1. Dougetit
    May 20, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    After reading your article, it is hard to determine if you have been mislead or you are being misleading. Either way, your article is fatally flawed. Your title is unanswered in your article. Your title infers Global warming from cars, but then you proceed to limit your article to US contributions only. While US contributions may be a third of US emissions, 45% of the world’s motor vehicles are in the US. Using your logic, if you narrowed global temperatures to the US only, you would find that in the last 12 years, US temperatures have been plummeting at a rate 7.4 degrees F per century. Care to report on that?

    The UN states that the GLOBAL Co2 contribution percentage of ALL transportation is 13%. This includes passenger cars and trucks, big rigs, airplanes, trains, ships, etc. If we were to generously assume that 70% of these emissions were from cars alone, this suggests about 9.1% derived from cars.

    The total concentration of Co2 in the atmosphere per NOAA is about is 392 ppm or 0.0392% of the total atmosphere. Man’s TOTAL atmospheric contribution of Co2 is 3 percent of that, or 0/001176%. Using the 9.1% contribution attributed to automobiles results in a percent of less than 0.000107016%. This works out to be qbout 107 millionths of 1 percent attributed to Global Warming Pollution from Cars. Hardly a driving AGW force.

    Global emissions produced by Coal are much more on a word wide basis, and will only increase if we move to electric only cars because of the increased drain on the electrical grid


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