Pollution and automobiles

I was reading Cecil’s article on hemp today (http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a5_131.html) and one of the comments that he made struck me. It was "There’s been talk of using hemp in particleboard and such. But take it from someone who’s been there, there’s still no substitute for a wood two-by-four. " My first thought was, well, what about those steel 2x4s that I keep seeing used in new construction. Of course, they aren’t as versatile, and it undoubtedly causes more pollution to create them than to allow a tree to grow…

This reminded me of a statement made by an acquaintance, who claimed that the amount of pollution that a car produces in it’s “lifetime” could in no way come close to the amount of pollution caused in the actual production of the car itself. Has anyone else in this esteemed forum heard this claim before? Even better, does anyone know of a source that has substantiated this claim? My searches on the net have turned up nothing up til now…


I’d say that the claim that the pollution in producing a car outweighs the pollution in driving that car for, say, 15 years, is so counterintuitive - so nuts-souding - that the onus is on the claimer, not you. If you googled and couldn’t find anything, I think that’s an answer.

Up to the 70’s, Detroit should have had more smog than the rest of the U.S. put together - all the pollution from all the cars in L.A. alone would’ve made Detroit air unbreathable.

Cecil did a recent column that said the average car creates about 4 tons of carbon dioxide a year, using driving estimates that are, if anything, conservative. That right there is more than the weight of the car - so even if you throw in the car itself as pollution, it wouldn’t even make a dent in the total pollution you create as you drive it.

Well, right. It does seem counterintuitive. But when you factor in refining the oil to make the plastics, refining ore to make the metals that are used, allegedly it all adds up.

Whether or not it adds up to, say, more than 40 tons worth of crap in the atmosphere over the 10-year lifespan of a car is the question.

Having driven by various refineries and such in past (to wit: Gary, IN and South Chicago in the 70’s) it seems like it’s not utterly impossible. Just very improbable.