Wealthy Biggest Driving Polluters? No, Really?

Greg Galitzine : Green Blog
Greg Galitzine
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Wealthy Biggest Driving Polluters? No, Really?

The wealthy have the means to become the earliest adopters of the latest and greatest home and office green tech devices, methods and solutions. Yet it appears that too many of them are acting otherwise when it comes to mobility, if Canada's elite are any indication.

A Canwest New Service article printed last Friday in The Province revealed, citing new Statistics Canada figures, that "wealthy Canadians were the worst polluting drivers in 2007. While the rich, defined as having annual incomes of $100,000+ were responsible for spewing out the most air pollution per person, at 5,737 kilograms or 12,621 lbs in 2007.

"'People in this income group were more likely to own vehicles that use more fuel, such as trucks and SUVs,'" the article cites the report.

Along with that StatsCan reported an increase of new 466,472 vehicles on the road in 2007 compared with 2006, with more than half the additional fleet made up of  (you guessed it) SUVs, trucks and vans.

Disturbingly if not surprisingly the same report said that individual vehicle pollution was up by one-third in 2007 compared to 15 years or so earlier. So much for fuel effiencies...

And if you add that up to additional driving, road wear-and-tear and resulting maintenance costs which also lead to higher pollution, it appears that any green gains in automotive technology--like the building of roads to alleviate traffic congestion--are eventually wiped out by the users.
One example that I hope doesn't go this way is increased recycling in car construction. The same issue of the paper reports in a story "Working toward the Earth-friendly car" that more manufacturers want to use additional recyclable components, besides the long-recycled aluminum, copper, iron and steel that are the stuff of junkyards, shredders, dirty old railroad gondola cars and melt shops. 

"Typically, the plastics being used by manufacturers have been reinforced with materials such as glass, carbon or polyethylene fibres combined with petroleum-based resins," says the story. "Now, however, researchers are finding those materials can be replaced with bioplastics and fibres derived from plants without sacrificing critical requirements such as strength and durability. And, with oil prices continuing to rise, these green alternatives are cost effective, too."

The article pointed to a European study which "predicts that by 2020, bio-based plastics could replace up to 90 per cent of the total amount of petroleum-derived plastics consumed globally in 2007. 

"The auto industry consumes an average of about 135 kilograms (297 lbs) of plastic in every car it builds, so it's no surprise automakers are looking down this road with enthusiasm, especially with the current push to make components either recyclable or biodegradable."

The piece cites Deborah Mielewski, technical leader of plastics research in Ford Motor Company's materials research and advanced engineering department, says the dream is to see those 135 kg of petroleum-based plastics "replaced by what we can grow. It just makes sense."

Ford is already using natural fiber-based plastic in its Ford Flex crossover. This reportedly industry-first production-line application uses plastic reinforced with environmentally friendly wheat straw to create the Flex's third-row interior storage bins. Using the wheat straw as a bio-filler, this application alone, says the Province story " is reducing petroleum usage by more than 9,000 kg (19,800 lbs) per year and cutting CO2 emissions by more than 13,600 kg (29,920 lbs.) annually. It also has better dimensional integrity than non-reinforced plastic and weighs up to 10 per cent less than plastic reinforced with talc or glass.

The story adds that applications already under consideration by the Ford team include centre console bins and trays, interior air register and door trim panel components and armrest liners.

One would hope that these materials would make fully electric vehicles more viable with the wealthy being the early and fashion-leading adopters, thereby creating the market for more affordable and practical mass market versions to sell to the hoi polloi.

Then again, if the experience of SUVs and trucks are any indication--and I've written about automotive metals in the 1990s when these vehicles started to become popular people movers in the 'burbs'--the savings will go into bulkier, feature-loaded craft that take up more road space and leaving us in the same choking mess or probably worse than we're now in...


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