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Cars Are Destroying Us

I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.

Cars are so fast and so convenient.

Cars are so fast and so convenient.

For flexibility and convenience, nothing comes close to the personal automobile. Pity about all the negative side effects. George Monbiot of The Guardian newspaper writes that “Driving is ruining our lives, and triggering environmental disasters.”

Pollution Fatalities

Before the car there was the horse. Transportation of the equine variety carried with it its own downside. Armies of people were deployed to pick up the road apples but the supply of manure, averaging 22 pounds per horse per day, overwhelmed the clean-up crews at times. The Times newspaper ran a dire prediction in 1894: “In 50 years, every street in London will be buried under nine feet of manure.”

The New York Times reported on health concerns: “The manure piles attracted huge numbers of flies, and one journalist writing in Appleton Magazine in 1908, charged that each year 20,000 New Yorkers died from 'maladies that fly in the dust, created mainly by horse manure.' ”

But, of course, along came the internal combustion engine and the pollution caused by horses ceased to be a worry. At first, few people realized that cars brought a different type of pollution.

Cough, wheeze, hack, gasp.

Cough, wheeze, hack, gasp.

An article in The Lancet notes that “Fuel combustion—fossil fuel combustion in high-income and middle-income countries and burning of biomass in low-income countries—accounts for 85 percent of airborne particulate pollution and for almost all pollution by oxides of sulphur and nitrogen.”

And, where does that lead?

“Diseases caused by pollution were responsible for an estimated nine million premature deaths in 2015—16 percent of all deaths worldwide—three times more deaths than from AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined and 15 times more than from all wars and other forms of violence.”

This is echoed by a paper published in The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: “Fossil-fuel combustion by-products are the world’s most significant threat to children’s health and future and are major contributors to global inequality and environmental injustice.”

Ask me what I’m doing to save the planet.

Ask me what I’m doing to save the planet.

Global Warming

Except for the hardy few with major stakes in oil and gas companies, the reality of global warming is undeniably with us.

Here’s George Monbiot again: “Transport, mostly because of our obsession with the private car, is now the major factor driving us towards climate breakdown . . . ”

In 2010, the number of cars in use in the world reached one billion; in 1960 there were less than 100 million cars. We are producing about 70 million new vehicles each year. Certainly, millions of old clunkers go to the scrap yards each year, but there’s still a net increase of huge numbers, particularly in Asia.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S. “A typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.” But all cars are not equal and in the United States the trend is towards bigger, gas-guzzling vehicles with higher emissions.

General Motors closed down its Lordstown, Ohio, car assembly plant in March 2019. The factory made Chevrolet Cruze compact sedans, a car that customers don’t want anymore. U.S. drivers want big, eight-cylinder pick-up trucks and sports-utility vehicles. The Cruze ran at about 34 miles per gallon; the Ford F-150 pick-up clocks in at 16 mpg.

Global warming brings with it catastrophic weather, crop failure, and disease pandemics. Estimates of the annual death toll from this are all over the place; the World Health Organization says 250,000, while the humanitarian group DARA says five million.

Global warming.

Global warming.

Crash Fatalities

The devastating impact of automobile accidents on families and friends is measured in cold statistics from the World Health Organization:

  • Each year, almost 1.25 million people are killed in road crashes; that’s an average of 3,287 a day;
  • Between 20 and 50 million people are disabled or injured annually;
  • Road traffic fatalities are the ninth leading cause of death in the world, and they're the leading cause among young people aged 15 to 29;
  • Without drastic action, road fatalities will climb to the fifth leading cause of death by 2030; and,
  • In the time it took you to read this far in the article, eight people were killed in road accidents.
Road crashes kill more than 3,200 people per day, on average.

Road crashes kill more than 3,200 people per day, on average.

The Menace of the Car

Cars run on tires and tires wear out at the rate of 246 million a year in the U.S. alone. Worldwide more than 150 million tires are burned annually, releasing cancer-causing toxins among other dangerous chemicals.

Cars demand ever-expanding highways that eat up green space and farmland. Once built, new roads fill up with cars and create the need for more pavement.

Reactive nitrogen is released from car exhausts, which is deposited on land, changing soil chemistry. This causes some plants to thrive and others to wilt and die, altering the makeup of native flora.

We have all come to accept background noise pollution caused by vehicles.

Cars create a lot of waste.

Cars create a lot of waste.

Urban spaces are designed to be car friendly and, by definition, that tends to make them pedestrian hostile. In part, because vehicles are higher and bigger, the pedestrian death rate between 2009 and 2018 rose by 51 percent in the United States.

Increased paving for roads and parking lots leads to a “heat island” effect in cities, raising temperatures several degrees. So, hot days become uncomfortably hot days, and uncomfortably hot days become dangerously hot days. That’s when vulnerable old folks and children start dying off because of heat stroke.

“Don’t it always seem to go

That you don’t know what you’ve got

Til its gone

They paved paradise

And put up a parking lot”

— Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi

Bonus Factoids

  • Bridget Driscoll, 44, holds the dubious distinction of being the first person killed by a gasoline-powered car. On August 17, 1896, she stepped in front of a car giving public demonstrations of the new mode of transportation at Crystal Palace, London. The car was hurtling along at four mph (6.4 km/h).
  • According to The New York Times, the average life of a car in the 1960s and ‘70s was about 100,000 miles; in the 2000s it’s around 200,000 miles.


  • “When Horses Posed a Public Health Hazard.” Jennifer 8. Lee, New York Times, June 9, 2008.
  • “The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health.” Prof. Philip J. Landrigan, et al, The Lancet, February 3, 2018.
  • “Pollution from Fossil-Fuel Combustion is the Leading Environmental Threat to Global Pediatric Health and Equity: Solutions Exist.” Perera, F., The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, December 23, 2017.
  • “The Great Horse Manure Crisis of 1894.” Ben Johnson, Historic UK, undated.
  • “Annual Global Road Crash Statistics.” Association for Safe International Road Travel, undated.
  • “Cars Are Killing us. Within 10 Years, we Must Phase them Out.” George Monbiot, The Guardian, March 7, 2019.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2019 Rupert Taylor


Tessa Schlesinger on March 28, 2019:

Then, perhaps, Rupert, you might realize that I am being trolled? And that the motive is to derail the argument against climate change?

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on March 28, 2019:

Hi, Rupert, you are welcomed. Thanks.

Rupert Taylor (author) from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada on March 28, 2019:

Tessa. I appreciate your passion on this subject but we'd all be better off without the insults such as "What is wrong with you?" and "I understand that people of average intelligence can't work that out."

And, no, I am not advocating killing 5.5 billion people. Such a hyperbolic suggestion does not do justice to your arguments.

bradmasteroccal on March 28, 2019:

"It's perfectly possible to live high-tech and be a minmalist. The two are not incompatible. Of course, I understand that people of average intelligence can't work that out."

B: People in third world countries are minimalists, and you are suggesting that we become a third world country.



"When the next hurricane hits, and the next flood, and the next drought, and the next firestorm, you ad yours are going to be wiped out. And so you will be living like animals."

B: We have always had hurricanes, floods, fires, droughts, and other kinds of natural disasters.

Your Hale Bopp approach is just the same use of urgency that advertisers use to get you to their store.

As far as what my children and grandchildren will be living in years to come. I would rather have the world perish, than have them live in your world.

Tessa Schlesinger on March 28, 2019:

Also brad Masters, you're a Trump supporter. If I could block you, I would. Cheers.

Tessa Schlesinger on March 28, 2019:

It's perfectly possible to live high-tech and be a minmalist. The two are not incompatible. Of course, I understand that people of average intelligence can't work that out.

As for 'living like animals again,' I hate to tell you this but your grandchildren are going to be living like animals - as are your children. You really don't get it, do you?

When the next hurricane hits, and the next flood, and the next drought, and the next firestorm, you ad yours are going to be wiped out. And so you will be living like animals.

Brad on March 28, 2019:

What I am suggesting is that what are you doing for the more than 7 billion people on Earth? We didn't come all this way in technology to live like animals again.

Tessa Schlesinger on March 28, 2019:

To add to what I said to below, here's what I don't get.

1. If Russia dropped a nuclearr bomb on the USA tomorrow, America would mobilize immediately. Food would be distributed, businesses would begin to develop weapons, the entire country would begin to be focused on one goal. Nobody would care about pavying their driveway with the latest fashion tiles. Nobody would give a sh... about wearing the latest denim jeans. The entire country would go into survival mode being totally focused on eliminating the thread.

2. Here we are in the 6th greatest mass extinction, facing extinction as a species, and we need to mobilize as a planet, and guess what happens. Americans are arguing about what fashion to wear next year, how to get rid of Mexicans, and whether the next share on the stock exchange shoudl be Microsoft or Apple.

What is wrong with you?

Tessa Schlesinger on March 28, 2019:

Brad Masters and Rupert Taylor. Well, that's why we are all going to go extinct ithin 80 years. There is no other way than the way I've ponted out. We need to be on a war-time footing, ie.g. in WWII, the British were put on rations - the entire population.

While that may be difficult for you to conceive, that's perfectly possible. It is, however, not possible when people want their luxuries. So we're all going to die.

I personally agree with Einstein, "Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former."

The reason nothing is being done is because people dont' want to give up what they have.

I don't see the point of talking about the population. Are you suggesting we kill 5,5 billion people?

We have 12 years to stop the production of industry, put people on UBI, and clean up. At that point, the earth climate has reached tipping point, and it's just a slow journey to death as more and more people die.

What is it you suggest dwe do?

It's interesting that the kids are quite happy to take a radical path, but not the grown ups. But then, they are the one's whose lives are on the line.




I'm truly sorry that humanity neither wants to be minimalist or give up industry. RIP.

Brad on March 28, 2019:


That takes care of you, but what about the other 7 billion people?

Rupert Taylor (author) from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada on March 28, 2019:

Tessa. I truly admire your commitment to a minimalist lifestyle, but, as I’m sure you know, it is a minority choice. I’ll confess to being unable to live as you do, although I try to make as little impact on the biosphere as I can.

There are cities that show us the way although the community in which I live is not one of them. Kitchener-Waterloo (population half a million) has a terrible public transportation system, and, although we are less than 100 km west of Toronto (5.9 million), we have an abysmal train service. Copenhagen (800,000) has a wonderful, integrated transit system and 45% of commuters travel by bicycle.

The real issue is population. Here’s a quote from The Guardian “The optimum population of Earth – enough to guarantee the minimal physical ingredients of a decent life to everyone – was 1.5 to 2 billion people rather than the 7 billion who are alive today or the 9 billion expected in 2050.”

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on March 27, 2019:

Hi, Tessa, you are welcomed again. I hope many will like to copy you. I once lived with my small family without all the gadgets you mentioned. Later, I was pressurized to buy a fridge, TV set, and I add an electricity generator just to curb my wife's' legs! Thank you.

Tessa Schlesinger on March 27, 2019:

Brad Masters. I have been writing and talking about it for 20/years. All my possessions fit into 3 large suitcasws. This includes kitchenware, bedding, clothes, laptop, everything.

I don't own a car, a washing machine, a television, or any of the things that I have no doubt you own. I live in 150 square feet of space. I use about 25 litres of water to fulfill all my needs.

The question is not what I am doing. That is passive aggression. The question is why you are doing nothing and why you refuse to live in acway that has less impact on the planet.

When I lived in the States, my eco-print was 6% of what the average American uses up.

My electricity bill was so low ($25) that the Texan company charged me a surcharge because it was too low.

So tell me. Outside of the pasdive aggression of your question to me, what are you doing?

Brad on March 27, 2019:


What are YOU going to do about it?

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on March 27, 2019:

Hey, Tessa, you are welcomed. However, it is a pity that political polity can not help the matter. Like as you said their aim for money and power. Unless the constitution of every nation of the world makes changes to remove all the power, privileges, rights, and so on that is absolutely put in these offices, nothing can change. 300 years for carbon dioxide to wear off? I think science is unable to solve its own negative problems at the onset. That is where the problem of science, technology, industrial revolution lies. Thank you for updating me so wonderfully. Enjoy the day.

Tessa Schlesinger on March 27, 2019:

Miebakagh, um, do you know that entire Chinese towns have been destroyed through the manufacture of blue jeans? The water of rivers has become so toxic that life has died in them and near them. And who is the major buyer of these blue jeans? America - 360 million each year.

Do you know a fabric called viscose? (Rayon). It is lovely, one of my favorites. The production is so toxic that America banned the production of it. And who is the biggest importer of viscose from China? America, of course.

Per capita, who consumes more than anyone else? Americans, of course.

The US has 320 million out of the 7.5 billion people on earth. They have 5% of the population but responsible for 26% of the tlobal emissions.

QUOTE: Ummm, no. It takes about 300 years for CO2 to leave the atmosphere and the USA is responsible for more than any other single country. By 2016, it was a hair under 400 billion tons of CO2 cumulatively. Evil baddy China was less than half the total historical cumulative emissions of the USA with four times the population. As of that point, any eight Chinese people might share about as much culpability as a single American. Meanwhile, India is under 50 billion tons. Except for China and the USA, no other country is over 100 billion tons.



Please spare me the political rhetoric.

Who is going to be handling it?

Quite clearly nobody. So we will be extinct as a species within 80 years. There is absolutely no hope whatsoever.

'Leaders are too busy making money and gaining status/power' and followers are too cowardly and involved in their own lives to bother to downsize and stop shopping.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on March 26, 2019:

@ Tessa, all these sounds and looks good. The question is: the government or company, who is is going to handling it? Or is it both? China, India, and Japan are now foremost in releasing pollutants into the atmosphere than any nations of the world. I note you fail to consider them. Many thanks.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on March 26, 2019:

Hi, BradMasterCcal, is not 12 years a long time to go? Don't you reason within a week or two as being enough? I live with my family as the precinct of a waterfront. The fumes of a moving car hardly come over here. Nevertheless, it is a pity that the menace of a car has assumed a dangerous proportion. And war? the comparison seems to be un-proportional. Thank you.

Brad on March 26, 2019:


Don't eat any beans, you might be gone in 12 years.

And War is going to stop?

Tessa Schlesinger on March 26, 2019:

Brad masters. Airships (Zeppelins designed a little differently) are a great option. There are several companies which are investing in this as an option for the future.



Rockets and missiles have to go. There is no reason whatsoever to retain them. They are not necessary for the survival of humanity. They are, however, detrimental to the survival of humanity. Many things have to go. This does not mean we do not live in a high-tech age. It just means that if we want to survive as a species, we start acting like responsible adults.

The economic system has to change (an economic system means the system of production and distribution). We have less than 12 years to implement it. If we do not adjust within the next 12 years, the underlying geological system that makes our weather what it is, will change, and then climate change cannot be reversed.

Here are some of the things that will change.

1. Planes will no longer be able to fly because the composition of air will have changed and our technology will no longer work.

2. Life in the sea will die. This is because certain plants will begin to flourish, and they will remove the oxygen from the water. Thesse plants flourish in warm water. When the oxygen goes, so does the life in the sea. When the sea dies, the currents no longer flow. That affects our weather. We will find ourselves going from extreme cold to extreme heat.

3. The kidneys of human beings shut down in extreme heat. We will die. We will die anyway because our food and water supplies will disappear. The permafrost will release methane as it melts. Human beings cannot breathe methane

4. Yes, I could go on. Apart from having studied geology at college, I have been studying this since 1970 when I first read Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.

5. There are two factors at the bottom of this - one is production and manufacturing (business) and the other is excessive consumerism which is implemented through advertising (soft brainwashing created by Edward Bernays at the end of the Great Depression).

6. We have to shut down any business that creates toxic side effects. That includes fashion, fuel,,and feed for animals. While we don't have to become Ludites, most of humankind needs to stop working (as in jobs), stop competing, and start fixing up the earth. This means cleaning it up.

7. UBI (universal basic income) needs to be paid.to all people. This is very simple to institute if one simply elimnates the unethical idea of profits. One simply prints money, distributes it, and that is what peole use to pay for things.

8. Certainly there is work to be done. However, in an area of automation, there is veyr little work to be done, and people can simply work 5 or 10 hours a week to get it done. If they choose to work, they can be paid a bit extra but they won't starve if they dont work.

9. Birth control needs to be implemnted. You don't have children unless you're fit to become a parent, and tthen no more than two.

We have 12 years. In 12 years time, tipping point will be reached. The earth is changing rapidly. The biggest problem is America. Americans are indoctrinated with religion, beliefs in gods, superstitions like the law of attraction, have a 50% mental illness (insanity) rate, and are responsible for the vast percentage of consumerism and fossil fuels on the planet.

We are probably all going to die as a resultof human greed and stupidity. That will happen within 80 years.

Brad on March 26, 2019:

What is the alternative?

And what about Airplanes?

What about rockets and missiles?

What is your solution?

India and China are coming into cars, and trucks and they have 3 billion or more people.

Tessa Schlesinger on March 25, 2019:

Rupert, read Rachel Carson's Silent Spring in 1970. Never wanted a car after that. There was a talk at UCSD about 10 years ago about the fact that electric cars didn't solve the problem. They don't. Electricity still has to be generated. Streets take up more spaces than homes do. It's an endless drain on our resources - metals, plasstics, fabrics, whatever. Rare earth materials need to be used with wisdom. We don't have endless resources for battery storage.

And, yes, I've been writing against the wind and living against the wind for a lifetime. :( I'm very into minimalism because I truly believe it's the only way out - high tech minimalism.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on March 25, 2019:

Hi, I agreed. Nevertheless, emissions from cars are here to stay. However, using cars for long journeys is a priority and a must. Have a nice time.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on March 25, 2019:

Sure, we need cars, but one per family member (which is true in many cases) is a bit much. Thanks for making us think about this dilemma.

Rupert Taylor (author) from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada on March 25, 2019:

Tessa - At least 40 years ago I was the editor of a current events magazine and I carried a cover story about how cars were destroying our cities. The president of the publishing company took me to task by pointing out the huge amount of advertising dollars that came from car companies. In fairness, he did not fire me but it was a not-so-subtle piece of advice about where my salary came from. Four decades later, I’m still beating the same drum.

Tessa Schlesinger on March 25, 2019:

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I've been a lone prophet crying in the desert for years. I'm sharing this immediately. Here's what we need to do.

1. Create a massive public transport system that is all-encompassing. Cars permitted, but cab/taxis. No personal ownership. High speed trains, airships (not planes) need to become the norm.

2. Bicycles and bikes are okay. Enclosed bikes need to be available for rainy days. Bike paths need to become dominant.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on March 24, 2019:

Hello, Rupert, cars are truly a menace to the human spices and the environment. Lesser beings are also affected. The later especially insects like mosquitoes seem to thrive higher on the emission of car fumes.

Accident by cars is mostly a personal responsibility. Some people drive offensively instead of driving in a defensive manner. Had all people take on defensive driving, death by car accidents will speak a different language that is acceptable.

This article is very informing. But cars are here to stay.Thank you for sharing, and have a wonderful time.

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