How to Make a Big Impact: Air

The Elephant in the Room: What You Drive

Perhaps the biggest change you can make is taking a look at what gets you from Point A to Point B. One of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions is the millions of vehicles on the road daily.



For example, according to Coast Economic Localization Link (CELL), a person living in an energy-efficient home uses an average of 10 kWh daily for lights and appliances and releases an estimated 200 pounds of carbon emissions each year to the atmosphere. The same person driving a SUV 50 miles per day uses about 200 kWh daily and contributes a staggering 40,000 pounds of carbon emissions annually to the atmosphere.

“Increasing transportation efficiency is clearly the best place to focus our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” writes Steve Heckeroth for CELL.

While an electric car may not be a feasible purchase, there are still other vehicles you can consider that carry a lower price tag but are still more eco-friendly than the bulky SUV.

In addition to the Top 10 Cleanest Cars, there are other resources you can check out for more information. has a cool search tool that allows users to find a car by make/model, category, technology type and/or smog level.

What States are Doing

Some states are already making strides to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions. The California Clean Car Law of 2002 set standards to new vehicles and requires declining fleetwide emissions. While the law doesn’t call for dramatic changes, it’s estimated that the Clean Cars program will still reduce the greenhouse emission from passenger cars by 18 percent in 2020 and up to 27 percent by 2030.

The law is designed to access technologies, methods and cleaner fuels currently available in order to reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and hydroflurocarbons. In order to carry out the law, California will set strict standards and will also receive a waiver from the EPA.

While California is currently the only state that has set its own motor vehicle emission standards, several other states have adopted the Clean Car Law including Arizona, Washington, New Jersey, New Mexico and Oregon.

Keeping Tabs

To help consumers understand what new vehicles put out in terms of smog and greenhouse gases, the Environmental Performance Label was developed as an updated version of what use to be referred to as the Smog Index Level. Located on all new cars sold in California as of January 1, 2009, this label informs consumers on how a car stacks up.

Smog Score

Environmental Performance Label scores represent the entire range of emissions over all vehicle classes and sizes.

According to Driveclean, “smog is a haze-like form of air pollution produced by the photochemical reaction of sunlight with volatile organic compounds (including non-methane organic gases) and oxides of nitrogen that have been released into the atmosphere, especially by automobile operation.”

The smog score is a ranking of each vehicle’s pollutant levels of non-methane organic gases and oxides of nitrogen compared to all other vehicles within the current model year. The scores range from 1 to 10, with 10 representing the cleanest. Beginning in 1998, California began printing the Smog Index Level on all of its new cars in order to determine how each car rates when it comes to air pollution.

Global Warming Score

Greenhouse gases emitted from vehicles include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and hydroflurocarbons. Greenhouse gas emissions are the sum of all the greenhouse has emissions and are identified as the CO2-equivalent value. According to Driveclean, the Global Warming score is based on the sum of a vehicle’s greenhouse gas emissions.

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