Is there really any way to satisfy our ever-increasing “need for speed”? Please spare a second thought for it on World Car Free Day on September 22nd. There’s hope, but we must act now.
What is an SUV?
From a humble beginning, motorized vehicles now seem to have monopolized our lives. We are always looking for faster ways to get from Point A to Point B, without the need for unreliable and uncomfortable forms of transport, usually the animal kind, like camels, horses or elephants. Although it has never been an easy ride, especially because we have had a love-hate relationship with powered vehicles ever since the first one hit the roads back in 1769 when a French military engineer named Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot built a steam-powered tricycle for hauling artillery. In 1808, François Isaac de Rivaz designed the first car with an internal combustion engine (ICE) which was fueled by hydrogen. In 1828, Ányos Jedlik created one of the first electric motors and subsequently designed a small scale vehicle to demonstrate it, but human sized carrying electric vehicles took until 1832 to come along. A French Physicist named Gaston Planté invented the lead–acid battery in 1859, which was the first rechargeable electric battery ever produced, and is still used today. That said, we consider the first internal combustion engine automobiles were those patented in January, 1886, which were a car by Karl Friedrich Benz, and a motorcycle by Gottlieb Daimler. In 1913, Henry Ford created the first mass produced vehicle with the Model T, which by 1927 had sold 15 million. Around 75 million cars will be made this year. In fact, up until 2020, worldwide approximately 603,700,000,000 vehicles of all types had been made. Currently, there are around 1,500,000,000 registered vehicles on the roads.
What is in the car Industry (and what should not)?
In most countries, about 2-3% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is generated by the motor industry, so it exerts quite a lot of influence on the economy when decisions about its future are being made, as we have seen in recent years with the tug-of-war between fossil-fuel-powered, hybrid and electric vehicles. Let’s be honest, the car is a luxury item, and has always been. While economies have flourished, more people have been able to own their own car, van or motorcycle, but in times of economic distress, they become expendable. It’s important that governments are aware of such factors and provide adequate public transport to meet demand, or it could easily become a further factor inhibiting economic stability, recovery and growth.
Road traffic safety is still a major issue, even if we now have Airbags, ABS, SIPS, GPS and all of those other fancy improvements. Despite years of campaigning about drunk driving, it still occurs. Vehicles have become larger and they occupy up to 70% of public space, while remaining stationary 95% of the time. Excess speed still kills and injures many a reckless driver, pedestrian and wildlife too. Driving aggressively and too fast also means you use more fuel, creating more pollution…
Those 1,500,000,000 vehicles I mentioned earlier are causing a lot of pollution, including Nitrogen Oxides (NOx), Carbon Dioxide, Carbon Monoxide, and Particulate Matter (PM10, 2.5 and ultrafine particles). Curiously, kilo for kilo, motorcycles create much more pollution due to the high revolutions their motors need to make, and even the most efficient engine only delivers about 30% efficiency, while electric motors are around 95% efficient. If we roughly imagine that each of those 1,500,000,000 vehicles on average emits 0.1kg of CO2 per kilometre travelled and each vehicle travels an average of 100,000 kilometres in its lifetime of around 10 years that would mean 150,000,000,000,000 kg of CO2 going into our atmosphere, adding to the Greenhouse effect. In fact, more than 400 billion tonnes of CO2 have been added by humans since 1880 and it stays in the atmosphere for more than a century, or gets absorbed by the sea, creating acidification, so you could say, “Houston, we have a MASSIVE problem!” (Billionaires rocketing off into space does not help either!) That doesn’t even include the pollution and contamination produced when making the vehicles and their parts, or the transport of fuel and replacement parts to points of sales literally all over the world. On average, each vehicle changes tires every 3-4 years because of tyre wear, and that rubber particulate matter goes into our lungs, drains and rivers. We often have to change other things like motor oil, air filters, windscreen wipers, damaged parts, etc which amounts to an enormous drain on the planet’s resources. Not only that, but where does all of that hazardous waste end up when it’s no longer useful?
There are alternatives to the Internal Combustion Engine, of course, but what are they, and how do they compare? Well, there are now many variations based mostly on electric motors, including hybrids, using batteries or hydrogen as the power source. Perhaps autonomous vehicles will be the answer in the future, but the problems of congestion still remain. Imagine being stuck in traffic 2 hours a day, 10 hours a week, 520 hours annually, which is 3 whole weeks of unpaid stress. Wouldn’t people rather take a bus or train, and do something more productive with their time? Anyway, Electric Vehicles are definitely an improvement on what we have been using. In combination, cleaner renewable sources of electricity can be provided virtually everywhere nowadays and solar power has now become the cheapest method of producing electricity. The only downside is storing the excess energy, because storage technology still needs to improve, and, being honest, become a little more eco-friendly. It may not be a perfect technology, but it is improving remarkably quickly. Obviously, there has been a lot of talk about hydrogen recently, but it is simply not the answer to our energy problems and I’ll tell you why… 95% of hydrogen is made by the fossil fuel industry, therefore finite, and what’s more, the methods are dirty and harmful to the environment. Hydrogen is expensive to produce and also dangerous to store and transport. We are now able to obtain “green hydrogen” by electrolysis of water (liberating oxygen), which sounds good, doesn’t it? Well, unfortunately, that process requires huge amounts of electricity (from what source?) and clean water (in short supply in a lot of places). You simply cannot oxidize hydrogen in air, because it will also combine with the other elements in it, like nitrogen (78% of the atmosphere) creating NOx, which is a greenhouse gas and causes cancer. Therefore, we also need a supply of pure oxygen, but that industrial electrolysis process mentioned above also creates heat, and the oxidization of hydrogen does as well. Do we think that is a good idea on an already warming planet? I think not!
“I have a vision…” I imagine in the not too distant future that we will electrify everything, due to the climate crisis and the need to abandon fossil fuel use. Approximately 95% of a vehicle’s life will be spent just parked doing nothing, and I certainly think we’re missing a huge opportunity to cover Electric Vehicles (EVs) in solar cells that could very easily be storing energy in that very large battery they carry around. Elon Musk, the owner of Tesla, Inc, which created 367,500 EVs in 2019, seems to have had a similar idea, as Tesla also sell roof solar panels and wall batteries for home use. Imagine if your vehicle, home, work and places of leisure were all fitted with solar panels and battery packs, then there’s absolutely no reason why we can’t get those technologies to work in harmony and even give energy back to us at night. So much renewable energy could be made available with a minimal investment, and many job opportunities would be guaranteed with just a little retraining. Smart technology solutions can, and must, help us end our infatuation with fossil fuels and move us towards the next phase of humanity more rapidly than we are currently doing so.
How does humanity benefit from SUVs?
Freedom: The freedom to roam is often cited as the greatest benefit from private vehicles, but do we really roam that much? As I said, 95% of the time a vehicle sits doing nothing and we pay a heavy price for that waste of public space and private equity. Owning a car nowadays says, “Look at me! I have so much money to waste, I even burn it”. It reminds me of that immortal line from Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club: “The things you own end up owning you. It’s only after you lose everything that you’re free to do anything.”
Goods Transport: Getting goods to you and into the shops requires some heavy lifting. Factory to train, train to ship, Ship to train, to warehouse, to the customer and
Leisure/Entertainment: Who still remembers those slow Sunday drives with their Grandparents out to the middle of nowhere, just to see how far it is to there and back? On the other end of the speed spectrum, motor racing still remains incredibly popular, including the Paris-Dakar Rally, Formula 1, Motorcycle racing, Carts, Monster trucks and even Demolition derbies.
How to Save Our SUVs?
Individually: Be rational and do the numbers about whether owning a vehicle is right for you, and if it is, please make sure it’s emission free. Perhaps renting or sharing would be more appropriate, or even getting an electric scooter or bicycle. Remember that whatever ends up on the road, then ends up in our rivers, and what ends up in the air then ends up in our lungs.
Collectively, including Governments: We must stop adding harmful substances to the atmosphere, like Greenhouse gases, and then also find a way to remove the excess CO2 that we have already added.
Unpopular opinion: Most of us share some responsibility for the state of our roads, contributing something to it from congestion, our bad habits, excessive energy use, etc. We should remember that we are not the only species dependant on breathing clean air, so please think of your beloved pets, animals in zoos, urban wildlife, etc. Protecting the environment from further environmental disasters and cleaning up our mess must be top priorities.
Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to check the veracity of the information contained within, certain limitations could result in not all data being current or completely accurate. Please feel free to contact us if you feel particular data needs updating.
Save Our SUVs Test
Here are 10 questions...
How it started
How it's going
SOSquiz Glossary of Terms (with links to Wikipedia)
6th mass extinction (Holocene Extinction)
AEEA (Asociación Española de Educación Ambiental)
ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network)
Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
Carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere
Carbon Monoxide (CO)
Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Coronavirus (Covid-19 or SARS Cov-2)
Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
Human impact on the environment
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
Internal combustion engine (ICE)
Internet service providers (ISP)
National Security Agency (NSA)
Particulate Matter (PM 10, 2.5 & UFP)
Psychological impact of climate change
Quality of life (QOL)
Ultrafine particles (UFP)
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO)
World Health Organization (WHO)
World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)
World Wide Web (www)