What Are the Most Polluting Industries? - Transportation
Jan 27 2022
The population of the world may have grown significantly larger in recent decades, but the widespread availability of affordable travel options has made it seem like a much smaller place. Nowadays, taking a cross-continental train or jumping on a plane from one side of the planet to the other is within the financial grasp of more people than ever before.
Unfortunately, those capabilities have not come without a downside. The emissions from road, rail, sea and air travel cumulatively add up to almost a quarter of all greenhouse gases (GHGs) produced anywhere on the planet! This pollution is weighted slightly towards passenger travel, which accounts for some 60% of the overall total, while commercial freight contributes the remaining 40%.
Given that the enormous size of aeroplanes and the vast amounts of fuel they consume and CO2 they produce, it might surprise you to learn that aviation accounts for just 16% of all transport-related emissions. That’s because even though cars have a far smaller individual footprint, the sheer number of them makes them responsible for more pollution than any other form of getting around.
When you consider that as many as 87% of adult Britons own their own vehicle – and many of them possess more than one – that’s perhaps not that shocking a statistic. Indeed, road travel is responsible for such a wide variety of different forms of air pollution in the UK that many of its towns and cities have fallen afoul of international air quality standards for several years running.
It’s not just our airwaves are polluted by transportation, either. Oil spillages and slicks can be washed off the surface of roads into nearby fields, streams and rivers, compromising the quality of both the soil and the water. The same can occur with fragments of rubber from tyres over the course of their lifetime, contributing to the accumulation of pollution such as particulate matter (PM), which is often considered as one of the deadliest forms.
Meanwhile, noise pollution is another unwanted by-product of the transportation sector. The honking car horns, whining engines and screeching brakes of cars are bad enough for urban dwellers who must tolerate regular traffic jams, but the ear-splitting decibel levels of an aeroplane are even more unpleasant for those living under their flight path. And it’s not just humans which are affected, either, since animals can have their breeding, feeding and migratory patterns interrupted by transport noise pollution.
So what can be done to address the issue? Well, the top-down regulation of vehicle engines and the emissions they produce can help to monitor and control the emission of nitrogen oxides (NOx). But while there is much to be said for government incentives to alleviate the pollution caused by travel, much of the change must from individual members of society.
In practical terms, this means walking and cycling for shorter distances and taking public transport for longer ones. If you really must drive, an electric vehicle (EV) or hybrid can slash your carbon footprint, while holidaying closer to home is as good for the local economy as it is for the environment. When taken collectively, these small changes have the power to enact massive change with regard to the pollution profile of the transport industry.
To learn about how emissions from travel (and other industry) affect our environment and what is being done to curb them, why not consider the upcoming CEM Conference this March? An online-only event, the Conference can be attended virtually by interested parties from all over the world.
Asian Environmental Technology 27.2 - April/May 2023
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