At the heart of how Americans get around is a paradox: the vehicles we use keep getting more efficient, but the emissions from those vehicles have gone way up.
So has population, you might say. And you’d be right! But even on a per-person basis, emissions from driving keep going up.
All this spells trouble for our goal of no longer poisoning the planet.
We have known this broad trend for a while, but using data from a Boston University study, the New York Times published an infographic breaking down on-road emissions in 100 major metro areas, both in total and on a per-capita basis. The results further highlight that not only are we failing to make sufficient progress in reducing transportation-related emissions in this country, we’re getting worse.
“The bulk of those emissions, nearly 60 percent, come from the country’s 250 million passenger cars, S.U.V.s and pickup trucks, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Freight trucks contribute an additional 23 percent,” the Times wrote. They found that “in nearly every metro area, total emissions have increased since 1990" and that “per capita emissions have also ticked up in most metro areas in recent years.”
As the Times points out, one of the key reasons we’ve gone backward is drivers increasingly opt for less-efficient SUVs and pickups rather than more fuel-efficient sedans. But, that’s not the whole story. Our cities keep growing and they mostly grow out instead of up, so people have to travel further distances to get to work, school, and whatever people do for fun these days. And, because the sprawl makes public transportation damn near impossible to run efficiently, almost everyone drives to get to those places.
You can—and should— see how your metro area is doing, but the overarching theme is not only are we as a nation failing to reduce our transportation-related emissions fast enough, we’re failing to reduce them at all. More fuel-efficient vehicles simply aren’t enough.