Here's How Much Vehicle Emissions Have Increased In Your City

Illustration for article titled Here's How Much Vehicle Emissions Have Increased In Your City
Photo: Getty

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.

Advertisement

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.

Former Senior Reporter, Investigations & Technology, Jalopnik

DISCUSSION

dieseldub
dieseldub

Ok, to add to my reply, I did in fact go ahead and dig up two popular models, their California emissions certification.

First, we’ll start with 1990, the limits were as follows:

0.39 grams/mile Hydrocarbons (henceforth abbreviated HC, and the units g/mi).
7.0 g/mi Carbon Monoxide (henceforth called CO)
0.4 g/mi Nitrogen Oxides (henceforth called NOx)

The 1990 Camry with the 2.0L 4 cylinder was certified to emit the following compared to the allowed limits above:

0.23 g/mi HC
1.6 g/mi CO
0.1 g/mi NOx

The file is here: https://ww3.arb.ca.gov/msprog/onroad/cert/pcldtmdv/1990/toyota_pc_a0140161ra_2d0_ta0.pdf

Now we move onto 2019, also using a Camry 2.5 4 cylinder:

The modern models are more difficult to decipher, they include more regulated pollutants (most notably non-methane organic gases, NMOG for short, and Tier 3 rules are combining the above mentioned NMOGs with NOx) and different test cycle results.

So, the easiest to decipher to me is the FTP@UL test:

Max allowed limits:

0.030 g/mi NMOG and NOx combined
1.0 g/mi CO
And I don’t even see HC standards listed, but there are additional categories you don’t see from the 1990 results: HCHO (Formaldehyde), particulate matter (PM) and measurements of the evaporative system (the ability to prevent gasoline vapors from entering atmosphere from anywhere in the system).

The 2.5 Camry was certified to emit the following:

0.0170 g/mi NMOG and NOx combined
0.17 g/mi CO

The drop in CO output in particular is pretty nuts. Went from 1.6 g/mi to 0.17 g/mi.... 2019 Camry 2.5 certification found here: https://ww3.arb.ca.gov/msprog/onroad/cert/pcldtmdv/2019/toyota_pc_a0141002_2d5_s3-30.pdf

Tell me again how 2019 cars are somehow dirtier? That statement makes zero sense.