Something that has bothered me for a long time is how people and our western societies in general treat energy and the resources needed for it. In my opinion, the awareness of the effects of our behaviour – from both an ecological and social perspective – is sadly lacking.
If we look closely at many modes of behaviour it is not unjustified to speak of a kind of „energy illiteracy“.
With the help of a few examples from the automobile industry, without losing myself too much in technical details, I would like to illustrate our responsibility and the complexity of this topic:
The topics of environmental pollution and the criminal „energy“ of the economic main players as well as their unscrupulousness as regards the effects of their conduct on the well-being of people, animals and the environment have not only come to light since the Volkswagen diesel scandal. The entanglement of economic interests (vulgo striving for profits) and our decision-makers has become obvious even to the politically disinterested.
The first indicators of a manipulation of the exhaust emissions occurred already in 2010. Measurements showed that the air quality in cities had not improved to the extent that could have been expected from promises made by car manufacturers as regards reductions of pollutants. Consequently, the political decision-makers, in this case the EU Commission, knew about the swindling.
The true manipulation has, however, another, much more basic source. As long as fossil fuels which are carbon-based are used in combustion engines, it is inevitable that there will be harmful emissions. From a physical perspective, it cannot be any different. Manufacturers try to suggest to consumers through advertising and marketing that normal fossil fuels can be environmentally friendly.
But this is not the case:
In combustion engines, carbon dioxide (CO2) is unavoidably produced,
which, although not toxic, is harmful to the environment. It can no longer be denied that the greenhouse effect leads to climate changes to our planet, with all the ecological, social and economic consequences (climate refugees, hunger, destruction as a result of forces of nature, extinction, ice melting, failed harvests, etc.).
A major misconception is the belief that increased CO2 values will result in a general growth in our plants. This is seldom the case. Most of the plant-based biomass on the planet cannot cope well with the additional CO2 in the air.
In Germany alone, 150 million tons of this gas is emitted into the atmosphere every year.
In second place: carbon monoxide CO,
which is produced as a result of insufficient oxygen in engines under certain operating conditions. The odour-free gas blocks oxygen uptake and leads to death by asphyxia (as accidents with, for example, gas boilers, sadly show). In areas with high levels of carbon monoxide, such as in cities, increased levels of carbon monoxide can reduce the ability to perform, both physically and mentally. Higher exposure to carbon monoxide can lead to chronic harm, such as, for example, heart problems, and can cause depression.
820.000 tons of carbon monoxide are emitted annually.
Third: Nitrogen oxide (NOx)
Nitrogen oxide is produced as a result of excess air and high temperatures in combustion chambers (above all in diesel engines). Nitrogen oxide attacks the lungs and, especially in the case of people with asthma, causes a narrowing of the bronchia. Plants suffer necrosis, atrophies and premature ageing due to nitrogen oxide emissions. Moreover, this pollutant leads to an acidification of our ground and waters.
Annual emissions: 520,000 tons
Fourth place: volatile aromatic compounds
– particularly in the case of petrol by means of evaporation in the atmosphere. Benzene, one of the main pollutants in the group, is considered highly toxic and carcinogenic. Mere contact with skin can cause poisoning. If inhaled, benzene is highly carcinogenic and can cause leukemia (cancer of the blood).
93,000 tons per year are emitted into the environment
Fifth: Fine dust and soot
Soot is primarily produced as a result of the uneven burning of fuel. When inhaled, soot particles enter our bloodstream via the lungs and cause significant harm to an individual’s health (lung cancer, poisoning of organisms on the cellular level with carcinogenic components of the smallest particles). Fine dust is produced as a result of the abrasion of tyres and brakes. The latest research even reinforces the suspicion that fine dust attacks the human metabolic rate and, as a result, can lead to obesity and diabetes.
46 million tons of fine dust is emitted into our environment as a result of motor traffic.
A further aspect is the – for technical reasons – alarmingly low efficiency of combustion engines. More than two-thirds of the energy in fuel is used to heat our ambient air. Petrol and diesel engines are currently efficient to an average of 25% and 33% respectively. It is no exaggeration to say that today’s cars are flying „open air heaters“. 40 litres of a 60 litre full tank are simply unused.
As we can see, every day we drive around in „killer machines“ and are (often) even proud of our wheels. Of course today’s cars are „cleaner“ than older models as a result of their modern, computer-driven engine management systems and methods for the treatment of exhaust fumes. However, the basic problem remains.
One of the most obvious examples of a lack of knowledge and conscious ignorance is the fact that we simply accept this catastrophic state of affairs as „normal“ and do not think further about it. Much more energy is spent on considering what model of car we should buy to make our neighbours jealous.
In the forthcoming series of articles, we will focus on the consequences of the oil industry on the environment and on society and point out alternatives to the current madness.
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