With the endless stream of heatwaves experienced across the world, from east to west and everywhere in between, there’s no denying that the planet is indeed warming. Some scientists argue that this is simply a natural cycle of climate change, while others believe that global warming is a result of human activities.
The terms climate change and global warming have been a hot topic in recent years and often used interchangeably. But do they mean the same thing? And what role does the automotive and transportation industry play?
Climate change terminology
We regularly hear words related to climate change without fully understanding their full meaning. So, to be a part of the conversation, a quick view of just five of the most commonly used terms on the topic:
Global climate is the idea of a connected universal system where each element plays a part in affecting the global environment.
Changes in oceans, earth, sun, mountains, forests, savannas, deserts, can lead to global climate change over time. It is essentially the long term distribution of heat and precipitation on the Earth’s surface.
Climate change refers to a change in average climatic conditions such as temperature and rainfall over a long period of time. Cyclical climate change is normal due to small variations in the Earth’s orbit, where these variations affect the amount of solar energy our planet receives. However, human activities since the mid-1900s have caused a significant increase and rapid changes in the atmosphere globally.
Scientists at NASA have observed a warming of the Earth’s surface with most of the warming occurring in the past 40 years, the past decade being the warmest, and 2016 and 2020 being the warmest years on record so far.
To ensure optimal temperatures are maintained for life to continue, the earth’s atmosphere acts like a greenhouse to capture heat from the sun. Today, too much of this heat is being trapped in our atmosphere. The reason, scientists say, is because the tiny black carbon particles (smoke, pollution, soot) absorb heat like a blanket.
Some scientists say this warming trend began around the time when coal became common use. Now with more fossil fuels being burnt for energy and plastic manufacturing, the heating continues at an even faster rate.
The graph below shows how much CO2 levels have increased since the Industrial Revolution compared to climate measurements over the past 800,000 years.
CO2 levels based on the comparison of atmospheric samples contained in ancient ice cores and more recent direct measurements. Source: climate.nasa.gov
Also known as GHGs, the most common and well-known greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide (CO2). Common sources are related to human activities such as fuel combustion, industries, livestock farming, landfill waste, biofuels, etc.
Other forms of GHGs are:
- Methane (CH4)
- Nitrous oxide (N2O)
- Fluorinated gases – Mainly used as refrigerants (air conditioners, fridges), they are extremely warming, can last thousands of years and spread worldwide.
What actions is the transportation industry taking?
The combustion of fossil fuels such as petrol and diesel to transport people and goods was the largest source of CO2 emissions in 2020.
This month on 3 May, 2023, the inland fuel price in South Africa increased by 37 cents per litre to a hefty R 23.01c for 93 octane and R23.34 c for 95 petrol.
2023 South African petrol price per litre in rands. Image source: GlobalPetrolPrices.com
While motorists tighten their belts to combat fuel increases, they must also be wondering about their impact on global warming. Striving for fuel-efficient driving habits, cutting down on flying, and only buying energy-efficient appliances are just a few ways we can make a difference.
Stakeholders across the automotive industry are working hard to reduce their emissions with the aim of reducing carbon emissions by 55% over the next decade. For example:
- Electrification within the automotive industry is currently seen as one of the most significant opportunities to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint. The industry has invested huge amounts of money into developing and building better charging infrastructure for electric vehicles. They’re also constantly searching for new technologies that will reduce the overall cost of fuel cell and battery systems, and increasing EV ranges.
- Pollution control technologies such as catalytic converters to reduce exhaust pollutants from passenger cars can help reduce emissions of N2 Fuel-efficient cars emit less pollution over the same amount of distance traveled and also cost less to operate.
- Hydrogen power is created by converting the chemical energy into mechanical energy. When produced through renewable resources like solar, wind, and water, hydrogen has good potential as an alternative fuel, particularly for larger vehicles like trucks and buses.
There may still be disagreement as to whether we’re in a global warming crisis or not, but there’s no denying that the Earth’s temperature is warmer than ever. We don’t need to look at data – images of decreased snow cover, shrinking ice sheets, retreating glaciers, and the extreme weather events across the globe is evidence enough.
What can you do? Not everyone can switch over to a hybrid vehicle, but we can switch to more fuel efficient ones. Ultimately, our aim is to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Furthermore, operating a more fuel-efficient car can save you thousands of rands on fuel costs over time.
Disclaimer: This information is for educational, or entertainment purposes only. It must not be construed as advice, legal, financial, or otherwise. We do not make any warranties about the completeness, reliability, and accuracy of this information.