One of the most interesting discussions that came out of the Cash for Clunkers tax credit program a few years ago was a heated debate on the environmental impact of older cars.  Nearly everyone would agree that today’s newer cars would experience much higher fuel economy than the older models, but does buying a new car really count as an act of environmental consciousness?

            I hate to break it to all you Prius drivers out there, but it my humble opinion it would not matter.  While the average driver can expect to achieve between five and ten more miles per gallon by switching over to a newer model car, this discussion fails to take into consideration the entire automobile manufacturing process.  Building a new car from scratch requires a significant outlay of raw materials, and generates a good deal of industrial pollution.  Holding onto that old “clunker,” on the other hand, would only necessitate the occasional purchase of replacement parts.     

            Also, the Cash for Clunkers tax credit program did not reflect the environmental impact associated with shipping all of those new cars to their local dealerships for retail purchase.  Overland car transporters are hardly the most environmentally friendly vehicles, and those economical imports require the use of overseas container ships.  Let’s face it, by the time a driver slides in behind the wheel of that shiny new Toyota hybrid, they’ve already made a significant contribution to global warming!

            Apart from the all of the environmental concerns that go hand in hand with manufacturing and distribution, I doubt that very many people have considered the increasing amount of electronic circuitry and wiring used in today’s technologically advanced vehicles.  Just like the electronics found in our cellular phones and laptop computers, all of these wires and circuit boards are very challenging to recycle.  These materials eventually become what is known as “e-waste,” obsolete electronics that are shipped to third world nations where impoverished people process the material for re-use.  This work is often done in unsafe conditions, and for pitiful wages.  Call me crazy, but this is hardly the portrait of global sustainability pictured in the manufacturer’s television commercials!

            With all of these thoughts in mind, it is perfectly clear that the best thing you can do for the environment would be to hold on to your older car for as long as possible.  Gas-powered vehicles are almost certainly always going to involve some degree of carbon emissions, but continuing to drive an older car means that Mother Earth only has to absorb the negative effects of the manufacturing process ONE SINGLE TIME.  Yes, recycling is great, but we can’t afford to forget the importance of Reducing and Re-using.

            What?  So your friends are calling you a cheapskate for not trading in that old “clunker” on a brand-new set of wheels? 

            Just tell them you’re going green!