Questions that have always intrigued you about the world will appear in this, your section,
and be answered by other readers. Please address your answers and questions to ‘Curiosities’.
How much energy is needed to manufacture an average-sized car?
One estimate gives the energy required to manufacture a car to be 65,000 mega-joules - the equivalent to the energy obtainable from 1.5 tonnes of crude oil. This estimate includes the energy used in manufacturing the raw materials for the car, as well as that used in the assembly process.
However, manufacturing processes represent only a fraction of the energy consumed by a car in its lifetime. If a car travels 12,500 miles in one year, it will use over 285 gallons of fuel - equivalent to a tonne of crude oil.
Figures for the UK in 1988 show that road transport consumed the energy equivalent to 210 million tonnes of oil. That's 42 percent of the country's total energy consumption for one year.
This information comes from: The Energy Question, by Gerald Foley, Penguin Books 1992 and Road Vehicle Fuel Economy, TRRI/HMSO, 1992.
A US estimate of the actual energy required to manufacture 10 million cars a year was the equivalent of 575,000 barrels of oil a day.
But the manufacture of cars also involves some of the most energy consuming and polluting processes. Iron and steel production involves sulphur dioxide aor emissions leading to acid rain and toxic slag waste; aluminium production involves land degradation in bauxite mining, emits sulphur dioxide and uses huge amounts of subsidized electrical energy.
Platinum, zinc, lead and copper production are all toxic - the last involving huge open-pit mines and sulphur dioxide emissions. Pollutants such as sulphuric acid, heavy metals, mercury, CFCs and other ozone-depleting and greenhouse gases, are also produced massively. Car production also uses up 10 precent of all plastics produced in most industrialized countries.
Finally, two million metric tonnes of material from cars end up on US rubbish dumps a year.
These facts are taken from The Environmental Impact of the Car, a Greenpeace Report 1992. Also interesting are two Worldwatch papers entitled: The Bicycle: vehicle for a small planet (Number 90) and Alternatives to the Automobile: transport for limited cities (Number 98).
awaiting your answers
What is happening in Iraq? What happened to the Kurds and to the Arabs who were hiding in the marshes?
Why don't we ever hear anything? Are sanctions still in force?
How would the introduction of a single European currency affect the countries of the South?
When I donate my blood to the National Blood Transfusion Service am I doing myself any good - apart from the good feeling I get from the belief that I am helping other people? Has there been any modern research into whether opening a vein occasionally really is good for the constitution?
If you have any questions or answers please send them to Curiosities, New Internationalist, 55 Rectory Road, Oxford OX4 1BW, UK, or to your local NI office (see inside front cover for addresses).
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©Copyright: New Internationalist 1996