Automobiles and the Environment


Automobiles are a vital part of the world’s economy and society. Few inventions have had as much of a positive impact on daily life, enabling people to work outside the home and to travel easily for business and pleasure. But they also pose a significant threat to the environment. Automobiles emit a large quantity of harmful pollutants and toxins. These pollutants contribute to global warming and also affect human health. They can contaminate water, air and soil, thus affecting the whole ecosystem.

Modern automobiles are complex technical systems containing thousands of individual parts. Many of these are arranged into semi-independent systems that serve specific design functions. For example, the engine—the heart of the automobile—is surrounded by a circulatory system that cools the engine with liquid lubricating oil and delivers fuel to its cylinders. The suspension system, meanwhile, absorbs the shock of bumps and holes in the road surface.

The technical building blocks for the modern automobile go back hundreds of years. Inventors such as Leonardo da Vinci and Gottfried Wilhelm Leyden worked on early designs for horseless carriages. In the 1860s Siegfried Marcus, a German working in Vienna, built the first automobile with an internal combustion engine powered by gasoline.

The automobile revolutionized transportation in the United States and all over the world. New industries sprang up to produce and supply automotive parts, such as petroleum and gasoline, rubber and plastics. Roads and services were improved to accommodate the growing number of cars. The production methods introduced by Ransom Eli Olds and expanded by Henry Ford greatly accelerated the development of automobiles.