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From the roadsters of the Jazz Age, to the compacts of the Rap Age, to the SUVs of the Information Superhighway, cars have been at the center of American life. We favor the automobile over all other forms of transportation, chiefly for the convenience four wheels and an engine provide.
Convenience, however, is a transitory thing. The comforts of one age become the bane of the next. So it is with the automobile. We now know that the freedom to boldly go wherever the blacktop leads comes with high, sometimes hidden, costs.
We pay dearly for the privilege to drive with smog, ozone alerts, and groundwater polluted by spilled gasoline and oil. We spend billions of public dollars to build and maintain roads and to defend foreign oil supplies, funds that otherwise might be spent on schools, health care or public transportation. We sacrifice urban neighborhoods and rural farmland for highways; lose precious hours commuting or idling in traffic jams; and burn a costly, imported nonrenewable fossil fuel just to pick up a quart of milk and a newspaper. If all the costs of auto transportation were passed on to drivers, a gallon of gas would run more than $4.50.
Yet the gasoline-powered automobile is here to stay – for a while. Magnetic trains, and electric- and hydrogen-fueled vehicles will probably transport us in the not-so-distant future, but until then, we'll have to make do with the internal combustion engine.
This manual features tips and techniques for operating and maintaining your vehicle in an environmentally sound manner. Follow this advice and soon you'll be behind the wheel of a "green" machine.
Furthermore, many auto air conditioners contain chemical refrigerants that harm the atmosphere if they get loose. Pre-1995 models used about three pounds of chlorofluorocarbons (CFC-12, commonly known as Freon), compared to just a few ounces in a typical home refrigerator. When those CFCs leak out, they damage the stratospheric ozone layer. (see "OZONE")
International agreements have nearly phased out the production of CFCs worldwide, and since 1995 automakers have switched to hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which do not harm the ozone layer. BUT the HFC molecules are even stronger than CO2 at warming the atmosphere, so we still have to keep them under control. (see "GLOBAL WARMING")
What can you do with your current cooler? Have it checked frequently. If it's leaking, bring it to a reputable service station that collects and recycles the remaining refrigerants, as required by state and federal law. Wisconsin regulations don't allow the mechanic to "top off" a leaky system (right now it's the ONLY state with this law) – you can either have it fixed or disconnected, balancing coolness versus cost. Or consider converting old CFC-systems to the new HFCs – it should cost about the same as a repair and you will gain energy efficiency.
Do-it-yourselfers take note: This is a job you should leave to the experts – not only do they have the right equipment and training, they're also the only people allowed by law to work on A/Cs.
If you insist on using the air conditioner, minimize the impact–drive a light-colored car with a light interior and park in the shade. And use those handy inside-the-windshield sun-blockers. It takes more energy to cool a hot car than it does to cool a medium-sized home in Atlanta during the summer!
One final note – make sure the refrigerant will be properly recovered and recycled when you bring your Green Machine to the junkyard. (see "SALVAGE YARDS")
Recycling old batteries is a breeze. All vehicle battery retailers in Wisconsin must accept lead-acid batteries at no charge from people who purchased their batteries from them. If you bought the battery somewhere else, the retailer can charge you up to $3; but depending on the price of lead, a retailer may pay YOU for the battery. The recycled lead is used to make new batteries, cable coverings, radiation shielding and other products. The acid may be used in new batteries or fertilizer, or neutralized for safe disposal. Plastic casings are recycled into new casings, wastebaskets and other items.
Wear safety goggles and gloves when you pick up a battery, and carry it in a wooden box or leak-proof container. To avoid explosions, don't smoke near batteries. If you drop a battery, neutralize any spilled acid with baking soda or lime, and lots of water.
A car sharing service makes vehicles available to people on a per-use basis. Think of it as neighborhood-based, time-share car rental. You use the vehicle only when you need it, and pay based on how much you drive. Cars are kept in small neighborhood lots within easy walking distance. When you need a car, simply ring up and reserve it. At the end of the month you receive a bill in the mail as you do for any other utility. Talk about convenient!
Check out the many new car share programs springing up all over the world by visiting CarSharing.net. You might just get motivated to start a car share service in your community!
More compact, pedestrian-designed urban spaces with a mixture of residences, offices, stores and parks shorten the distance people must travel to work and shop. Safe bicycling and efficient mass transit then become more viable. Work for measures to control urban sprawl in your community and urge planners to consider sound urban design in future transportation policies.
CRUISING INTO THE FUTURE
Nitrogen oxides and other compounds, notably sulfur dioxide, contribute to acid rain. Acidic precipitation destroys forests and raises the pH of freshwater lakes, making them less hospitable to fish and other aquatic life.
F.Y.I. Registered vehicles in Wisconsin counties that don't meet federal air quality standards are required to pass emissions tests. (see "TUNE-UP") If you aren't sure about your county, visit Air Management at Department of Natural Resources.
The U.S. continues to improve emission standards, but the vehicle population of the U.S. is growing more than six times faster than the human population, offsetting most of the pollution reductions. And each time the laws are strengthened, years must pass before the entire fleet of U.S. cars actually meets the new standards. But how many cars will be on the roads then? Only you can decide.
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Produced by: DNR Bureau of Communication and Education
Written by: Maureen Mecozzi
Illustrations by: Rich Malone
Revised by: Mittsy Voiles with contributions from Lance Green, Jerry Medinger, Eric Mosher, and Josie Pradella of the Wisconsin DNR; and Brian Buckta of Braun R&D.
Reviewed by: Anne Bogar, Sara Burr, Eva Larson, Maureen Mecozzi, Kelly Mella, Al Stenstrup, Greg Swanson and Anne Urbanski of the Wisconsin DNR; David Biegel, Peter Jensen, and Don Schinker of Madison Area Technical College; and Mike Shucha of Waunakee High School.