Automobiles and the Environment

Automobiles are a vital link for the modern world, allowing people to get around without relying on others, and to connect with jobs in other cities. But this great convenience comes with a price: automobiles are also responsible for much of the pollution and loss of open land that has plagued our planet in recent times.

The first modern cars were designed and built in Germany and France toward the end of the nineteenth century by such pioneers as Gottlieb Daimler, Karl Benz, Emile Levassor, and Nicolaus Otto. These were not mass produced, but individually handcrafted to the specifications of each customer. The industrialization of the automobile led to the creation of huge factories that turned out vehicles on an assembly line. The development of new technology, such as electric ignition and the electric self-starter (invented by Charles Kettering for Cadillac in 1910), independent suspension, four-wheel brakes, and the Carnot engine improved the efficiency of internal combustion engines.

As the automobile revolutionized the world, it opened up many new possibilities for work and leisure activities. Families could go on vacations to formerly unaccessible places; city dwellers could visit rural countrysides, and country folk could shop in urban centers. The automobile was a key force in the growth of the middle class, and it helped to create a wide range of services like hotels, restaurants, and recreational parks. But the automobile also brought with it many social problems, such as traffic jams, accidents, and fatalities. It contributed to pollution from the burning of gasoline, and it drained the world’s limited supply of oil.