Science, Now + Beyond

These car company scandals could make your life worse

While corporations make a profit, you might be paying the bill.

In the past couple of years, several fuel emission-related scandals from various car companies have come out. Although these have not gone unnoticed, there are deeper issues with these scandals than what you’ve probably read: these incidents do not occur in a vacuum. The effects of greenhouse gas emission lies span across the globe.

The latest major emissions scandal comes from the Japanese automaker Mitsubishi. In April, the company admitted that it had been lying on fuel emission tests for 25 years, causing its stock to plummet by a third. For a quarter of a century, the company has been inaccurately reporting fuel economy. The total amount of cars affected? At least 625,000.

Seven months earlier, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a report stating that Volkswagen violated the Clean Air Act. The statement mentions that many cars made by Volkswagen Group, specifically in its Volkswagen and Audi vehicles, from 2009–2015 “include software that circumvents EPA emissions standards for certain air pollutants.” The company did this by rigging the system that checks for greenhouse gas emissions. The difference isn’t merely marginal, but a shocking increase. For instance, the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta was tested in the urban city of San Diego, and came up 37 times over the limit of nitrogen oxide emissions. The 2012 Volkswagen Passat was 20 times over the limit when tested in Los Angeles. These allegations, denied by Volkswagen, affect almost a half a million cars in the U.S. alone. The number of cars affected worldwide could be as high as 11 million.

The scandal sheds light on the need for an up-to-date emissions test. Transportation makes up 14 percent of the world’s greenhouse emissions. But the exposed scandals as well as those that are still uncovered in the automotive industry have lead to severe miscalculations of emission projections. One analysis states that the Volkswagen scandal alone could have caused an underestimation between 250,000 to 1 million extra metric tons of nitrogen oxide emissions every year.

It gets worse. Because these are not isolated incidents. In 2014, Hyundai and Kai were forced to pay a record $100 million in direct payments to car owners after it lied about their fuel economy statuses. It was no small lie that these companies told, as their projections of greenhouse gas emissions were underestimated by about 4.75 million metric tons over a vehicle’s lifetime. In the same year, Ford compensated 200,000 vehicle owners in the U.S. for overstating its gas mileages.

This deception is the result of greedy companies and a highly competitive market. These companies have chosen to get ahead financially while taking advantage of its customers. While these billion dollar businesses are “saving” money by lying about each car’s MPG, it’s costing their customers significantly more than what they paid for. It is unacceptable.

This is pure corporate greed on display. These companies cheat both their customers and the environment. While much of the media focused on the deception of the company, it did not focus on the severe impact this has on the environment in the form of air pollution. Around 3.3 million people worldwide are effected by air pollution every year, causing premature deaths, according to study in Nature done by the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry. Another shocking statistic shows that vehicle emissions cause twice as many deaths as traffic accidents in Germany

Oftentimes, we use the statistic that it’s safer to fly on a place than it is to drive a car. But what if it was safer to drive a car than to breathe?

This is only part of a larger issue. We are ignoring the immediate effects of climate change. Developed countries, especially the United States, deny the threat of rising greenhouse gas emissions in our atmosphere. While we ignore the effects of climate change in developed countries because its immediate effects aren’t hitting us over the head, undeveloped or developing countries are much more affected. Developed countries emit the majority of greenhouse gas emissions, but developing countries bear the burden. This is an extension of the problems that arise when we do not hold corporations to high standards. When we allow industry’s greenhouse gas emissions to go unchecked, we are polluting the Earth. More importantly, we are stunting the growth of developing nations, while developed countries’ industries make a profit.

For someone who would consider themselves quite cynical, it is not a surprise that companies did this. But it should be. We should not expect these companies to lie to us. We should not expect corporations to continue to pollute the environment with few regulations. These incidents prove the necessity for cleaner energy and holding industries to higher regulations. It proves the need for greater protection of consumers in the marketplace and and checks and balances for corporations. It proves the need for massive, global change.