Why gasoline consumption may be more relevant metric in determining air-improvement progress

In 2018, internal combustion engines in the United States gulped 147 billion gallons of gasoline. Use of this liquid was split among motor vehicles, motorcycles, motor scooters, lawnmowers, leaf blowers, chainsaws, some types of jack hammers and other internal-combustion-engine-powered equipment and devices.

Gas refueling hose, nozzle and control

Over time, domestic gasoline use has tracked in a generally positive direction. From an air-quality-improvement standpoint, it isn’t exactly an encouraging one. The more gasoline burned, the more impure (less pure) the air becomes.

Looking at the carbon dioxide contribution into the air from gas-powered vehicles, appliances, equipment, it’s considerable. Please note that for every gallon of gasoline combusted, roughly 19.64 pounds, that’s right, pounds of carbon dioxide is added to air.

By burning 147 billion gallons of gasoline in the U.S. in 2018 means that, from this, the atmosphere absorbed 2.8871 trillion pounds or 1,443,540,000 tons or 1.44354 gigatons of CO2.

In California, which has more than 10 percent of the U.S. population, interestingly, its gasoline usage is less than 10 percent that of the nation’s as a whole. The Golden State accounts for 14 billion gasoline gallons used annually, which points to the state relying more on air-friendly and air-friendlier transportation and travel options and how Californians are going about getting their automated chores done, that is, relative to what is transpiring in this regard elsewhere in the United States.

Old/new ways of determining vehicle-caused air impact

It used to be that if we wanted to know how any country in the world stacked up regarding vehicle transportation’s impact on air, by tallying vehicle miles traveled or VMT alone, this was sufficient for knowing whether air quality was being less or more impacted from such from one year to the next.

If driving miles increased this was taken to mean there would be greater negative impact on air and if VMT was less, it was taken to mean the exact opposite. Now throw near-zero- and zero-emissions vehicles into the mix and the added element makes determining related vehicle-caused air impact somewhat more complicated.

Switching gears just a bit but related, if you’re interested in knowing how many motor vehicles on U.S. roads today are either partly or fully internal-combustion powered, well, it’s roughly 98 percent.

Now compare that to Norway where one will find the relationship between on-road internal combustion vehicles and ZEVs (zero-emissions vehicles) is more balanced one – at least 35 percent of all new cars sold in the Scandinavian nation are ZEVs.


An outstanding reference with which to learn how much energy transportation in America consumes is the Transportation Energy Data Book from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

A second, where similar types of information can be gleaned, is the Energy Information Administration’s Annual Energy Outlook report.

You just may want to check out either or both of these resources for yourself.

In the final analysis

When it comes to learning how countries around the globe stack up relative to each other, by making a country-by-country gas-consumption history search, this just may give the single best clue of how the world air-quality-improvement-wise is doing.

Images: Copyright © 2020 Environmental Defense Fund. The original material is available at: https://www.edf.org/federal-clean-car-standards (upper); Eric Kounce/ Wikimedia Commons (lower)

Published by Alan Kandel

The material in this press release comes from the originating research organization. Content may be edited for style and length. Want more? Sign up for our daily email.