In a Hurry?
Vegan cars are available but are expensive. Driving causes animal deaths, pollution, and loss of habitation. To minimize harm to animals you can buy vegan tires (Michelin), drive electric if possible, and only drive when necessary. You can also cover leather trim with something like a steering wheel cover to denormalize leather use.
For a vegan, cars can be a sticking point as there are 3 aspects of driving that seem to be against the vegan philosophy:
- Cars are usually made of non-vegan materials
- Driving is an enormous contributor to global Co2 levels
- Driving causes a lot of animal deaths
In this article, we will discuss these 3 points and try to address them with honesty from a vegan perspective. This is a tricky one as a lot of us need to drive and modern life is intertwined with driving. So buckle up!
Vegan Tires and Vegan Car Interiors
Most cars are not vegan. This is usually due to their use of leather interiors and the tires using animal-based ingredients.
Almost all cars on the road use leather in their interior, somewhere, due to the resilience of the material. This is usually on the gear stick, the steering wheel, and often the seats, doors, and dashboard.
As well as that, a lot of car tires are made with stearic acid. Stearic acid is a fatty acid typically derived from the stomach of pigs, but also sheep and cows, and some plants. The stearic acid helps “cure” the rubber, giving it flexibility but also form.
So, most cars are not “vegan” due to their leather use. It’s good to know there are, at least, vegan car tires out there, readily available for the conscientious driver.
Vegan Cars on the Market
That doesn’t mean there aren’t any vegan cars at all though. The Renault Twizy, the Tesla Model S, and the Fisker Emotion, and some other modern cars are all vegan-friendly and relatively environmentally ok cars in terms of emissions.
These vegan cars offer plastic or faux-leather interiors. Alongside this, there are indeed some vegan tires on the market by manufacturers like Michelin. In fact, all of Michelin’s tires use non-animal based stearic acid and are a great choice for the vegan driver.
Can You Make Your Own Vegan Car?
So it’s possible to own a vegan car. This would mean you’re buying a new car, however. Not everyone can afford that and the amount of second-hand vegan cars on the market are currently very limited.
Alternatively, you can technically convert your existing vehicle into a vegan car with an upholstery and tire change. Or, even easier, throw on a steering wheel cover or some seat covers to at least denormalize the leather use.
How realistic it is to really turn a car vegan is questionable though. Buying a new vegan car demonstrates consumer demand to the manufacturers, but converting your own car doesn’t.
Removing or covering leather in your own vehicle would only be for your own consistency and purity reasons. It does, however, help to stop normalizing leather use and can act as a conversation starter for vegan issues with passengers.
Given that the amount of vegan car options is growing, especially in the emerging electric market, it seems that the materials used for cars won’t be too much of an issue in the future though. Hopefully, anyway!
Environmental Concerns and Driving
Most vegans are motivated by unnecessary harm to animals in the food industry. Alongside this is a secondary concern for the environment and the devastating effect animal agriculture has on the planet.
It seems sensible, then, for vegans to consider the impact their behavior outside of their diet has on the environment, too.
The main issue is emissions and fuel. Creating petroleum products is energy-intensive leading to disruption of local environments and ecosystems. Transporting the fuel itself is also hazardous to the environment, with regular oil-spills from tankers every single year https://ourworldindata.org/oil-spills.
Oil Spills and Veganism
One study https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/public_lands/energy/dirty_energy_development/oil_and_gas/gulf_oil_spill/pdfs/GulfWildlifeReport_2011.pdf found that a single oil spill killed 82,000 birds from various species, 6165 turtles and upwards of 25,900 marine mammals which includes dolphins and whales.
Simply retrieving and delivering the fuel used by most vehicles causes environmental devastation and the deaths of thousands of animals.
It is hard to reconcile the use of fossil fuels with vegan ethics.
Electric cars are one possible solution, but there are some caveats. The main one being the disposal of the battery once it has ceased to be functional.
While it is possible to repurpose and recycle old lithium-ion car batteries (it still has around 70% capacity at this point https://www.instituteforenergyresearch.org/renewable/the-afterlife-of-electric-vehicles-battery-recycling-and-repurposing/ it’s a tricky process. The industry is working hard to ensure these batteries don’t end up in land-fill. This is because when as they degrade, electric car batteries can cause a chemical reaction called thermal runaway. Thermal runaway is where the electric car battery heats up and explodes, leaching chemicals into the ground and the local environment.
Possible solutions here include designing the battery with recycling in mind and also general repurpose of electric car batteries, such as household energy storage.
Animals Killed by Driving
While it is hard to quantify how many animals are killed by driving, we can say with absolute certainty, it is an enormous number. Billions of animals are killed every single year by driving. It doesn’t matter if you are driving a vegan car, animals will still die at some point.
One study in Brazil https://www.bbc.com/portuguese/noticias/2015/10/150924_atropelamentos_fauna_tg found 1.3 million animals of all different species, were killed every single day on their roads. That’s 475 million animals killed a year! 900 animals killed every minute!
But what about the rest of the world? Well, Brazil has about 80 million vehicles on the road. When you consider a country like the USA has three times that amount we can start to grasp the sheer devastation driving has on animal welfare.
We are talking, at the very least, a billion animal deaths a year caused by driving.
And we all know this right? We see animals dead on the side of the road all the time, and it’s distressing.
Here in the UK, the number of dead foxes and badgers lying in gutters is shocking.
It’s saddening to think our way of life, as humans, seems to be at such odds with our animal neighbors. Their lives seem to be at constant risk by our own, everyday, behavior.
Insect Deaths Causes by Driving
And that’s just vertebrates, what about insects?
While not every vegan is morally concerned with insects, we should at least understand they play a massive part in their ecosystems and shouldn’t be dismissed as irrelevant off-hand.
It is impossible to drive a car in real-world conditions without killing insects at some point.
Vegan cars may well become quite common, but, given the enormous amount of animal deaths, we might ask should vegans drive at all?
One Dutch study https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/8630835/Two-trillion-insects-killed-on-Dutch-cars-every-year.html estimated around 2 trillion insects are killed by driving a year on their own roads. When we start to look at the entire world’s driving population, the number is unquantifiable.
Roads and Animal Displacement
We shouldn’t forget the impact our highways and road networks have on animals either. One of the main reasons there are so many animal deaths on our roads is because we leave them without any choice but to cross them.
The larger the road networks become the higher the risk for animals.
For instance, there are 4 million miles of road in America, with thousands added each year. Every new road and highway displaces animals and gives them less environment to live in. This reduction in habitat forces animals to cross our highways and roads.
Frustration with wildlife for being on the road is misplaced. Their natural instincts and behaviors didn’t evolve with fast-moving 2-tonne metal boxes in mind. Getting angry with a pigeon because it doesn’t fly out of harm’s way is myopic.
So what can we do? Should vegans drive cars? Is there such a thing as a vegan car?
Well, if we follow the Vegan Society’s definition of veganism where we should avoid harm to animals as far as is possible and practicable we need to really establish what we can and can’t avoid living in a modern society.
Things Vegan Drivers Can Do
We can buy a vegan car or replace non-vegan materials. While cars with vegan options tend to be more expensive, we can say cars themselves aren’t incompatible with veganism. So, in that sense, there are vegan cars out there. The leather used in non-vegan cars is at least replaceable. While it isn’t necessarily that realistic to rip out the leather paneling from your car doors or change the leather on the steering wheel, from an ethical point of view, it’s technically possible.
We can also use vegan tires. When possible, vegan brands like Michelin can be used. This is a relatively easy change and vegans should certainly consider using vegan car tires where possible.
Vegans can also opt for electric cars if they can. While electric cars aren’t environmentally perfect, they are a lot better than the devastation and disruption that obtaining, refining, and transporting fuel causes, as well as the drastic reduction of emissions.
Again, financial and locale reasons may make electric cars not always viable for vegans, but it’s looking hopeful for the future when electric cars become more and more commonplace.
Vegans who drive will inevitably cause animal deaths.
This point isn’t nice to hear for vegans but it’s a reality. Even if you aren’t concerned with insects, which die during every drive we take, vertebrate animals are killed accidentally all the time. And it’s inevitable that vegans occasionally kill animals, sometimes without even realizing it.
It is a tragic waste of life if an animal like a badger, bumbling over a road, is killed by a driver unable to dodge or brake soon enough.
How would a vegan deal with this if their journey wasn’t essential or necessary?
Say you were driving to pick up some popcorn from the store because you were watching a movie later. It’s possible and practicable to avoid such journeys.
We don’t need always need to use our car. In fact, we should only drive when we absolutely have to.
Should Vegans Drive Only When Necessary?
It seems we are morally responsible as vegans to limit our car journeys to essential travel only.
This may seem extreme to some, but I believe if vegans truly seek to minimize unnecessary harm to animals this is the only conclusion we can draw.
It’s easy as vegans to simply focus on food and the impact our diet has on animals, all the time wearing blinkers to the other aspects of our life that cause harm. By limiting our car journeys to the essential and necessary trips, we not only reduce the risk of harming animals on our roads and highways, but we also help to lower emissions.
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