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What car should I buy to have the least impact on the environment?

Oct 28, 2023

Photo by Raivis Razgals on Unsplash

Disencumber yourselves of all attachment to this world and the vanities thereof. Beware that ye approach them not, inasmuch as they prompt you to walk after your own lusts and covetous desires, and hinder you from entering the straight and glorious Path.

Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, sec. CXXVIII

by Joseph Thomas Pawlowski and Christine Muller

In many areas in the US, it’s almost impossible to live without a car. Therefore, many people are confronted with the problem of buying a car, which raises many technical and ethical questions. How can I minimize environmental harm in my choice of car?

In general, it is best to hold on to your old car as long as you can, and to keep your driving to the minimum. The manufacturing of a new car has a huge impact on the environment. The environmental impact comes not only from the amount of energy consumed by the vehicle over its operating lifetime and the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of the energy source but also from the GHG impact of the manufacturing and recycling/disposal processes. The impact is generally proportional to the weight of the vehicle.

If you must buy a new car, here is some information: SUVs and trucks are the worst possible environmental choices, although they are – unfortunately – the most popular vehicles in the USA and Canada.

Electric cars are certainly much better than a SUV, particularly if the electricity comes from clean energy sources such as from the solar panels on your roof. However, the manufacturing of electric cars also has a huge impact on the environment, especially because of the rare minerals required for their batteries such as lithium and cobalt, and the increased vehicle weight.

Buy a lightweight fuel-efficient vehicle with the smallest wheels. The smaller the car the better! Many people don’t realize that an increase of wheel diameter from, for example, 17 inches to 19 inches results in about 6% lower fuel economy!

A good choice is a Prius Hybrid rated at 54 miles per gallon. When adjusting your driving habits to a hybrid car, you can even increase the mileage, or, with bad driving, decrease it. 

And don’t make short car trips – the worst emissions come from cold engines.

If you want to help the environment, it is always best to walk, ride a bicycle or e-bike (but not too fast for your safety), take public transit, carpool, and participate in a car-share program where available.



J. Thomas Pawlowski

I became interested in everything to do with energy efficiency as a child discovering the existence of solar panels. I was introduced to the Bahá’í Faith at age 11 but was not allowed to join until later because I was too young. These two paths continued as life-long studies: engineering and how things could be made more efficient, and the great world religions and how we could build understanding and harmony between them, rooted in the principles of oneness found in the Bahá’í Faith. My corporate working career began after attaining a BASc degree in electrical engineering from the University of Waterloo, then ten years as an aerospace design engineer making aircraft more efficient and reliable. It ended with a 13 year tenure as Chief Technologist for Micron Technology Inc, a world-class company designing and manufacturing the chips that enable all of our modern electronic gadgets to work, from mobile phones, music players and cameras to computers, networking and communication equipment and supercomputers in which I have something over 100 patents and many hundreds more inventions which were chosen to keep as trade secrets, and as an IEEE Fellow. I recently completed the Wilmette Institute course on Climate Change which I highly recommend. This has spurred me on to devote my days to education and evangelizing the cause of Climate Change along with of course serving the Bahá’í community in any needed capacity and bringing those healing teachings to humanity.


Christine Muller, Teacher of Music and the Environment

Board Secretary, International Environment Forum

I was interested in environmental issues already at a young age and became a Bahá’í when I was 17, which was the beginning of a life-long study of the Bahá’í Faith. As the environmental crisis was worsening, I began to systematically study climate change at a time when not much information was easily available. I also searched the Bahá’í teachings for a spiritual solution to the climate crisis. At that time, climate change was not known to most people and there were no educational materials available. That’s why I wrote Scientific and Spiritual Dimensions of Climate Change – an Interfaith Study Course, which the International Environment Forum posted in 2009. I joined the Wilmette Institute as support faculty for its Sustainable Development course in 2011 and created its Climate Change course the following year. I also teach a course on climate change for the Environmental Sciences Department of the Baha’i Institute of Higher Education (BIHE) in Iran. I have served on the board of RI Interfaith Power&Light for more than a decade. In recent years, much of my time is spent serving the Bahá’í-inspired International Environment Forum ( as its secretary.  My formal academic background is in music, and I enjoy part-time piano teaching, playing and - when there is time - composing music. A recent composition is Humans on Earth – a Ballad of Our Time for two singers, string orchestra, piano, and percussion. Its lyrics include quotations from scientific sources and the Bahá’í Writings. Christine’s articles on BahaiTeachings.orgSee Faculty Bio


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