It’s ironic, no, it’s criminally scandalous, that the environmentalists who have been obsessed with reducing CO2 emissions over the last decade or two are responsible for the air pollution that is currently thought to be killing around 30,000 people each year.
Because diesel vehicles emit slightly less carbon dioxide than petrol ones, drivers have been harangued and bribed into switching over to the “cleaner” fuel with the result that more than half the cars now sold each year run on diesel. Carbon-friendly car owners pay no vehicle excise duty, are exempted from the London congestion charge and may qualify for discounts on parking permits.
However, the Policy Exchange think tank estimates that over 90 per cent of the particulates and 95 per cent of the nitrogen dioxide pollutants poisoning our air come from diesel exhausts. The Government’s Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution has suggested that diesel emissions may play a part in hundreds of thousands of deaths. Nitrogen dioxide is strongly linked with asthma and may account for up to 30 per cent of all new cases of the disease in children. The World Health Organisation has officially designated diesel fumes as a cause of cancer alongside asbestos and plutonium. If the health effects are not alarming enough, the cost to the economy is calculated to be £15 billion per annum.
The saving in carbon dioxide emissions produced by the diesel boom has been more than offset by the impact of the black carbon pollutants, now emerging as one of the most significant causes of global warming. In other words, while all the focus has been on carbon dioxide, the risk of climate change has become even greater. Some of the blame for this can be attributed to EU emission standards, which allow diesel engines to emit much more nitrogen dioxide than petrol ones.
While the government remains fixated on carbon dioxide, this situation can only get worse. Incentives for switching from petrol should be scaled back as soon as possible because diesel is clearly not the green way to go.