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Green plan causes air pollution, may kill thousands in the UK, thanks to dirty diesel

Posted By Joanne Nova On August 4, 2014 @ 10:12 pm In Global Warming | Comments Disabled

A Greenpeace Bio-diesel Campaign, November 2000

Golly — who would have thought that policies based on a logical fallacy and a pseudo-religion would be a bad idea? It’s not just bad, it’s deadly. For the last ten years environmentalists and greens told Europeans to buy diesel cars, not petrol, because they produce less CO2. So British people, and a lot of Europe too, did exactly that — lured by generous tax breaks, pushed by the guilt trip if they were thinking of buying a petrol car. The car fleet of the EU was transformed. Back in the early nineties, hardly anyone owned a diesel, but now, as many as half of all new cars in the UK are diesel, and some extra 45 million diesel cars have been bought across Europe. But clean energy turned out to be dirty fuel, with diesels producing tons of small dangerous particulates, black carbon, and other real pollutants.

It’s so bad, the UK is not meeting air pollution standards, and more importantly, by at least one estimate, some 7,000 deaths a year can be attributed to diesel pollution from cars.

Diesel pollution is becoming such an issue in London that Boris Johnson is thinking of charging diesel drivers an extra £10 to drive in London – “a measure that could be copied by as many as 18 other cities. “ A debacle all the way down.

h/t to Colin who helped research the story too. As he describes it, it’s the deadly fruits of greenery.

Telegraph– “Diesel car drivers ‘betrayed’ as EU cracks down on Britain over air pollution”

“For more than a decade, motorists buying diesel cars have enjoyed tax breaks because the cars produce lower levels of carbon dioxide and are more fuel efficient.

Now, Britain is being sued by the European Commission for breaching air pollution limits, because emissions from diesel vehicles are contributing to tens of thousands of premature deaths each year.”

Diesel drivers may feel a bit betrayed, and the guilt trip gets inverted:

Edmund King, the president of the AA, said: “Some drivers will feel betrayed and misled because they were encouraged to go for the dash for diesel. “In the 1990s there was a near hysteria about carbon dioxide, and yet nobody looked at the bigger picture. “The drivers thought they were doing the right thing, but now they are being told that it has serious health implications. They are being made to feel guilty for something that they were encouraged to do.

The UK government taxed petrol driven cars more from 2001, which meant the public shifted to buying the more polluting diesel cars instead. A third of the British fleet is diesel now!

In 2001, Gordon Brown, the then chancellor, overhauled vehicle excise duty so that cars that emitted a higher level of carbon dioxide faced a higher level of vehicle excise duty. Labour introduced the new regime despite official warnings that diesel vehicles emit “10 times the fine particles and up to twice the nitrogen dioxide”. The move prompted a “profound” shift towards diesel cars, which produce lower levels of carbon dioxide because they are about 20 per cent more efficient than petrol engines. Over the past decade, the number of diesel cars on Britain’s roads has risen from 1.6 million to more than 11 million and accounts for a third of vehicles. The latest government statistics show that in 2011, the nation’s 28.5 million cars emitted 150,000 tons of nitrogen oxides, but a further 97,000 tons were given off by just 400,000 HGVs.

Between 7,000 to 13,000 deaths each year in the UK attributed to diesel:

Prof Frank Kelly estimates diesel causes about 7,000 deaths in the UK each year:

Diesel engines in buses, vans, cars and trains may be responsible for thousands of premature deaths a year and cost the NHS billions of pounds, say air pollution health experts. With government figures for 2008 showing 29,000 people dying prematurely from air pollution each year, diesel fuel burned in vehicles could be responsible for around one in four of all air pollution deaths, said Frank Kelly, professor of environmental health at King’s College, London. -- The Guardian

But Barrett and Yim estimated  in 2012 that diesel emissions from cars, planes and power plants contributed to “an estimated 13,000 premature deaths annually in the United Kingdom.”

We find that UK combustion emissions cause 13,000 premature deaths in the UK per year, while an additional 6000 deaths in the UK are caused by non-UK European Union (EU) combustion emissions. The leading domestic contributor is transport, which causes 7500 early deaths per year, while power generation and industrial emissions result in 2500 and 830 early deaths per year, respectively. We estimate the uncertainty in premature mortality calculations at −80% to +50%, where results have been corrected by a low modeling bias of 28%. The total monetized life loss in the UK is estimated at £6–62bn/year or 0.4–3.5% of gross domestic product.

The second estimate might be higher because it includes planes and power plants, not just cars. For perspective, 29,000 deaths from air pollution is 5% of all annual deaths in the UK.

UPDATE:  JunkScience has done a lot of work looking at PM2.5 which is interesting and claims the EPA are wildly exaggerating. (They’ve done that before). Be aware  PM2.5 is a size, not a chemical, so blanket claims should be treated with some skepticism. Indoor, or woodland PM2.5s will be a different chemical composition. And diesel itself is a lot more than just PM2.5 – there are mixed oxides  of nitrogen and sulphur and a range of compounds:

Petroleum-derived diesel is composed of about 75% saturated hydrocarbons (primarily paraffins including n, iso, and cycloparaffins), and 25% aromatic hydrocarbons (including naphthalenes and alkylbenzenes).[51] The average chemical formula for common diesel fuel is C12H23, ranging approximately from C10H20 to C15H28.

What comes off in the exhaust depends on how hot and efficient the car engine is and a whole lot of other factors.

Many studies show people suffer higher morbidity and mortality for people who live near large roads. These are epidemiological and only associations, so weak, but they might be real. Though problems with living near traffic could be diesel, petrol, road noise,  back carbon or all of the above.

The transformation of the UK car fleet

Environmentalists really did encourage people to buy diesel cars. And with the help of government funded propaganda and taxes, they managed to shift the whole market. Only 7% of the UK car fleet was diesel in 1994, by 2012 it was 32%.

The proportion of the licensed car fleet that is made up of diesel and alternative fuel vehicles has continued to grow, between them accounting for almost exactly one third of the car fleet by the end of 2012. Most of these (almost 9.4 million) were diesel cars, accounting for nearly 32.7 per cent of all licensed cars, up from only 7.4 per cent in 1994. – UK Government report Vehicle Licensing Statistics: 2012

Diesels are so popular that in 2012 in the UK they reached parity — half of all new car sales were diesel cars. Diesels  aren’t very popular in Japan or the US. The reason that diesels are popular in the EU and UK (just in case anyone is in doubt) is because they are lower in emissions, and attract tax benefits in the UK…

As diesels hit parity, even as recently as 19 April 2012, the Independent was still saying it was because it was greener and tax efficient, and predicting diesel market share would grow even more:

The increase in diesel sales is expected to continue to rise as road users become more conscious of the impact their driving has on the environment. Diesel cars commonly have lower emissions than petrol vehicles, with a surprising number of diesel vehicles now fitting into the lower tax band. A number of diesel hybrids are also exempt from such fees as the London Congestion Charge.

This means diesel cars combine environmental benefits with financial savings, offering motorists a way to go ‘ green’ without spending too much money. On top of this, insurance premiums will also be affected by the environmental status of your car and that means those with diesel cars should  compare motor insurance quotes to make sure they keep all of their motoring costs to a minimum.

The whole EU soaked in diesel too:

“The resulting technology shift has led to some 45 million extra diesel cars in Europe.”

Diesel car penetration in major world markets. Expressed as percentages, either annual new car registrations or annual entire car fleet composition. Data sources: EU registration data [5,13]; data 1990 to 1993 (Western Europe, including Iceland, Norway, Switzerland); data 1994 to 2011 (EU-15); EU fleet data for 2006, 2008 and 2010 (ACEA, http://www.acea.be); EU fleet data 1990 to 2005 [14]; Japan fleet data [15]; US registration data 2000 to 2011 ( [16], data extrapolated back to 1990).

Source graph: Cames and Helmers 2013

But 45 million extra diesel cars must have changed the climate right? Maybe not. Indeed, they may not have even reduced the greenhouse “radiative effect” let alone changed the actual weather.

According to Cames and Helmers, the older pre-2003 diesels emit less CO2, but they emit more black carbon and the “radiative” effect is probably negative overall (though new diesels are cleaner):

“…the CO2 emission advantage of diesel cars as compared to petrol cars between 1995 and 2003 based on standardized measurements mounts up to 12.8 g km−1 (range: 8 to 17.1) (Figure  4). However, when taking account of black carbon emissions, the picture changes: diesel cars were allowed to emit up to 50 mg PM km−1 prior to 2005 (Euro 3). Average black carbon contained in the emitted PM of a diesel car registered between 1995 and 2003 has an excess radiative effect equivalent to 37.9 g CO2 km−1 relative to a petrol-fuelled car.”

“We therefore estimate the aggregate climate effect of the general European powertrain switch from petrol to diesel to be negative accordingly, mainly due to the strong radiation effect of large numbers of diesel cars without particulate filter registered in Europe after 1995.”

Doubly pointless, then dangerous to boot?

A couple of weeks ago the BBC reported that the UK was failing to meet  EU air quality standards, and in order to solve a problem created by big-government, we apparently need bigger government. After enticing people to buy diesel, the answer (at least two weeks ago) was to consider banning diesel! I suspect this drastic idea was dropped.

Judges at the European Court of Justice are to consider what is to be done about the UK failure to meet EU standards for air quality… Roger Harrabin on the BBC Today show: “…air pollution is said to cause the premature death of 29,000 people each year in the UK”.   In an attempt to cut greenhouse gas emissions it strongly encouraged the purchase of diesel cars. But these create more local pollution and this affects people’s health. The government expected European standards to drive down the pollution from new cars, but the car manufacturers got the rules watered down. The government said in the circumstances it can’t reasonably be expected to reach the targets until 2030. The court will rule whether more drastic measures need be taken, like banning all diesel cars…

Did Roger Harrabin of the BBC ask any hard questions about diesel health risks back when it would have been useful to ask them? How many lives exactly did the science unit at the BBC save with good science communication?

Image: The Greenpeace Bio-diesel page

Thanks especially to Colin in the UK for help, and Richard in Tas for the tip too.



Steve H. L. Yim and Steven R. H. Barrett * (2012) Environ. Sci. Technol., 46 (8), pp 4291–4296  DOI: 10.1021/es2040416 [abstract]

Michel Cames1 and Eckard Helmers2 (2013) Critical evaluation of the European diesel car boom – global comparison, environmental effects and various national strategies, Environmental Sciences Europe 2013, 25:15  doi:10.1186/2190-4715-25-15  [full paper here]

For studies on PM 2.5 (Fine particulates) and their association with cardiovascular disease, and mortality see:

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