News that Volkswagen had programmed its diesel cars to give false readings for air quality when exhaust emissions were tested has raised eyebrows throughout the US auto industry. Some are already asking whether Volkswagen is the only company to have used such methods to improve its ratings.
Now the Telegraph is asking some pointed questions about what this means for Europe.
On hot summer days Paris has to ban half the cars in the city from taking to the roads. Air pollution levels in London are off the scale and more than 7,000 Britons die every year as a direct result of vehicle-derived air pollution. Americans, in contrast, stopped dying of smog a generation ago, when the smog laws swept the filthiest vehicles into the scrapyards.
The reason? Europe’s love affair with filthy diesel cars, buses and trucks. And now, thanks to the Americans, Europe’s dirty little secret is out. This week, the US pollution watchdog, the Environmental Protection Agency, said that it has good evidence, from a study by scientists at West Virginia University, that Volkswagen, one of the world’s largest auto-makers, has been cheating in order to pass America’s tough anti-smog laws.
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It is not clear whether the same cheats have been used on VW diesels sold in Europe, although stories have emerged in the last year that many diesel cars on sale are far, far filthier than their makers claim.
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That it has taken the Americans, lovers of the gas-guzzler, to blow away the charade that is the European take on green driving is deeply ironic. And the reason this has happened is all down, in the end, to a bitter debate among environmentalists about what is more important: “the planet”, or human lives.
Twenty years ago, when it came to road vehicles, Europe’s greens, and then its civil servants and politicians, decided that the future lives of 23rd-Century polar bears were more important than the lungs of children walking our streets today. Laws were passed that determined a vehicle’s green credentials solely on the basis of carbon dioxide emissions. And carbon dioxide, although harmless in the concentrations emitted by any vehicle, is the gas that causes global warming.
Here, diesels do relatively well (although the gap between them and petrol engines has narrowed to a sliver). In America, the decision was made to assess cars according to all the pollutants they emit, not just CO2. And here, diesel engines, which emit a foul cocktail of carcinogens and irritants including benzene, soots, nitrogen oxides and tars, do very badly. Hence the temptation to, er, modify the engines a bit so they pass.
America saw the light when it comes to diesel decades ago. The City of Los Angeles has a bus fleet 2,400-strong; a mere 150 of these are now diesel powered (the rest are driven by natural gas or electricity). Compare this to London, where nearly all 6,800 buses are diesel-powered.
In Europe, our filthy air is a direct result of the game of mutually-assured-deception played by the auto-makers and the taxmen, whereby tax breaks are determined entirely by CO2 emissions. The bureaucrats set emissions and consumption targets, and the car makers, allegedly, cheat their way to meeting them (I have no doubt that, if proven guilty, VW is not the only manufacturer with a case to answer).
There's more at the link.
Wouldn't it be ironic if Europe had to go back to using gas-guzzling 6- and 8-cylinder gasoline engines?