Brussels' move to water down diesel vehicle emission rules condemns many to an early grave and far more to pulmonary illness unless the European Parliament votes to reject the approach by unelected EU officials seemingly deferring to the diesel lobby. Air pollution from all sources is estimated to kill about 60,000 persons in Britain alone every year, with 80% of the pollutants affecting health coming from transport, according to Britain's environment ministry. Across the whole of Europe the death toll is put at 500,000. The cost to Britain's national health service and the economy is incalculable, though a recent estimate puts the cost of the VW scandal alone at £300 million in health and social costs annually. Road transport is by far the biggest cause of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a known killer for decades, and despite the diesel engine industry's advances in cleaner engines none can yet cope with sub 2.5 micron oily particulates which lodge permanently in the body.
VW's rigging of emission standards based on defeat software to give favourable readings only on rolling road tests will cause over 60 early deaths and maybe even up to 200 every year in Britain alone if VW drags its feet, according to a study by Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, specifically examining the VW diesel car impact. VW's criminal act has led to recalls of 482,000 cars in America and 1.2 million in Britain, leaving the company facing an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office for "corporate criminality." Britain's Transport Minister, Robert Goodwill, says the option of pursuing a prosecution of corporate manslaughter is also "open."
So how has the EU-wide legislative 'green' environment come to this ugly pass? When it came to global warming issues an EU official said that the block was carbon neutral but because petrol emits more carbon than diesel the latter was favoured with lower fuel duties and other incentives. This soon led to half of all cars sold in Britain being diesel-powered. Unlike petrol, however, diesel emits lethal sub 2.5 micron oily particulates which soot filters and other emission controls cannot eradicate, so they lurk permanently lodged in the body as silent, insidious killers.
What Brussels' unelected officials want from their watering down of emission rules is that diesel engine manufacturers be allowed to exceed legal levels of nitrogen oxides (NOx) by 110% between September 2017 and the start of 2020. After that, the industry will be permitted to exceed the limit by 50% indefinitely, a time frame that would apply to new models. To their credit, Denmark's and Holland's officials voted against such watering down. Clearly, the EU policy makers are out to protect diesel technology, the mainstay of the European motor industry, irrespective of health concerns. That does not, however, mean that the public cannot fight back against an industry that has callously put profit before lives.
In Britain, for example, the Government plans to improve air quality in city centres, with diesel vehicle owners facing pollution surcharges, extra parking charges and even a ban on entering towns and cities at certain times. In the short term these diesel-free zones and punitive surcharges are the best way to tackle the problem of law-breaking, diesel vehicle producers but there is much the public can do to break the arrogant spirit of not just VW but other suspected diesel car producers. They could stop buying diesel cars forever.
In the logistics industry the problem of eschewing diesel forklifts is less in that the alternative motive power sources like electric and the oncoming hydrogen fuel cells and bio-gas are more than just feasible alternatives. At one time diesel was favoured over electric because of its superior performance. That is no longer the case cite the electric forklift lobby owing to advances in battery technology, in particular.
The need for strong, determined action now is imperative. Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, said: "Every year in the UK there are tens of thousands of premature deaths linked to air pollution...The VW emissions scandal is only the tip of the iceberg."