Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

The great diesel disaster

📥  Comment, News and Updates

This is not my headline.  It comes from a Spectator column by James Delingpole.  You can read it here.  It begins in typical Delingpolian style:

Who do you think was responsible for Europe’s biggest environmental disaster of the past three decades; one that caused more widespread damage and killed more people than even the nuclear accident at Chernobyl?  Was it

a) greedy and selfish capitalists, probably linked to Big Oil, riding roughshod over the stringent health and safety regulations our wise, caring politicians have designed to protect us and our natural environment?  Or ...

b) an alliance of fluffy green activists, campaigning journalists and virtue-signalling politicians, united on a noble mission to save the planet from the greatest environmental threat it has ever known?

If you guessed b) then you may appreciate why we climate sceptics are experiencing such schadenfreude right now. For years we’ve been vilified by the powerful green lobby as nature–loathing, anti-science ‘deniers’ in the pay of sinister interests. Now it turns out that the real bad guys (as some of us have been saying all along) are those worthy greenies.

The article is about air pollution and the way that that the cost of driving a diesel car in the EU has been kept low because such cars release less CO2/km than petrol cars do.  Although UK fuel taxation does not discriminate between low-sulphur petrol and diesel fuels (the rate is 58p/litre for both and the VAT rate is the same), the car tax rates are different because they are based on CO2 emissions.  Hence there was a shift towards diesel despite its being a dirtier fuel.  Delingpole's point is that we were aware of this, but went ahead nevertheless.

I'm not sure, however, that all the blame can be directed at the EU's many Presidents as national law and taxes sits between Brussels and the motorist.  In the Netherlands, for example, the cost of taxing a small car (900-1100 kg) is 520 € for petrol and €1040 for diesel.  A slightly heavier car (1400-1500 kg) would be €800 for petrol and €1600 for diesel.  These are eye-watering sums compared to what UK motorists typically pay.  Here, for example, for my 1450 kg diesel it is about £20 (~€23 on a good day) because of the efficiency (in CO2 terms) of the engine.  (NB, from 2017, the UK tax rate has risen to £140 as the UK government catches up).  UK tax rates are here and are still based on CO2 emissions, not weight as in the Netherlands.

This is still a huge difference – and the cost of the fuel in the Netherlands is higher as well.

 

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