Irony indeed that the country almost ran out of CO2 the other week, just as the demand for gassy beer was rising. If only there were a simple way of getting the stuff out of the air. If only ...
But this post is about the Faustian bargain that the Blair government struck with the heirs of Rudolf Diesel on our behalf – the details of which are now pellucidly clear.
In 2001, Chancellor Brown, incentivised the use of diesel fuel as part of a CO2 emission reduction campaign as diesel cars are more fuel-efficient than petrol ones and so generate less CO2. People (including me) got the message, with the result that the proportion of cars on UK roads using diesel almost trebled in ten years. The Times reports Lord Drayson, the science minister in 2008-10 saying:
“We did get it wrong. We now have a much better understanding than we did just a few years ago of what are the health effects of the products of diesel cars, and they are literally killing people.”
However, The Guardian in 2015 reported a very senior civil servant, now retired, who asked not to be named, as saying that the cost-benefit studies of a switch to diesel had been done, but climate change was “the new kid on the block” and long-term projections of comparative technologies were not perfect. “I recall all the discussions had the health issue as a significant factor,” he says. “We did not sleepwalk into this. To be totally reductionist, you are talking about killing people today rather than saving lives tomorrow. Occasionally, we had to say we were living in a different political world and everyone had to swallow hard.” [Note 1]
Indeed. And the health threat from diesel exhaust had been known since the 1950s as burning diesel leads to about 20 times more sooty particulates than burning petrol. And then there are the lies that German (and probably other) car companies have routinely told regulators and the public about the (in)efficiency of their engines.
The Times report ended with this:
"These are difficult thoughts for governments that have legally bound themselves — none more so than the UK’s — to making the “fight against climate change” the alpha and omega of environmental policy. But the result has been perverse, not just in adding vast costs to businesses and thus driving heavy industry overseas, not just in increasing the fuel bills of the British, but in actually putting the health of the public at greater risk."
- This Guardian report – All choked up: did Britain's dirty air make me dangerously ill? – ought to be essential reading for anyone interested in the relationship between health and environment policies – that is, all of us.