And we mean that literally. Many of Europe’s cars are diesel-powered, and when these vehicles aren’t making international headlines for cheating auto emissions testing, they’re busy belching toxic fumes into the air above the continent’s biggest cities. As the Washington Post reports, this sort of air pollution is taking years off the lives of tens of thousands of Londoners:
[London’s] overreliance on diesel-powered vehicles has given it a dubious distinction: a global leader in nitrogen dioxide, a particularly noxious pollutant that shortens the lives of thousands of Londoners a year.
Here and in cities across environmentally minded Europe, NO2 levels are substantially higher than in North America, or even in Asian and African megacities whose names have become bywords for dirty air. And that is all because of decades of government incentives designed to spur the purchase of supposedly cleaner diesel cars and trucks.
“It’s a complete policy failure,” said Gary Fuller, who directs an air-quality-study center at King’s College London. “No one could defend this.”
The diesel debate revolves around two metrics: mileage, and nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions. Diesel tends to get higher mileage while emitting more NOx which, as Europe is currently experiencing, leads to increased local air pollution. It’s a trade-off between two important but distinct environmental concerns, but consensus seems to be coalescing around a simple fact: diesel cars, especially in urban areas, do more harm than good.
That’s why the mayors of Paris, Athens, Madrid, and Mexico City have all committed to plan to phase out diesel-powered cars over the next ten years. Conversely, here in the United States, our urban air tends to be a lot cleaner than what Europe’s—and Asia’s, for that matter—city dwellers are breathing in.
Green-minded Europe worries constantly about the future of humanity on this planet, but those environmentalists wringing their hands and jumping at any and every chance to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions might not have to worry about the apocalyptic future they insist is nigh: The smog could get them first.