mead berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn bayles
Dumb and Deadly
Europe’s Costly Diesel Mistake

Everyone makes mistakes. The vast majority of those missteps, however, don’t result in the premature deaths of thousands of people.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened when the EU incentivized the sales of diesel vehicles. Now its citizens are paying for that policy choice in the form of toxic clouds of smog choking many of its biggest cities and impacting urban public health in a big way. This story isn’t getting the sort of coverage it deserves, partly (one suspects) because this mistake was motivated by a desire to “go green”—you can be sure Europe’s smog problem would be generating a lot more environmentalist outrage if nefarious fossil fuel companies were behind it.

Nick Clairmont, TAI‘s former staff writer, has an excellent write-up of this saga up on The Atlantic:

[Diesel] was seen as more efficient, on a mileage-per-gallon basis, than other fossil fuels, and for that reason was also thought to be less polluting. About two decades ago, acting on those beliefs, policy makers in Europe—where high energy prices already made mileage a more-pressing issue than in the U.S.—made a number of rules that incentivized the growth of diesel over gasoline for use in passenger cars, moving past its traditional role in trucking and construction. […]

But while diesels get better mileage and so contribute less to global climate change, the local effects of diesel pollution are much worse than those of gasoline. Diesel is a less refined fuel, and so it contains more of the particulate matter that can have deadly health effects when spewed into the surrounding environment. And burning diesel produces, among other noxious gases, nitrogen dioxide, the main cause of smog.

Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing. It’s a great recap of a remarkable shift in transportation in one of the world’s most important car markets, and it gives the curious reader some insights into the diesel versus gasoline debate, and why so many eurocrats fell under diesel’s spell.

It also gets to the center of the diesel problem in Europe: a clash of two of modern environmentalism’s biggest concerns, climate change and air quality. With its higher mileages and greater efficiency, diesel was sold as a more climate change friendly option than gasoline, and for many vehicles that argument rings true (though the recent VW scandal certainly casts a pall on arguments that rest on the accuracy of diesel emissions testing). But diesel also emits more local air pollutants than gasoline, so in order to go green globally, Europe acceded to polluting locally. Now it’s coming to grips with the fact that that was a mistake.

It’s going to take many years to undo all of this, too, as the diesel vehicles sold at a steady clip over the past twenty years will be on the roads for decades to come. In the meantime, Europe’s cities and citizens will continue to struggle with a decline in air quality.

Features Icon
Features
show comments
  • Angel Martin

    The stuck on insulation that caught fire on that tower in London was a “green” initiative as well.

    Nassim Taleb has a new book coming with the working title “No Skin in the Game”. The topic is the large number of bureaucrats politicians, bankers and other meddlers who dream up schemes that burden the rest of us. And there is absolutely no personal downside for these people if their grand plans turn out to be failures.

    Who is going to be held accountable for this diesel mess ?

    • ——————————

      I think you know the answer to your question….

    • KremlinKryptonite

      Just reminds me of my first car. Called it the ghetto cruiser. Was a very early 80s Cadillac Fleetwood, and it was a big, ugly, diesel boat. Couldn’t imagine driving something so filthy all the time.

      • Isaiah6020

        It actually sounds kind of pimp. My first car was an all-manual Jetta. I mean manual. you had to roll windows down yourself. That car and I share many a good memory.

        • KremlinKryptonite

          Oh it was pimp lol. So much so and with such tinted windows that I got pulled over at least once or twice a month. They usually gave me the fix-it ticket for the windows which I would never do. Until one state trooper put the device on and shined his flashlight through it to get the actual reading and told me that it was supposed to be reading below a 35 and it was reading a 78. was $130 for that. No more tinted windows for me.

      • ——————————

        You young guys missed out on the grand old days really cool first cars. Bought in ’76, mine was a ’70 Buick GS convertible.

      • f1b0nacc1

        My second car was an ancient ’71 Buick Electra…we used to call it ‘the Armenian Space Barge’….

        • ——————————

          I remembwr those. Electra 225, right? They were so big they required their own zipcode!

  • ——————————

    I wonder how many PhDs, consultants, Think tanks, and scientific experts it took to come up with ‘diesel is better’ plan that was pushed on humanity?…maybe more than it takes to screw in a lightbulb….

  • Andrew Allison

    Enough with the Monday morning quarterbacking. It wasn’t a mistake based on the information available at the time. The information which was available was that diesel engines were (and are) more efficient that gas, and emit less greenhouse gas per mile driven.

    • Charles Martel

      Sorry, but these policy decisions weren’t made eons ago. The decision makers also then knew that diesel emitted substantially more particulate matter and nitrogen oxides; they just implemented the policy anyway, probably trusting that they could regulate away any problems in that direction.

      • Andrew Allison

        The policy decisions were made in response to the Kyoto Agreement (thank you environmentalists for the diesel emissions problem). The issue which I raised was not whether the policy makers and Greens who applauded the reduction in CO2 knew what diesels emit, but whether they knew how dangerous they are. Do you have any evidence that the EU governments were aware of the dangers of diesel emissions at the time?

        • SLEcoman

          The diesel emissions issue has been known in the US for decades, so let’s not pretend that the adverse emissions impacts of diesel engines were not known.

          That said, there is a real possibility that these health impacts have been vastly over-stated. I would point out that the EPA has conducted experiments exposing people, including children, to 10 times the NAAQS of particulate including diesel exhaust. The EPA says there were no long term adverse health impacts from these tests. It the EPA’s health impact claims for fine particulate were accurate, then the EPA would have violated various medical ethics standards enacted as a result of the Nuremberg trials. The NAS has concluded that the EPA did not violate medical ethics; it has just greatly over-stated the health impacts of fine particulate matter. Apparently, misleading the American public and providing false testimony to Congress and in federal court proceedings is perfectly o.k.

          • Andrew Allison

            “The issue which I raised was not whether the policy makers and Greens who applauded the reduction in CO2 knew what diesels emit, but whether they knew how dangerous they are. Do you have any evidence that the EU governments were aware of the dangers of diesel emissions at the time?”

          • Angel Martin

            That’s nonsense. The health risks of diesel over and above gasoline have been known since the 1950’s.

            https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3423304/

            But our sainted elites ignore health problems unless they can hype them to advance their agenda.

          • Andrew Allison

            Thanks for the citation: ” Despite an extensive body of results, scientific debate continues regarding the nature of the lung cancer risk posed by inhalation of occupational and environmental DE, with much of the debate focused on DEP.”

          • SLEcoman

            Since you are willing to give EU policy makers the benefit of the doubt, what would you say about the US EPA imposing the Mercury Air Toxics Standards for coal-fired power plants even though there was much stronger evidence that air toxics emissions from coal-fired power plants did NOT pose a health hazard? Do you condemn the EPA justifying the health benefits of Pres. Obama’s Clean Power Plan on the assumption that all fine particulate matter regardless of its chemical content or morphology cause equal health impacts even though the was substantial evidence, including 4+ decades of research on the health impacts of cigarette smoke, that this assumption was false? These are two examples of the EPA moving forward with regulations even though the evidence that there would be NO health benefit from the regulations was much stronger than the evidence that diesel exhaust was NOT a health hazard when the EU moved forward with pushing for more diesel cars. I would also point out that there was an alternative to diesel cars that could have produced similar CO2 emissions reductions & greatly reduced automobile criteria emissions – gasoline powered hybrids. Finally, any calculation (even assuming ECS of 3 or 4) of the climate impacts of the CO2 emissions reductions associated with the diesel car initiative would have shown negligible impact on global temperatures.

        • Charles Martel

          Well, concern over smog and particulate emissions has been a focus of concern for air quality since at least the 1970s, so I’d be shocked if they didn’t know what diesel’s emission profile was. Of course, they did try to regulate the diesel emissions, it was just (a) inadequate and (b) evaded.

          • Andrew Allison

            To repeat: the issue NOT whether they knew what the diesel emission was, but whether they knew, as you suggest without evidence, its dangers.

          • Charles Martel

            Andrew, I’m not going to go searching for the history of health research on air pollution. Suffice it to say that the EPA under the Clean Air Act was targeting these pollutants long before Kyoto or the EU’s decisions to encourage diesel – they’ve been regulated via the National Ambient Air Quality Standards since the late 60s/early 70s.

  • Fat_Man

    Serves them right for being such stupid dupes to the envirowackos.

  • f1b0nacc1

    There is a broader point to be made here. The Left loves to tell us that the only way for society to prosper is to implement ‘plans’, all of which seem to be centered on removing individual choice and replacing it with the preferences of ‘experts’. What we see here is a superlative example of how those experts are often catastrophically wrong, and that implementing their ideas actually makes the situation worse. If we are being asked to dispense with our own liberty in order to embrace these (questionable) nostrums, perhaps the burden of proof as to their efficacy should be upon those proposing them, n’est-ce pas?

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2017 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service