Even in rural areas the scandal over diesel emissions cannot be ignored. It is estimated that air pollution primarily caused by nitrous oxides that are produced by diesel engines are leading to 40,000 premature deaths a year in the United Kingdom. These will not be in North East Somerset where we are fortunate to have clean air but in our cities, according to John Middleton, President of the UK Faculty of Public Health, “childhood lung development and asthma. . . heart disease, stroke, lunch cancer and dementia” are all linked to nitrogen dioxide. Until recently the UK Government favoured diesel over petrol engines.
The policy was determined because of fears about carbon dioxide emissions and an agreement made across the European Union to reduce them. Petrol creates more carbon dioxide than diesel engines but carbon dioxide does not lead to serious health complaints, indeed it is perfectly safe as a background atmospheric gas for people to breath. To help the promotion of diesel the authorities, especially the EU ones, were complicit with the car manufacturers to pretend that diesel engines were safer than they are. The conditions for the tests were unrealistic and software was used, particularly by Volkswagen, to fiddle the figures. According to engineers it is possible to make diesel engines that are safe but unfortunately that has not been what happened. Hence, more dangerous pollutants that shorten life were pumped out in the hope of achieving a theoretic carbon dioxide target that developing nations were not interested in so were merely absorbing the costly decreases we were making into their growth.
These policies were designed as part of an EU green agenda and were precisely the wrong way to tackle any risks of climate change. Perhaps millions of people across Europe will be less healthy in pursuit of a target which will not solve any problems. It is a tragedy that public health ran second to fashionable posturing.