I grew up in the country side, moved to a metropolitan city and I’m back in the countryside. Living in a village has its benefits and disadvantages. Just before Christmas I went to London I there is suddenly hit me! I realised on that day – grey, rainy, miserable I actually couldn’t take a proper deep breath in! The air was so polluted! What more! I blew my nose into a tissue only to be slighlty alarmed at it’s content – namely the black sooty muck staring back at me.
Air quality has been recently a hot topic
Not only do we spend way too much time indoors but when it comes round to getting out (unless you live in the countryside) we can’t take a deep breath to give our lungs a chance for fresh air. Why is outdoor air quality such a big deal?
“In a bid to reduce CO2 emissions in the 90s, Europe backed a major switch from petrol to diesel cars but the result was a rise in deadly air pollution
Volkswagen’s rigging of emissions tests for diesel cars comes after nearly 20 years of the technology being incentivised in Europe in the knowledge that its adoption would reduce global warming emissions but lead to thousands of extra deaths from increased levels of toxic gases.
Back in the mid-1990s, diesel made up less than 10% of the car fleet in Europe.
Diesels produce 15% less CO2 than petrol, but emit four times more nitrogen dioxide pollution (NO2) and 22 times more particulates – the tiny particles that penetrate the lungs, brain and heart.
Following the signing of the Kyoto protocol climate change agreement in 1997, most rich countries were legally obliged to reduce CO2 emissions by an average of 8% over 15 years.
Japanese and American car makers backed research into hybrid and electric cars, but the European commission was lobbied strongly by big German car makers BMW, Volkswagen and Daimler, to incentivise diesel. A switch to diesel was said by the industry to be a cheap and fast way to reduce the carbon emissions that drive climate change.
It was practically an order to switch to diesel.
The European car fleet was transformed from being almost entirely petrol to predominantly diesel. Britain, along with Germany, France and Italy, offered subsidies and sweeteners to persuade car makers and the public to buy diesel,” said Simon Birkett, director of the Clean Air London group.
But the trade-off between reducing climate emissions and increasing health problems was not widely debated, say civil servants and politicians.
In addition, they say, carmakers found it easy to cheat the system.
“Diesel was seen as a good thing because it produces less CO2, so we gave people incentives to buy diesel cars,” said Martin Williams, professor of air quality research at King’s College London since 2010, and former head of the government’s air quality science unit.
“The [emission] tests were simply not stringent enough. They were devised by a UN committee based in Geneva called the World Forum for Harmonisation of Vehicle Regulations, which was dominated by people from the car industry.
So whilst this industry is going through it’s shakedown and there is an attempt at chipping away at diesel pollution, how many other sources of deadly air pollutants exist out there that we simply do not have a moment to consider when we take our next gulp of air?
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