Should diesel drivers be demonised?

Diesel cars have come under fire in recent days for their polluting emissions, but should owners be financially penalised?
After all, just a few years ago, people were urged to switch to diesel cars precisely because of their low CO2 emissions, which supposedly made them more environmentally friendly than their petrol-powered counterparts. We bought our diesel Peugeot 207 in 2008 for that very reason, confident that we were doing our bit for the planet. We were also attracted by the fact diesel cars were cheaper to run than petrol cars – good for the environment and low cost, what could be better? We were far from alone in seeing the appeal of diesel. Less than 7.4% of all cars in the UK were diesel in 1994, but by 2013 this had soared to 34.5% of the total, with 10.1m diesel cars on the roads. Yet now diesel cars are being ‘demonised’ for their harmful nitrogen dioxide emissions.

Air supply

Far from being a ‘green’ option, it transpires diesel cars in fact are responsible for endangering people’s health. So alarmingly high are nitrogen dioxide levels here that last year the UK was taken to court by the European Commission for exceeding limits in 16 areas from Glasgow to London. But are diesel cars really to blame? The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) is fighting back against this demonisation of diesel cars, and has just launched a nationwide campaign to raise awareness about the latest low-emission car technology. It says that there is low awareness of the latest ‘Euro-6’ diesel technology, and that power stations, not cars, are by far the biggest contributors of nitrogen dioxide.
The SMMT claims it would take 42m Euro-6 diesel cars to generate as much nitrogen dioxide as one coal-fired power station. It has published a Diesel Facts myth-busting guide at

Confidence trick

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said, “Today’s diesel engines are the cleanest ever, and the culmination of billions of pounds of investment by manufacturers to improve air quality. The allegations against diesel cars made in recent months threaten to misguide policy making and undermine public confidence in diesel. It’s time to put the record straight.”  But experts claim that SMMT’s tests are flawed as they are conducted in a laboratory, and therefore don’t produce the same result they would in “real-world” conditions. As a result, carmakers have been accused of trying to “greenwash dirty diesel” to hide the truth that diesel cars emit far more pollutants than petrol cars.

Local tax for local people

Diesel drivers are now facing financial penalties because of their choice of car. Some local authorities in London have even gone as far as deciding to charge diesel-owning residents more to park outside their homes. Islington Council, for example, will charge owners of diesel cars with an extra £96 a year for their parking permits with affect from April 1. The aim of the charge is to encourage owners to ditch their diesel vehicles before the Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) is launched in 2020. This doesn’t strike me as ‘encouragement’ in any shape, way or form. Instead, it is placing an extra financial burden those on low incomes, who can perhaps ill-afford to replace their vehicles. How can this possibly be fair when many people bought their cars many years ago precisely because diesel was considered environmentally friendly? Had we bought our car in the knowledge that it would create harmful pollutants, then we would perhaps deserve to be penalised.

Less is more trouble

As it is, like most other diesel car owners, we bought our car because we believed it was a LESS harmful option than the alternatives. If anything, the government should be giving owners of diesel cars financial support to help us cover the cost and inconvenience of having to replace our cars. Mayor of London Boris Johnson has the right idea. He wants to pay diesel car owners up to £2,000 each to switch to cleaner models, claiming that this would get more than 150,000 polluting models off the capital’s roads. This approach certainly seems to make a lot more sense than punishing motorists who bought their cars in good faith because thought they were doing the right thing.

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