Diesel Days: Is It Time for an Outright Ban on Sales?

UK motorists are losing faith in diesel-powered vehicles. Is the government prepared to follow suit?

On Thursday (Aug 23rd) an article appeared on The Guardian’s website that covered a poll claiming that over 50% of motorists in the UK would support a full ban on diesel-engine vehicles in urban areas.

Concerns over toxic emissions from diesel engines have been a prominent point in discussions over air pollution ever since the infamous diesel-gate scandal of 2015, in which Volkswagen was forced to recall 11 million vehicles after they were found to contain devices that could manipulate readings in emissions tests.

To get a better idea of just how damaging diesel-engine emissions are to health, check out this quick video from the Oregon Environmental Council:

Bosses at VW of course claimed complete ignorance over any knowledge of the deceit, though the resignation of chief executive Martin Winterkorn 5 days after the story broke suggests that even he wasn’t prepared to believe his own bullshit on this one. Governments around the world are now beginning to launch their own independent investigations into other major players in the motor industry. These companies can plead innocence all they like, but its quite clear: they knew exactly what they were doing.

As dejecting as it is to once again have to acknowledge the lengths that big businesses will go to in the name of profit – in this case, knowingly endangering public health – it is heartening to see the general public finally turning its back on diesel.

Sales have dropped dramatically. So far in 2018 we’ve already seen a 30% plunge, which can only increase, especially if plans to extend the £10 surcharge in operation in London to other major UK cities come to fruition.

The current target of an outright ban on petrol and diesel engines by 2040 falls pathetically short of the mark. Up to 40,000 people are dying prematurely each year from issues related to air pollution. Can we really afford to wait 22 years before we finally put this issue to rest? It looks increasingly unlikely we’re ever going to see that extra £350 million a week for the NHS, so we need to find alternative ways to alleviate the strain on the system. Banning all sales of diesel vehicles, both old and new, would go a long way in helping to do so.

The Environment Secretary Michael Gove has himself admitted that ‘we have to get petrol and diesel cars off our roads’, but the 2040 target sounds suspiciously like a cop-out, with Gove knowing full well that he’s unlikely to be the one who has to follow through on these words. Let’s challenge the government to be bold and proactive by bringing the ban forward and proving definitively that they actually care.

Diesel engines have been favoured in Britain ever since Tony Blair introduced new vehicle tax rates in 2001 that were favourable towards them. Ostensibly this was because they produced fewer CO2 emissions than petrol engines, helping to bring the UK in line with restrictions set out by the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. These measures, however, disregarded the added danger to public health caused by particulates and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx), dangers that officials at the time were well aware of.

This means that, even with an outright ban on sales, we’re still faced with the issue of the 12.4 million diesel vehicles currently on UK roads. That’s more than ever before, despite the fall in sales. Dissuading people from buying diesel is one thing, but we need to do more to encourage those who drive them to make the switch to electric or hybrids. Not an easy task, with many motoring purists still scoffing at the mere idea of driving an electric car.

Banning the use of diesel engines would be drastic and massively unfair to millions of people, many of whom were duped into believing they were buying vehicles that were far cleaner than they really are.

To alleviate the financial strain the government could introduce a rebate system modelled on the one recently introduced in Paris, in which citizens, as well as bus and taxi firms, are incentivised to adopt electric vehicles through government subsidies.

I’m not so naïve to believe that these ideas are realistic in the short-term. I’m still hugely pessimistic towards the sincerity of this current government’s commitment to achieving its environmental goals, but I’d love to be proven wrong.

Adopting any of these measures would terrify the motoring industry, perhaps even to the point that it might scare some of the big names into speeding up their own transition to electric manufacturing. If nothing else it would send a clear message: adapt, or risk power-sliding into irrelevance.

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