This week in the UK Guardian there is a report about the abysmal state of the air in the UK’s major cities. I can assure you it’s not much better in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa or any of Israel’s crowded urban areas. The report quotes the Conservative thinktank Policy Exchange as saying:
Air pollution remains one of the most under-addressed public health problems, comparable to obesity and alcohol, but some government policies such as encouraging diesel vehicles in cities, are making the problem even worse. It is crucial that perverse incentives that encourage polluting vehicles and technologies are removed.
There is a key point in there: governments across Europe have favoured diesel engines because these produce lower amounts of CO₂ per km than regular gasoline engines. They’ve given tax breaks for years and they are, of course, greatly suited for public transport systems. Yet somehow the air in urban centers is still unfit to breathe, as the Guardian explains:
These days air pollution comes largely from diesel engines. It can be best seen when fumes get trapped and a dull orange-grey smog develops….Meanwhile, there are many more diesels than before. They have increased across Europe by 35% since 1990 and, says the Society of Motor Manufacturers, over 50% of all cars registered in Britain are now diesel, up from 23% in 2002. One reason is that cities and government have offered tax incentives for diesels.
The idea that reducing CO₂ by replacing one oil based fuel with another is part of the great environmental swindle. Diesel, we were told, is not really a pollutant, at least not one we should obsess over.
We can keep making the cars a little cleaner but this is just trying to fix an infected gun shot wound with a band aid. Only zero emission electric cars like battery electric cars remove all pollution from our city centres.
Of course there is pollution from the central generation of electricity but this is much better handled away from urban centres where we live. It is also getting cleaners with coal giving way to gas and with the option to add solar and other zero emission generation methods later.
The electricity for cars is nearly all generated at night and usually uses electricity that otherwise goes to waste. In reality many thousands of electric cars can drive without increasing a countries total pollution at all.
Which is why, in Israel, it is encouraging to see the new Health Minister from Yesh Atid, Yael German immediately ask for an electric car. She’s been told by the Israeli government beaucracy that she can only take a BMW and she’s fighting back posting on Facebook. “How surprised I was,” noted German, “when my request was refused, and they wanted to force me to accept the BMW.”
Good for her. As I’ve written here, Israel has the best shot in the world at reducing our use of polluting cars in cities and it would be nice if the government actually led the way instead of trying to drag Israel backward.