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Diesel is bad for our health

Switching to another oil-based fuel will not clear the air and Health Minister Yael German is among the few who know it

Diesel fuel is bad for you: especially if you’re Obama’s advance guard and you’re filling up the President’s limo with the wrong fuel. It may be named “The Beast” but it won’t roar if it doesn’t get fed the right fuel. Pity it’s not electric: last time I checked there was still only one type of electricity.

But Europe’s switch from gasoline to diesel for private motoring has been very bad for all of us.

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 the Think-tank 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 it’s important to reduce CO₂ by replacing one oil based fuel with another is part of the great environmental swindle. Diesel fumes, we were told, are no worse than gasoline fumes but they do reduce CO₂

The simple fact is that CO₂ is not really a pollutant, at least not one we should obsess over while ignoring many other poisons, especially the tiny black particles that spew forth from diesel engines.

We can keep making our oil burning 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 much cleaner with coal giving way to gas and with the option to increase the use of solar and other zero emission generation methods over time.

The electricity for cars is nearly all generated at night and it is often electricity that goes to waste. In reality many thousands of electric cars can drive without increasing a country’s 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 first posted on Facebook how she’s been told by the Israeli government beaucracy that she can only take a BMW and she’s fighting back.

She gave the me the the following statement for the Times of Israel:

It is important for the Israeli government’s vehicle administration bureaucracy to recognise the importance of this matter and allow ministers to choose less polluting cars if they wish. Some Ministers wish to set a personal example and help reduce the pollution from their own travels in our cities. In the meantime I will be keeping my private hybrid car and considering the full electric option as well.

–Yael German, Minister of Health

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.

ZE is Zero Emission - Photo: Brian of London
ZE is Zero Emission – Photo: Brian of London
About the Author
Brian of London made aliyah from the UK to Israel in 2009. For many years he has blogged and broadcast about Israel, technology and other subjects. Most recently he's focused on the experience of driving an electric car every day. Brian has a scientific PhD but today owns a business in Israel.