The European Union (EU) has long been aware of the dangers of carbon dioxide, a leading cause of greenhouse gases and global warming. As a result, it has worked to reduce carbon emissions, and the UK has been active in that fight. However, often that has meant replacing regular gasoline with diesel fuel because this burns cleaner when it comes to carbon emissions.
The fallout from such a decision, however, can now be seen in London, which has the highest levels of nitrogen dioxide in Europe. This byproduct of diesel fuel in some ways is even more polluting than carbon dioxide, and in London, there are portions of the city where the air pollution is now even worse than Beijing, according to Bloomberg Businessweek, where smog alerts have become common.
Trading one problem for “a catastrophe”
The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that such nitrogen dioxide emissions can inflame respiratory systems, increase asthma, and even lead to death. Children, in particular, are vulnerable.
Of course, the EU does have suggested pollution limits on nitrogen dioxide (40 micrograms per cubic meter of air), but that limit has been surpassed at more than 300 sites throughout Europe, with 7 concentrated in central London.
Perhaps most disheartening about the situation is that policymakers were well aware of the potential for harm 10 years ago, when they were pushing for a reduction in carbon emissions. Notes the founder of Clean Air London (a nonprofit): “Successive governments knew more than 10 years ago that diesel was producing all these harmful pollutants, but they myopically plowed on with their anti-CO2 agenda. It’s been a catastrophe for air pollution, and that’s not too strong a word.”
EU pleads “technologically neutral”
It’s not as if London were the only major European capital where this is a problem either. Many large European cities — including Athens, Berlin, Madrid, Paris, and Rome — have this issue. One of the worst is Stuttgart, Germany.
The EU, for its part, has been like many government bodies, refusing to accept responsibility. They claim to be “technologically neutral” in how member-states achieved their carbon emission reductions. Automakers, looking for the easy way out, opted to offer diesel-fueled vehicles to meet the requirements, rather than provide more expensive (and less polluting) options. Everyone was in compliance, but were they really addressing the issue of air pollution…or just passing the buck?