Posted by James Delingpole @ The Daily Mail
‘They’re so much more economical,’ my dad had kept telling me.
He isn’t necessarily right about everything, but I trust him on cars. In his youth he used to race them as a hobby and, unlike me, he knows a piston from a spark plug.
‘Quite a bit of poke under the bonnet, too. What with fuel injection, they’re just as nippy as petrol cars. Also, they hold their value for much longer . . .’
So when I proudly unveiled my new diesel automobile, I thought he’d be impressed.
Instead, he said: ‘Oh. Haven’t you heard?’ And he broke the bad news.
Apparently, far from investing in the motoring sale of the century, what I had, in fact, gone and bought was a four-wheeled cancer machine.
Not only, he went on, are diesels extremely bad on the pollution front, spewing tiny carcinogenic particles into the air which lurk in your lungs and cause thousands of deaths in Britain every year, but they’re also terrible value for money.
I was so incensed to hear this, that I decided to investigate diesel cars — and I now realise my father was right. They are an out-and-out scam, and we have been scandalously gulled into buying them by our political leaders.
According to the latest research, all that stuff about their being more efficient than petrol cars is nonsense.
A 2012 report by the consumers’ association Which? found that because the pump price of petrol is lower, and because diesel cars are usually £1,000 to £2,000 more expensive than their petrol equivalents, it can take diesel owners around eight years of driving before they see any financial benefit from that so-called efficiency.
For drivers doing fewer than 10,000 miles a year, it concluded, ‘petrol will almost always be the best choice.’
And now they’re about to become more expensive still. Already, Islington council in London is introducing £20 on-the-spot fines for any diesel driver caught with his engine running when stationary.
Mayor of London Boris Johnson has announced, in response to the threat of fines from the EU for breaching air pollution limits, that from 2020 diesel owners driving into the capital will have to pay a £10 pollution premium.
Oh the irony! Time was — and really not so long ago — when diesel car owners came second only to hybrid electric cars such as the Toyota Prius in the eco-friendly stakes. Our vehicles, we were assured by the experts, were about as green as you could get short of riding a bicycle.
Yet suddenly here we diesel-heads are, nearly 11 million of us, being accorded the same pariah status traditionally reserved for filthy-rich drivers of those so-called Chelsea tractors that take up one-and-a-half parking spaces and do about three miles to the gallon.
Frankly, we’ve all gone and bought a lemon, been sold a pup and had ourselves taken to the cleaners. Whatever did we do to deserve this?
Absolutely nothing, says the AA’s president Edmund King, who believes that motorists have every right to be angry.
‘Many drivers will feel deeply betrayed and misled after being encouraged over many years to go for the dash for diesel.
‘Back in the 1990s there was a near hysteria about the dangers of carbon dioxide and yet nobody bothered to look at the bigger picture.
‘Britain’s drivers thought they were doing the right thing and were told as much by politicians and ministers.’
He has a point. For two decades, politicians have been deliberately rigging the market in favour of diesel — among them Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. In 2001, they introduced a new tax regime whereby cars were taxed according to how much CO2 they emitted.
Because diesel cars have lower CO2 emissions than petrol ones, this tax incentive suddenly made them a more attractive buy.
This coincided with another labyrinthine tax arrangement set up by the then Chancellor Gordon Brown, whereby a 3 per cent levy on diesel cars in company fleets scheduled to be introduced in 2002 would be waived on ‘Euro compliant’ diesel cars bought before 2006.
Yes, it sounds incomprehensible — as Brown’s tax measures usually were. But the net result was this: for a four-year period, companies were massively encouraged by the tax system to buy diesel cars for the fleets rather than petrol ones.
Why, though, would a supposedly green-leaning government like New Labour have done such a thing, given that long before then the damaging effects of diesel pollution were widely recognised?
To answer that, you have to go back to the years immediately following the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. This was the period of hot summers when the world’s temperatures seemed dramatically to be rising and when everyone was convinced they knew the culprit: carbon dioxide.
With CO2 elevated to Public Enemy Number One, no price was too great for trying to combat it.
An article in the motoring pages of the Independent newspaper in 1993 captured the mood of the time, urging the then-Chancellor Ken Clarke to give more tax breaks to diesel drivers in the way his predecessor Norman Lamont had done.
It quoted Dr Jeremy Vanke, the RAC’s environmental manager, saying: ‘We need to know the Government’s environmental priority. If carbon monoxide emissions are the chief concern, then diesel vehicles need to be brought to the fore.’ [The ‘monoxide” was surely a mis-speak or a misprint — he meant dioxide].
Echoing him was a spokesman from car-maker Peugeot, who said: ‘We consider diesels are less damaging to the environment when taken as a whole.’
A report produced in the same year for the Department of the Environment agreed with this assessment.
‘While much remains to be done to complete our comprehension of climatic change phenomena, it may be that diesel emissions have a greater net positive effect upon global warming than emissions from an equivalent fleet of petrol vehicles,’ it said.
But this statement, though somewhat cautious, made no mention of growing concerns about the impact of this so-called green fuel.
The rest of that 1993 report could hardly have been more damning about the potentially lethal health impacts of diesel emissions, yet this was conveniently overlooked by politicians and Greens.
While diesel produces lower emissions of three greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide), the report said, it produces larger emissions of ‘nitrogen oxides’ and ‘most importantly, far larger emissions of particulate matter and black smoke’.
These, it transpires, are the ingredients now causing such concern about diesel cars. Nitrogen oxides have been linked to bronchitis and heart disease, the black smoke can exacerbate asthma, while the ultra-fine particles can penetrate deep into the lungs and bloodstream.
In 2012, the World Health Organisation classified diesel fume particulates as a carcinogen, while other research suggests that they can cause brain damage and autism.
According to Professor Frank Kelly, chairman of the Department of Health’s committee on air pollution, diesel engines could be responsible for more than 7,000 deaths a year. The most scandalous aspect of the situation though is surely this: that it all happened as a direct result of UK government policy — under both Labour and Conservative administrations — which, as a result of EU carbon directives, pushed us all towards diesel because supposedly it was less likely to create global warming.
This concern seems especially laughable today given that as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change admits, there has been no global warming since 1997.
But even those who remain passionately concerned about ‘climate change’ ought surely to recognise the bitter irony here: in the name of combating an environmental ‘threat’ that so far exists only in the realm of computer-modelled theory, successive governments decided it would be a good idea to increase the number of cars whose exhausts can most definitely give you asthma, breathing problems, heart disease and cancer.
Not for the first time where the great climate change scare is concerned, it seems that our political class threw common sense out of the window, ran around like headless chickens and inflicted on us a policy that has done enormous harm at great expense for no discernible benefit.
You could write a long list of similar examples of lunatic policies introduced in the name of reducing carbon emissions.
For example, there are the huge subsidies are being handed out to encourage the use of biomass to burn in our power plants.
Not only does this mean thousands of acres of U.S. forests are being chopped down, and the wood transported here at vast cost.
But the power stations themselves have had to spend hundreds of millions converting their furnaces to accommodate a fuel that is much less efficient than the coal they used to burn.
Now, beggaring belief, a report from the Department of Energy and Climate Change last month showed that burning wood to fuel power stations can actually create as many harmful carbon emissions as burning coal, and that sometimes much bigger carbon savings would be achieved by leaving the wood in the forests.
Then there are the expensive, unreliable wind turbines despoiling our countryside and killing birds with their blades, and the even more costly offshore ones about to ruin the coastal view from Brighton to Dorset; the imported biofuels driving up food prices in the Third World and causing the destruction of rainforests; and the vast, massively subsidised solar farms turning our green fields into science fiction sets.
And all this decarbonisation is being carried out under the Climate Act, the most expensive piece of legislation in British history, which will cost us £18.5 billion every year until at least 2050, but which won’t even shave a fraction of a degree off ‘global warming’ because great economies like China and India are continuing to build coal-fired power stations as if they were going out of fashion.
There’s also the madness of something called STOR, which the government is currently keeping very quiet about for reasons which will become obvious.
It stands for Short Term Operating Reserve and is a taxpayer-funded scheme whereby owners of diesel generators are paid millions of pounds — up to eight times the market electricity rate — to produce emergency power when renewable energy is impossible because the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining.
There are banks of these diesel generators all over the country, and yes, as with the fumes from diesel cars, the energy they produce at almighty expense is about as dirty and polluting as you can get.
Why did no one speak out against this idiocy?
Well, of course, a few did — people such as former chancellor Nigel Lawson, the Tory MP Peter Lilley, and journalists Christopher Booker and Richard North.
But for years these sceptical voices have been drowned out by the yells of hypocritical politicians, greedy corporations, green zealots and a gullible public that ‘something must be done’ to deal with the supposed menace of man-made carbon dioxide.
The great dash for diesel was a huge, expensive con inflicted on us by people who should have known better — and indeed did know better — but were so dazzled by the climate change scare that they could not see the bigger picture. It isn’t the first time this has happened, and it won’t be the last.
By the way, does anyone want to buy a diesel motor? One careful (if somewhat disillusioned) owner.