According to research recently published in the scientific journal Nature, “The consequences of excess diesel NOx emissions for public health are striking,” and responsible for 38,000 annual, premature deaths (globally) due to heart and lung disease and strokes.
But wait! It gets worse. By 2040 that number might increase to 174,000 — and that’s if every diesel vehicle conforms to 2017 emissions standards.
Most of the deaths occur in Europe, where diesel cars are popular and extant as the primary source of particulate matter (soot) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx).
In China and India, the proportion of diesel cars and trucks differs and emission standards are lower, consequently, diesel trucks are the largest contributors to particulate and NOx emissions.
“This rigorous study highlights the serious consequences which have resulted directly from the irresponsible actions of the motor manufacturers. [But] …it may well underestimate the full consequences for public health [and the] premature deaths from NOx could be 10 times higher than those from exhaust emissions of particles.” — Professor Roy Harrison, environmental health expert at University of Birmingham
Due to strict emission standards that were enacted since 1999, diesel engines built in 2017 (and the various grades of diesel fuel) are orders of magnitude cleaner than in the pre-2017 timeframe.
Yet, in the absence of incredibly strict diesel vehicle emissions standards for the future, it’s estimated that up to 10-times more people could die prematurely from diesel-fueled vehicle exhaust, due to a number of related factors. The huge baby boom demographic in Western nations show an increasing trend to higher rates of respiratory illness as they age, for one example.
Read the report: Impacts and mitigation of excess diesel-related NOx emissions in 11 major vehicle markets (Nature)
There are really only three choices on this file — four choices, if you include ‘Doing Nothing’ which really isn’t an option for a responsible government.
- Ban all diesel fuel sales by 2020. Yes, this could cause a paradigm shift in vehicle engine choices — and result in mass sales of used diesel cars and trucks before diesel fuel is banned.
- Ban the use of diesel fuel for motive power within all cities. But not the carrying diesel fuel because some vehicles are diesel/electric and can be switched manually between diesel and electric mode.
- Ban the use of diesel fuel for motive power within cities with more than 1 million residents. Pollution levels are noticeably higher in major centres, smaller cities may notice a daytime spike, followed by a relatively rapid evening clearing of the noxious emissions.
- Do nothing. At this point, even considering such a plan is beyond irresponsible, now that the facts are coming out and each new factoid turns out to be worse than the one that preceded it.
Certainly it will take some effort by governments. But in this case, there simply isn’t any alternative. Something must be done to save thousands of lives annually.
Past 2020, even more people will be dying prematurely from air pollution if new regulations aren’t quickly legislated.
The payoff is that national healthcare systems will begin saving billions — even in the first year — and every subsequent year will improve those stats. And citizens can expect to live healthier, happier, and more productive lives.