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It's about time we Ditched Die-sel

As some regular readers may know I live out in the sticks. Other than the odd tractor or 2 ton SUV that rumbles past my humble abode the atmosphere is relatively benign.

I’m currently in London for a few days and apart from constantly sneezing (I think I’ve developed some kind of allergy to Plane tree pollen) the air really honks.

As I walked along some of the cities busier streets during the morning rush, I was surrounded by literally hundreds of static diesel taxis, buses, trucks, delivery vans and large saloon cars, all their engines running, all of them spewing toxic, carcinogenic particulates into the supposedly breathable air that we lowly organic life forms have to deal with.

Even though most of these vehicles now have expensive ‘particulate filters’ fitted to their enormous and complex exhaust systems, London consistently comes out as the city with the worst air quality in Europe.

So why are we so far behind other European cities?

Surely it can’t have anything to do with the staggering number of diesel vehicles on our roads.

The answer is a stark, ‘yes, that is exactly the reason.’

Because, ladies and gentlemen, we have been encouraged to buy diesels by good old Gordon Brown who fell for the hype (I can’t imagine who told him) that diesels produce less CO2.

The merchants of doubt must have had a field day when he fell for that old chestnut.

Now we are paying the price, an estimated 7,000 deaths a year directly attributed to particulates from diesel engines.

I normally don’t like to criticize people who drive diesel cars, I take the position that it’s not the individuals fault, it’s the fault of manufacturers, the government and the fossil extraction companies.

But as I looked at the drivers in their big diesels sitting in a traffic jam I started to lose my equanimity.

Diesel is dirty, dangerous, destructive and dated. We need to get rid of the damn things as fast as possible.

Later today as I walked past a pile of London Evening Standards I actually picked one up, not something I do very often. The headline story caught my eye, my old boss, Tory MP Zac Goldsmith (I used to write a column for The Ecologist which he owned so I’m stretching the boss title a little) is busy pitching to be the next London Mayor.

Yes he has the full force of BoJo behind him, yes, the Standard hangs on his every utterance because 95% of the UK press are ultra conservative in contrast to the general population who are not, but let’s leave that aside.

Zac wants to turn London into the ‘Green’ capital of the world, with 3,000 electric car share cars and 6,000 charge points across the city.

Before we get all snide and cynical, before I point out that under Boris the much vaunted street charging system in London is a teeny bit unreliable, 1,400 charge points so far with 40% out of order at any one time, before all that, I just want to say wooppee.

Okay, call me a blinkered old hippy optimist, but what I’m seeing is a Tory MP, probably on the left of what is a very right wing party, saying we need less cars, more car sharing and the cars we share should be electric.

So should the taxis and delivery vans.

So I’ve just had a little daydream, I walk down the same busy street in a couple of years time, there is still a queue of traffic, it’s a bit quieter, it smells much better and there are more bikes and more people walking or using public transport.

Oh yes, and less people dying early because the air they are breathing is no longer chock full of carcinogenic particulates.

Reader Comments (16)

Once you drive an electric super-car you will not want to be inside a gasoline car never in your life.

June 10, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLuis Pimenta

eat post.
The progress in London has been painfully slow.
You'd be interested I think that the new metrocab whilst looking very promising may have missed a trick in that it appears that it can only charge at 13 amps so can't take advantage of the higher current fast or rapid chargers provide. This would be a pity as wouldn't ranks of fast chargers plugged into metrocabs whilst their drivers have their breaks be just perfect? That way they could recharge for another 40 miles pure electric before switching to petrol mode again.
Hopefully they'll fix that! Could be worth a fully charged nudge in the right direction??

June 10, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Mumford

I lost my EV cherry to a Tesla Model S yesterday, and I fell in love with the car. It took a while to get used to the lack of engine noise and the different handling characteristics, but at the end of the one hour test drive I was a full on convert.

The only thing hold back utility EV's at the moment is the battery technology, the range anxiety issue may have crossed the horizon with (some) cars, and I know that DHL are using two electric trucks for deliveries in Bristol, but we're still a good way off having taxis and vans capable of all day use in London. Commercial operators need to be able to have at least 10 hours use per day to make the EV idea viable.

June 12, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPeteUK

I very much enjoy your electric car reviews and what you are doing to promote electric cars. I do not own an electric car yet but I am very concerned about the pollution in London and home counties that is frequently exceeding safe limits.

This said I do think sometimes your car reviews are overly one-sided and do not give a balanced view. In one review you said that range anxiety is nonsense as most workers daily commute is 37.2 miles.

This may be true but people cannot always afford to buy more than one car. The weekday workhorse is also the family car that people use to visit the in-laws. If that is over 100 miles away it is not practical to spend 20 minutes charging at a station with screaming kids in the back.

I would love to own an electric car, I want to cut my contribution to pollution, I love technology and it will be fantastic to one day charge my car on stored energy.

Until the pricing point is equatable to non-ev and has a range which is comparable then I am someway off owning my first electric. Perhaps the Tesla 3 will be the tipping point?

June 14, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBenjamin Ellis

I am the CEO of a luxury brand of electric cars called Leadwealth. It's true that electric cars are expensive for the single reason batteries are expensive. It's also true that tesla is trying their best to lower the price of electric cars by putting the money on batteries technology. And that is fantastic. The rest of us still need to buy our batteries from suppliers not do concerned with automobile usage. Our car are expensive because of that. Unfortunately the tesla 3 is still 30.000 USD vs 100.000 USD as before. We are trying our best to reduce our prices. Trust me on that. About the distance and the time charging it's now 30 minutes already to have a fully charged car. So it's a small price to pay (in the city range) for a long trip ... Well true ... Not a good idea.

June 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLuis

A few people in the United States are converting their diesels to run on biodiesel or vegetable oil. Are the individual car owners in the UK looking into this option or is government regulation making it difficult?

July 5, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterwebbermd

Dear Mr. Llewellyn, please have more respect for the Name of Jesus Christ

August 3, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterww

When you criticise people for having diesels you're assuming they all don't care about the environment. I'd love to get an electric car, but I can't because I live in a terraced house with no driveway. There is literally no way for me to charge at home, which makes the whole thing non-viable for me at the moment. Once I can afford a house with a driveway, I will certainly get one, but until that day I'll be stuck driving my Bluemotion Golf.

August 13, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterTom

Loved all your reviews of electric cars but sad that you had to use the name of Jesus in such a way on your review of Tesla.
Never really understand why people use Jesus name in such a way.
Jesus taught us to respect and Love each other as he Loved us.

Love your Neighbour as yourself.
You are doing great work despite the Oil and car companies best efforts to stop electric cars becoming mass market.
Please can we a have a Tesla review without the swearing so that I can show my children the excitement of someone that wants a better world where we can all breath clean air free from Petrol and Diesel fumes that choke and make are cities such dirty places to live and work.

August 18, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Hicks

Hi Bobbyllew,
I live here in low population New Zealand where despite our best efforts there isn't a big enough population to really mess our environment up ( though the rapid rate of converting unsuitable land to dairy grazing does seem to be tipping the balance), back to the topic at hand.....I'm starting to see these articles about the serious health effects of diesel particulates. Has this been a known issue for a long time? If not, why has it taken so long to identify the problem, if so, why have European governments and manufacturers been pushing diesel fueled vehicles so hard for so long?

September 20, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJakobusVdL

I think you forsaw (or for-smelled) the future with the pickle VW is in now Robert.

October 13, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

I will add this to my blog as well. Thank you for the information.

December 25, 2015 | Unregistered

Many large fleet operators (supplying large companies/corporations) offer diesel only options to their clients - peddling the so called economic benefits of diesel versus petrol. These are often high end cars with 2L and 3L engines - usually German. Curbing this outlet for car manufactures by incentivising fleet operators and their clients to utilise hybrids and pure electrics (short journeys for car pool vehicles) would be a start. While we're at it, the government should hurry up with the electrification of our rail system, to cut down the use of diesel electric trains and then ensure power generation reflects a healthy human and planet outlook. (I'm with you on onshore wind... but I think we are in the minority). :-)

January 17, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMike Lee

Every time I've been to a busy part of London (busy as in cars) I've come back home to the delight of black bogies! Gross I know, but there's no other way to describe it.

When I posted something about deaths caused smoking on my Facebook a while back, my older brother argued that air pollution causes more deaths. I looked into it and found that while he was incorrect about air pollution killing more people each year - it certainly does kill a high percentage that's not far off from those killed by smoking. Now imagine living in a city that's got a lot of air pollution and people smoke... their life expectancy can't be at all that high!

Also, I feel the need to respond to some comments:

ww - August 3, 2015

Dear Mr. Llewellyn, please have more respect for the Name of Jesus Christ

It's an expression used by most people, not an insult to your messiah. Also, his name (provided he existed) was ישוע (Yeshua).

David Hicks - August 18, 2015

Loved all your reviews of electric cars but sad that you had to use the name of Jesus in such a way on your review of Tesla.
Never really understand why people use Jesus name in such a way.
Jesus taught us to respect and Love each other as he Loved us.

Again, it is an expression that most people use and not an insult to your messiah. Just as most people shout "oh God" when having sex isn't a shout to your God.

You don't understand why people use the name Jesus in such a way, but we don't know why people like you get so upset by an expression that's effectively meaningless. It is just a name.

April 14, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAtheos

Electric Cars Coming to London to for Pollution Free City

London is going to witness this healthy revolution, making pollution free. However, the truth is also that the electric cars have proved pollution controlling rather than pollution spreading as is the case with fuel cars. The studies and report in this connection are quite heartening. Rem and Koning have done a good job by doing some research on hybrid as well as electric cars citing the French Boiteux report which has highlighted the reduction of pollution in the air in tons, not in just lesser quantities. Even Toyota authorities have confirmed it to ECRA, a Saudi environmental ministerial wing that the electric cars will have 0.52% emission as compared to other cars, which means clean environment free of pollution. Although now there are more hybrid cars, still their contribution to environment is not as much as it would be with electric cars though some hybrid cars claim to have decreased emission of carbon and smoke around 44 to 50%. However, there is still a large room for improvement which could only be done with zero or a bit more emission to keep the environment clean and meet the challenge of the rising temperature.
I hope, Londoners will have cleaner air after that.

July 27, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSaeed Almadhani

Hooray for electric cars - they are cleaner and better for my grand children whose lungs are closer to exhaust pipes than mine. Yes indeed. Mr Llewellyn I understand you top up your car at Oxford Services on your way in and out of London. Can you tell me please, whether or not your top up machine is perched where there used to be a parking space for Blue Badge drivers? You should be able to tell because the installers have not bothered to completely paint out the wheel chair sign that goes with those parking places. I see it all too often and suffer from it when there are no parking spaces left for me and my even more disabled friends. These machines are usually in the spaces next to the entrance to the service building (double whammy non think). If Oxford is innocent then hooray for them. With this information you will help my campaign to have blue badge parking places held inviolate against being stolen from us, as i am slowly putting together a list of the big offenders. I am sure that you recognise our rights. Thank you for your patience i reading this.

June 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNorma Corbett

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