The backstory behind the war on cars in the UK
On May 20th, 2019, I gave a talk to the Libertarian Alliance about the damaging political policies being imposed on car drivers in the UK, and the history behind them. Normally, these talks are recorded on video. But on this occasion, an unfortunate combination of circumstances prevented a recording. As this subject is a topical one – and becoming more so by the day – I thought it appropriate to create a “transcript” of the talk, re-constructed from my notes.
On April 8th, 2019, London mayor Sadiq Khan’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) went live in the Congestion Charge area in central London. It now costs the driver £12.50 a day, on top of the congestion charge, to drive in this zone a diesel car built before September 2015, or a petrol car built before 2006. This is an outrageous amount; and it also has to be paid at week-ends! This scheme is planned to be extended to all of the area inside North and South Circular Roads in October 2021. And after that, who knows?
Beyond this, there is talk of charging drivers of diesel cars to enter any of 35 or so cities around the UK. Some cities, like Southampton, have decided not to do this. Others, like Birmingham, are pressing on. Meanwhile, on May 9th the Times began a campaign claiming that “air pollution on the streets is poisoning 2.6 million schoolchildren,” and that this is due to “clogged roads”.
And yet, a recent (May 2nd) Sky News poll showed that more than 50 per cent of a random sample of people in the UK were “unwilling to significantly reduce the amount they drive, fly and eat meat,” either to combat climate change or to protect the environment in a more general sense. This is evidence of a huge disconnect between the political classes and the people!
There is a long backstory behind all this, which not many people seem to be aware of. In the last two years, I’ve managed to pull a lot of this backstory together. So, tonight I’ll bring it out into the open for you. In the process, I’ll identify what I call the Ten Deadly Dishonesties. These are attitudes and ploys that anti-car and other green campaigners have used, many of them more than once, in the course of their political machinations.
Outline of my talk
My talk will consist of five parts. In Part 1, I’ll give a very brief history of the green agenda in general, and the part played in it by the United Nations. In Part 2, I’ll give some backstory behind “global warming,” the central plank of the green agenda. I know that Nico Metten gave a presentation to you on this subject a few months ago; so those of you, who listened to that talk, will already be experts on the science! Therefore, I’ll talk mainly about the history and politics behind the scare, both of which are closely intertwined with the backstory to the war on cars.
In Part 3, I’ll discuss the background, and the regulatory framework within which all this is happening. And in Parts 4 and 5, I’ll look at the two kinds of pollution, which are being used as the main excuses for the war on drivers and our cars. These are: particulate matter (“PM”, and in particular PM2.5) and nitrogen oxides (NOx).
Part 1: The UN and the green agenda
Those of you who have studied the green agenda will already know that the driver of it, all along, has been the United Nations. This has been so ever since 1970, the year of the first Earth Day. The then UN Secretary General, U Thant, personally sanctioned the Earth Day idea!
In 1972, the UN Environment Program (UNEP) was started, under the directorship of Maurice Strong. Strong was a Canadian oil baron, and he had a scandal ridden career. His attitude can be summed up by the following quote, from a 1997 magazine interview: “Frankly, we may get to the point where the only way of saving the world will be for industrial civilization to collapse.”
This is the first of my Ten Deadly Dishonesties; enmity towards our industrial and capitalist civilization, which has given so much to every one of us. Including, of course, to Maurice Strong. Strong himself, though, is no longer with us. He was implicated in the Oil-for-Food scandal of 2005, went to live in China, and died in 2015.
In 1982, the UN put forward a Resolution called the World Charter for Nature. This included extreme statements, like: “Activities which might have an impact on nature shall be controlled,” and “where potential adverse effects are not fully understood, the activities should not proceed.” The Charter was passed by 111 votes to 1, with 18 abstentions. The USA was the only country voting against.
On to 1987, the year in which a UN report called Our Common Future laid out a blueprint for a “green” future. Maurice Strong was on the commission that wrote it – surprise, surprise.
In 2017, I wrote a headpost about that report, which you can find at wattsupwiththat.com, the world’s No.1 climate skeptic website. Broadly speaking, the report raised alarms on 14 environmental issues. They included species loss, acid rain (later re-badged as “air quality”) and global warming. These are the three that are currently being actively pushed. In terms of the car, Our Common Future focused mainly on third world countries and cities. The agenda to force people in the West out of our cars came later. But the report was hardly moderate. It included extremist rhetoric such as: “Development involves a progressive transformation of economy and society.” And “We are serving notice… that the time has come to take the decisions needed.”
Our Common Future led to the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, to whose extreme agenda idiot politicians like the then UK Prime Minister, John Major, signed up with glee. As I like to put it, they sold us all down the Rio. In particular, they signed up to a binding Framework Convention on Climate Change, and to Agenda 21 (which has since morphed into Agenda 2030).
The Framework Convention on Climate Change led to the yearly “Conference of the Parties” meetings, about which you’ve heard so much. And, in particular, it led to the meetings in Copenhagen in 2009 and Paris in 2015, which aimed to reach binding agreements to keep global temperatures below some completely arbitrary limit. At Paris, the second of the Ten Deadly Dishonesties became apparent: moving the goalposts. The “limit” touted prior to Paris was 2 degrees Celsius above “pre-industrial levels.” But in 2015, it looked (before the El Niño which started in that year) as though global warming had stopped, and wasn’t going to reach 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, or anywhere near it. So, they arbitrarily lowered the limit from 2 degrees to 1.5! That was moving the goalposts, no? And later on, when we come to PM2.5, I’ll show you an even more egregious example of moving the goalposts.
As to Agenda 21, I read it, and wished I hadn’t. It consists of 350 pages of bureaucratese, in which the word “women” occurs more than 250 times! It includes demands such as: “Significant changes in the consumption patterns of industries, governments, households and individuals.” And “Favouring high-occupancy public transport.” This was where the anti-car agenda came in, seeking to force drivers in Western countries out of our cars. Moreover, Agenda 21 was to be implemented at the local government level. So, it passed under many people’s political radar. A clever trick, no?
To sum up: In environmental matters, don’t believe the UN, or anyone associated with it.
Part 2: The backstory behind “global warming”
The accusation, that human emissions of carbon dioxide are causing catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (CAGW), appears to be a factual matter. It ought to be easy to establish the facts beyond reasonable doubt, using honest, unbiased science. Then, if the accusation turns out to be true, it’s possible to make policy decisions fair to everyone. Yet, what we have is a highly charged rumpus, in which governments and virtually all the mainstream media (and, most of all, the BBC) peddle the global warming narrative at the tops of their voices. And those sceptical of the narrative are labelled with nasty names like “deniers” or “flat earthers.”
The organization at the centre of this rumpus is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It was established in 1988; and guess what, it’s a UN organization. It has prepared five major reports so far, the first in 1990, the most recent in 2013. Parts of these reports (including the key “Summary for Policymakers”) are approved line by line by government officials! And in 1996, a section of the Summary was re-worded in a more alarmist way, at the request of governments – including the UK. Then the technical reports were updated to match! Here is the third of my Ten Deadly Dishonesties: politics disguised as science.
The IPCC “process” is currently in its 6th assessment cycle. This isn’t due to be completed until 2022. However, their plan looks to be to keep the pot boiling, by publishing another small alarmist report every few months until then.
On the scientific issues, the temperature data is of poor quality, and is incomplete both spatially and chronologically. Many measurements have been “homogenized,” and filled in from nearby data. The data we do have is noisy and full of errors, and it includes measurements made by different means (e.g. ships, buoys, satellites), by instruments of different types, at different times of day. Many sites on land are of low quality (e.g. near asphalt, or air-conditioning outlets). Many measurements have been “adjusted,” often in ways that are documented poorly or not at all. More often than not, they cool the past or warm the present, so making any warming trend look higher. Could this be doctoring of the data? Hard to prove.
And it’s not just the temperature data. Similar things are happening with sea level data. We know that sea levels have been rising fairly steadily for about 12,000 years. We also know that there are huge differences between sea level rise trends calculated from tide gauges and satellites; tide gauges consistently show much lower trends. Neither trend seems to be increasing much, but we keep on seeing new papers that claim to show a recent acceleration! Make of that what you will.
Moreover, the case for alarm is built almost entirely on computer models. But these models aren’t used to make specific predictions that can be tested, and validated or rejected using the scientific method. All they deliver is “projections,” which cannot be falsified. Furthermore, the results of model runs are all over the place. Even after all the homogenizations and adjustments, models consistently run “hotter” than real-world measurements. And a more basic question: How do we know the models’ built-in assumptions don’t simply reflect the prejudices of the modellers?
Further, the alarmists’ use of what I call nonscience (a cross between non-science and nonsense!) is on-going. There is technical nonscience, such as unrelated data being grafted together without explanation (Michael Mann’s “hockey stick” was an example of this). Or data inconvenient to the alarmist case being dropped altogether. Or dubious statistical methods that produce “hockey sticks” from random noise, or exaggerate the contribution of a small sample.
Then there is media nonscience. For example, using clever graphs and tricks to spread alarmism. (The “hockey stick” is still out there, would you believe!) We’ve seen photo-shopped alarmist pictures on the front covers of supposedly scientific journals – who can forget that (in)famous picture of a polar bear on an ice floe? Meanwhile, we’re repeatedly told that “It’s worse than we thought.” Or that “97 per cent of climate scientists agree” it’s all our fault! Or that “the science is settled” – when anyone who knows anything about science knows that science is never settled.
Then there is what I call procedural nonscience. And here, we encounter the fourth Deadly Dishonesty: refusing to release data that supports alarmist scientific papers. The reason this is a big issue, is that it makes independent replication of the results – or, indeed, showing that the results were faulty – impossible. There has also been evidence, notably from the Climategate e-mails, of scientists deleting data to evade Freedom of Information requests.
On to the fifth of the Deadly Dishonesties: suppressing dissenting scientific views. The Climategate e-mails, again, show repeated attempts to stop publication of skeptical papers. And there have been several cases in which skeptical scientists have been persecuted, and at least one in which a journal editor was sacked at the behest of alarmists.
The word “Climategate” refers to the release, in November 2009, of e-mails from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia. These e-mails showed proof positive of the nonscience that was going on. In response, the UK government commissioned no less than three inquiries, none of which did their job properly!
The parliamentary committee (except for Graham Stringer) chose to avoid the most important questions. The Oxburgh inquiry didn’t listen to any critics of the CRU, didn’t cover the controversial areas, and most importantly didn’t look at work done for the IPCC. Yet a senior government scientist described the report as “a blinder well played.” The third inquiry, under Muir Russell, failed to investigate the central issues – Was the science being done properly? And was it being done honestly? So, all the important issues “fell through the gaps” between the three inquiries. Here is the sixth of the Deadly Dishonesties: government whitewash of the problems with the alarmist case and conduct.
But the most egregious of all the bad things the alarmists have done (I have another headpost on this at wattsupwiththat.com) – is more subtle. They have perverted, indeed they have inverted, the precautionary principle. In its true form, the principle says “look before you leap,” or even “first, do no harm.” It means that you should not take risky action unless and until you are very confident the result will be beneficial rather than the opposite. Furthermore, the burden of proof must always be on those wanting to act – and most particularly if they are a government. (This exactly mirrors the presumption of innocence in criminal trials).
Yet in 2002, the UK government re-wrote the precautionary principle. They changed its purpose to: “to create an impetus to take a decision notwithstanding scientific uncertainty about the nature and extent of the risk.” And they used the mantra, attributed to Carl Sagan: “Absence of evidence of risk is not evidence of absence of risk.” It is hard not to hear in this an echo of “absence of evidence of guilt is not evidence of absence of guilt.” If such principles were used in criminal trials, no defendant would ever be acquitted.
There are no less than three Deadly Dishonesties here. Number seven, inverting the burden of proof. Number eight, negating the presumption of innocence. And number nine, requiring the accused to prove a negative – namely, that humans are not causing catastrophic global warming. If you doubt the serious nature of this last, consider: If you had to prove there are no fairies at the bottom of your garden, how would you do it?
Now to the 2008 UK Climate Change Bill. They did make a token attempt at a “cost benefit analysis.” But there was a factor of 7 uncertainty in the costs, and a factor of 12 in the “benefits,” of action to “mitigate” climate change! That’s if we could believe the figures in the first place. Such numbers are useless for making any kind of objective decisions. Yet, the politicians didn’t care, and went ahead anyway. That’s the tenth and last of the Ten Deadly Dishonesties: making costly commitments on behalf of others, without rigorous justification.
And yet, here we are, with the idiots in parliament, on May 1st just gone, declaring (on the basis of no evidence at all) that there’s a “climate emergency!”
Part 3: The background and the regulatory framework
Now for some background to the war on our cars. In the last half century, we have made huge progress in reducing air pollution. DEFRA, the government agency responsible for this area, produce yearly statistics on UK emissions of air pollutants from all sources. These show that progress in reducing emissions since 1970 has been most impressive. For example, PM2.5 emissions in 2015 were less than a quarter of 1970 levels. And NOx emissions were also down, to less than a third of 1970 levels.
That said, since about 2005 the reduction in PM2.5 emissions has slowed. My understanding is that this was the point at which all the “low hanging fruit” – reductions which could be made without causing great pain to millions of people – had been picked. Last I looked, PM2.5 emissions were roughly static from year to year. They may even have started to go up, because of government encouragement for the burning of wood, which produces much PM2.5.
But none of this progress has been enough to satisfy the anti-car extremists. There has been an anti-car movement in the UK since the 1970s, perhaps even before. But it was in 1993, the year after the Rio summit, that the propaganda machine really got going. Our TV screens showed (staged) pictures of rural roads chock-a-block with cars. Of traffic jams in foggy weather, complete with smoking exhaust-pipes. Of the aftermaths of accidents. It was hard, even then, to avoid thinking that we drivers were being set up. Furthermore, organizations that should have defended us, like the Automobile Association, looked the other way, or even added their voices to the witch-hunt.
The responses of successive governments to the anti-car fanatics has been to give them, again and again, enthusiastic support. Blair’s government was extremely anti-car. Almost the very first law they passed was the Road Traffic Reduction Act 1997. But far worse was to come. For in 1999, Blair and co agreed to the Gothenburg protocol. I know I repeat myself, but the instigator of this protocol was the UN. It covered a range of pollutants, including PM2.5 and NOx. And for the first time, it set controls on emissions of pollutants. A far better tool for controlling people than earlier policies, which had been designed around concentrations! That was the start of creeping speed limits (including 20mph), speed bumps, bus lanes, congestion charges, “smart” motorways, cameras everywhere to catch us out, and all the rest.
And the Coalition and the Tories have been no better. It’s clear that all the mainstream political parties in the UK are in on the scam. In 2012, Cameron and co agreed an extension to the Gothenburg protocol, which set even more stringent limits on emissions to 2020 and to 2030. They even went to the UN office in Geneva to sign it!
The EU, of course, is also in on the game. It sets “targets” and “limits” for various pollutants. (Because their origins pre-date the Gothenburg protocol, these are based on concentrations, not emissions). Targets are “to be attained where possible by taking all necessary measures not entailing disproportionate costs.” Limits are “legally binding EU parameters that must not be exceeded.” Targets have a habit of morphing into Limits on some arbitrary cut-off date.
The UN and EU strands converged in 2016, with the EU “national emission ceilings” directive, based on the commitments made in 2012. This requires the UK to cut PM2.5 emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020. (And 54 per cent below by 2030). Now, here’s the rub. That commitment for 2020 simply isn’t going to be met. It can’t be met; and it should never have been made. That’s why this is such a big issue now. This is another case of making costly commitments on behalf of others, without rigorous justification. It is Cameron and co that should be held to account, not us poor car drivers!
Another thing the EU does is set emissions standards for new cars. Now, diesel cars emit both PM2.5 and NOx. Petrol cars do emit some NOx, but a lot less than diesels; and they produce very little PM2.5. Every five years or so, the EU makes new, tighter standards for emissions from new cars. The Euro 3 standard came in in 2001, Euro 4 in 2006, Euro 5 in September 2010, and Euro 6 in September 2015. The PM2.5 standards have been tightened so much over the years, that Euro 5 and 6 diesels emit only a tenth as much PM2.5 as Euro 3 models. NOx standards have also been tightened, though this has become somewhat moot since the Volkswagen diesel scandal.
For both petrol and diesel cars, there’s also an uncertain amount of PM from tyres and brakes. DEFRA seem to think most of this is of a larger size than PM2.5, so is far less toxic, and therefore not a big problem. But anti-car extremists still try to make a big deal out of it.
Part 4: Particulate matter (PM2.5)
So, what exactly is PM2.5? It consists of small, airborne solid particles. The “2.5” means that particles of this type are less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter. Adverse health effects from PM are believed to come almost entirely from PM2.5, because they are small enough to get through the body’s defences into the lungs. They can also potentially carry chemical poisons, such as nickel and arsenic. I saw recently a Chinese study suggesting that the element vanadium may be a major part of the problem. Though I doubt that; because vanadium, while toxic, is far less toxic than PM2.5 is claimed to be.
One characteristic of PM2.5 is that the particles tend to remain in the air for quite a long time. So PM2.5 pollution can travel far from its source, even across national borders. Making it a perfect weapon for the UN and EU to use to bind national governments, and so to control their people.
On top of all this, experts tell us that PM2.5 is very difficult to measure with any confidence. And furthermore, the mechanism by which PM2.5 causes its claimed toxic effects is not well understood. Contrast this with, for example, arsenic, where we know the mechanisms in some detail. Given that an average Londoner breathes in only about 5 grams of PM2.5 in a lifetime, we need urgently to understand exactly what makes it as toxic as it’s claimed to be. Without this knowledge, we cannot reasonably conclude that PM2.5 is a cause of any health problems; even if we do find some correlation between PM2.5 levels and the incidence of those health problems.
Now for the backstory on PM2.5. In the 1980s, data was collected in the USA, notably from industrial areas in Ohio, to see if there might be a correlation between PM2.5 and mortality rates. As a result, two major studies were published, both claiming to link PM2.5 with mortality. One was the Harvard “Six Cities” study of 1993 – interesting date, that one. The other was the American Cancer Society’s “Cancer Prevention Study II,” published in 1995.
These studies claimed to show a “risk factor” of about 6 per cent for inhaling PM2.5 at and around a typical concentration of 10 micrograms per cubic metre. The mathematics of toxicology is arcane, but this appears to be equivalent to “about 5 per cent of adults who die, die from this cause”. This seems to me high. Moreover, the uncertainties were (and still are) huge. And other studies, for example from California, haven’t found any such correlation. This throws still further into doubt the idea that PM2.5 causes observed health problems.
There are several parallels between the PM2.5 backstory and the global warming one. There has been at least one case of suppressing dissenting scientific views. Epidemiologist James Enstrom used to work on American Cancer Society projects; but they terminated his funding in 1994, another interesting date. In 2006, the ACS accused Enstrom of “misrepresenting scientific evidence to deny that passive smoking was harmful.” And in 2010 his university, UCLA in Los Angeles, tried to fire him, and he had to take the case to court.
In 2000, a special scientific team set up by the US government (the Health Effects Institute) was allowed access to the raw data, by now held by the US EPA, which underlay the 1993 and 1995 studies. They reported that they had validated the original studies. But no independent scientists were allowed access to the data! This is refusing to release data, and perhaps also politics masquerading as science, or even government whitewash. Moreover, in 2013, the US House of Representatives subpoenaed the EPA for the data, but they still refused to release it. I’ve heard that some US scientists, including Enstrom, have since the change of administration been allowed access to early versions of the data, from before the EPA took it over. But as far as I’m aware, the EPA data still hasn’t been released. Does it still exist?
In the UK, in 2009, the government Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution (COMEAP) tried to work out how big a problem PM2.5 was in the UK. In essence, they accepted the 6 per cent risk factor from the US cancer prevention study. However, their scientific basis for accepting this risk factor is not clear. Moreover, they tried a novel way of estimating the uncertainty, which amounted to seven experts waving a wet finger in the air, and pooling results. The outcome was a factor of 12 between their lower and upper bounds! Useless for making objective decisions, yet they went ahead anyway. This is making costly commitments on behalf of others, without rigorous justification. Again.
In 2010, another UK government report concluded that in 2008 PM2.5 had caused nearly 29,000 deaths in the UK, with an average loss of life expectancy of 11.7 years. But it could have been anywhere between 4,700 and 51,000.
The rest of the PM2.5 backstory joins up with the NOx one. So, I’ll leave it until the final section of my talk. I’ll now look at the facts and accusations about PM2.5 pollution in the UK.
Currently, the EU limit for PM2.5 (since 2015) is 25 micrograms per cubic metre. For brevity, I’ll call this 25 units. The current average in London is about 14 or 15 units. A few sites in central London are above 20; but as of 2015 at least, there was no place in London at which the EU limit was broken. The UK-wide level is very close to (slightly under) 10 units. But recently, PM2.5 emitted by wood burning stoves has been increasing rapidly – as a result of government subsidizing them! It’s estimated that burning wood now produces twice as much PM2.5 as all road traffic put together. Madness!
Now, to the accusations that are being made about PM2.5 in London. I’ll quote a Guardian article from October 2017: “Every person in the capital is breathing air that exceeds global guidelines for one of the most dangerous toxic particles… Every area in the capital exceeds World Health Organization (WHO) limits for a damaging type of particle known as PM2.5… Nearly 95% of the capital’s population live in areas that exceed the limit by 50% or more. In central London the average annual levels are almost double the WHO limit.”
Sounds scary, eh? But wait – what’s this “WHO?” It’s a UN organization! Let that sink in first, and then I’ll ask: Did you see the goalposts move there?
Yes, this is another case of moving the goalposts, and it’s a lulu. The WHO “guideline” figure for PM2.5 (10 units) is only 40 per cent of the EU limit (25)! Where is the science behind the WHO’s figure? I couldn’t find any. And the date of issue of the “guideline” – 2005, the last year in which Maurice Strong was involved – is suggestive, too.
The “guideline” figure of 10 units is very close to the UK wide average. And the UK is among the less polluted countries in the world. So, this is a ridiculously low number. And it’s worse than that. There’s a background level of PM2.5, which would be there without any human activity at all. Experts say this is about 7 units. So, going from the EU limit to the WHO guideline requires a reduction in the human component of PM2.5 by a factor of 6. That’s not feasible without destroying our industrial civilization. Maurice Strong must be laughing in his grave.
Now, my own entry into this story. I was trained as a mathematician, so I know how to do calculations! In the summer of 2017, I set out to answer objectively the question: are the proposed levels of charges for entry to the London ULEZ reasonable, or are they a gross rip-off? So, I wrote a paper, in which I calculated the “social cost” (i.e. the total expense, to all those affected) of the effects of pollution from cars in the UK, using the government’s figures from the 2009 and 2010 reports. My paper was published by the Association of British Drivers, and later also at wattsupwiththat.com.
I worked out the social cost of PM2.5 emissions from diesel cars in the UK in 2008 as £183 per car per year. This is significant, but it’s way lower than the perceived value of cars to the people who drive them (at least £5,000 per year – £3,500 running cost plus £1,500 capital cost).
I also broke these costs down by Euro standard. Things have got much better since 2008. This is because the Euro 5 standard came in from 2010, with PM2.5 emissions 10 times lower than the Euro 3 cars which had been prevalent in 2008. For a Euro 5 diesel car like my own, the social cost of PM2.5 pollution per car per year is just £21. That’s peanuts, compared with the benefits.
Part 5: Nitrogen oxides (NOx)
NOx is a combination of two oxides of nitrogen, nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide. NOx from cars is produced mainly by diesel engines, but also by petrol ones. And it’s very unclear indeed just how toxic NOx is. DEFRA have given different numbers at different times. I’ve even heard that some experts say it’s not itself toxic at all; the only problems it causes come from “secondary” PM2.5 caused by its reactions with other gases, such as ammonia.
So, here’s the backstory. In 2001, Blair and co offered incentives to drivers to buy, and so to manufacturers to make, diesel cars. They did it, apparently, because diesels “emit less CO2” than petrol cars!
By 2006, insiders at the European Federation for Transport and Environment had found out that, in the real world, emissions of NOx from diesel engines were much higher than the limits they were supposedly built to meet. Then in 2009, the London Air Quality Network’s report for 2006/7 identified that the EU limit value for NOx was being exceeded in many places in London. Curiously, the 2008, 2009 and 2010 reports weren’t published until 2012! Might this, perhaps, be another government whitewash? Did Brown have these reports suppressed?
In 2014, the European Commission took the UK to court for exceeding NOx limits. In 2015, DEFRA issued a report on NOx pollution, giving a central estimate of 23,500 deaths in the year 2013, and an error range of a factor of 4. It was not clear how much overlap there might be with deaths caused by PM2.5 pollution. They also admitted that the previous estimates for PM2.5 may well have been high. In that same year, the Volkswagen diesel scandal erupted in the USA. What insiders had known since 2006 now became public knowledge. And in 2016, the Royal College of Physicians published a highly alarmist report, which put together figures for PM2.5 and NOx to give a claimed total of 40,000 deaths per year caused by the two together. This has been described by one expert as a “zombie statistic” – every time it’s debunked, it comes back again!
In the same paper as the PM2.5 calculations, I worked out the social cost of NOx emissions from cars. This was a much more complicated exercise than the PM2.5 calculation! For my own car, a Euro 5 diesel, the social cost of the combined emissions of PM2.5 and NOx is £113 per year. Of this, £75 is due to the manufacturers’ fault; the cost would be only £38, if the car kept to the standards it was supposed to. That shows that the London charges are completely over the top. Three ULEZ entry fees would pay for the social cost of the pollution (excluding the part due to the manufacturers’ fault), caused by driving my car for a whole year, all over the UK!
All of this, of course, assumes the government figures I used are correct. But my suspicion is that, in reality, they grossly overstated the toxicity of both PM2.5 and NOx. If that turns out to be so, then pollution from cars is not, and never has been, a real problem. And yet, the idiots that masquerade as a government have pressed on to ban all petrol and diesel cars from 2040 or some such! (And now they’re trying to bring the date forward to 2030).
All this has come about because UK politicians, in cahoots with the UN and EU, have chosen to set hard, inflexible, ever tightening collective limits on what people may do. That is both crazy and tyrannical. As Edmund Burke famously said, 250 years ago next year: “Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny.”
To sum up
In the war on cars, as with “global warming,” the politicians, government “scientists” and green campaigners have again and again used the Ten Deadly Dishonesties:
- Enmity towards our industrial and capitalist civilization.
- Moving the goalposts.
- Politics disguised as science.
- Refusing to release data, or even deleting data.
- Suppressing dissenting scientific views.
- Government whitewashing the problems.
- Inverting the burden of proof.
- Negating the presumption of innocence.
- Requiring the accused to prove a negative.
- Making costly commitments on behalf of others, without rigorous justification.
We car drivers have been had. But we know it now. Many people, particularly in London, are becoming very concerned about this. When the ULEZ goes out to the North/South circular, we may have enough angry people that we’ll have a gilets jaunes situation on our hands.
And maybe more than that. For the Brexit Party is on the rise, and Nigel Farage is a known climate change skeptic. And he’s also, as far as I can tell, pro-car. Meanwhile in the USA, Donald Trump is trying to commission a “Presidential Committee on Climate Security,” supposedly to give a “fact-based and unbiased examination of the topic of climate change.”
More news has come (since the talk) from Germany, the country that so far has gone furthest down the line of charging ridiculous fees to drivers for simply going about their daily business. There, the problems faced by people who have been forced to scrap their cars because they can’t afford either to pay the fees or to replace their cars, are starting to be publicly discussed (even on TV!) as a major issue.
The fight-back, I think, is just beginning. We are living in “interesting times.”