Collected Journalism

The Death of Diesel

This article appeared in The Guardian in April 2017

A shopper at a supermarket asks for a plastic bag, only to have his head slammed into the checkout counter by the “green police” (“You picked the wrong day to mess with the ecosystem, plastic boy”).

Another man attracts a spotlight from a green police helicopter for a “compost infraction” as he’s about to bin an orange rind. The green police bust down doors after finding batteries in the trash. They haul people from their homes for installing incandescent lightbulbs.

But to the driver who approaches a road checkpoint in his Audi, the green police react very differently. “Clean diesel? You’re good to go, sir.” And they wave him through.

It’s hard to believe, as diesel vehicles find themselves thrust into the spotlight of a global urban environment crisis, that Audi’s Superbowl advert was made just seven years ago.

Air pollution now kills 3.3 million people prematurely every year – more than HIV, malaria and influenza com combined – with emissions from diesel engines among the worst culprits; a joint investigation by the Guardian and Greenpeace showed hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren across England and Wales are being exposed to illegal air toxicity levels from diesel vehicles.

And yet such was the more or less widely accepted thinking as recently as Superbowl XLIV in 2010 – namely, that cars running on diesel fuel could be driven with a pure, unclouded conscience.

Diesel was touted at inception as a wonder fuel. It was a way of driving cost-efficiently while doing your bit to save the planet. Government, industry and science united to sell us the dream: cars running on diesel would help us cut our CO2 emissions as we eased smoothly into a new eco-friendly age.

Read more at The Guardian

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