The Great Car Con: Channel 4 Dispatches


Channel 4 Dispatches will tonight (Monday 26 January) explore the reality behind the governmental push towards diesel fuelled cars and the true impact that they have on our health and environment.

Shadow Minister for the Environment, Barry Gardiner MP, states that the Labour government made a mistake in their ‘dash for diesel’: ‘Hands up, can I say there’s absolutely no question that the decision we took was the wrong decision.’

In 2001 British motorists were promised that Diesel would be the cheap, green fuel for the future. With tax breaks to encourage fuel efficiency, we now buy more diesel than petrol cars. Dispatches discovers the concerning reality that diesel cars are neither as economical nor as environmentally friendly to run as we have been told. Growing concerns about harmful emissions mean there is now demand to hit motorists with surcharges to drive diesel cars in polluted cities, or even ban them.

Reporter Morland Sanders investigates why politicians encouraged the ‘dash for diesel’ and asks whether we can trust manufacturers’ claims about their vehicles’ performance and pollution levels.

It seems that the members of parliament are starting a U-turn against Diesel cars, including the Shadow Minister for the Environment, Barry Gardiner MP, who states: ‘Hands up, can I say there’s absolutely no question that the decision we took was the wrong decision, but and it is a big but, at that time we didn’t have the evidence that subsequently we did have and we had cleaner diesel engines, which we thought meant that any potential problem was a lower grade problem than the problem we were trying to solve of CO2.’

Morland Sanders goes on to ask Was the drive for diesel a massive failure of public policy?

Barry Gardiner responds: ‘It was right move away from those vehicles who were pushing out CO2 emissions. Certainly the impact of that decision has been a massive problem for public health in this country. The real tragedy is after we set up the committee on the medical effects of air pollution and it reported back in 2010 we’ve had five years that this government has done nothing about it.’

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs dispute this and told Dispatches:

“We’ve acted on the Committee’s findings through providing effective health advice to the public. Air quality has improved significantly in recent decades and we are investing heavily ... to continue this, committing £2 billion since 2011 in green transport initiatives.”

Dispatches tested which mode of transport had the greatest level of exposure to the dangerous pollutant, nitrogen dioxide. We took four commuters - a driver, bus passenger, pedestrian and cyclist and measured the nitrogen dioxide on their way to work. This non-scientific test proved that surprisingly, the driver was exposed to the highest levels of this pollutant. The annual average safe limit of nitrogen dioxide is 40 microgrammes per cubic meter. Despite it being a low pollution day in Leeds, the car driver was exposed to 37mg, dangerously close to the safe limit, the bus user experienced 30mg while the walker was only exposed to 23mg and the cyclist a much healthier 14mg.

Facts about Diesel run cars:

In 2014 more of us bought new diesel run cars than petrol:

Diesel sales: 1, 240, 287

Petrol: 1, 184, 409

Diesel 50.1% market share

Petrol 47.8% market share

10% increase in diesel sales since 2013 v 7.2% increase in petrol sales.

Diesel cars do more miles to the gallon, and produce less carbon dioxide than their counterparts. HOWEVER, they produce other harmful gasses which are also harmful.

Diesels produce 22 times the amount of soot, particulate matter, than petrol cars – a cause of cancer. And four times the oxides of nitrogen - with nitrogen dioxide the biggest worry for our health – damaging lungs and blood vessels, a cause of, heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

Particulate matter is lethal - It is are now linked with early deaths of 29,000 people across the UK. That’s rather a substantial figure because the only figure that beats, is the one associated with active smoking.

Our government has recently admitted to the EU there is too much nitrogen dioxide in 38 out of 43 areas in the UK.

THE GREAT CAR CON: CHANNEL 4 DISPATCHES, Monday 26th January at 8pm

Production Company – Nine Lives

Reporter: Morland Sanders

Prod: Sarah Hey

Exec Prods: Steve Boulton, Mike Lewis

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