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Dominic Lawson: Climate Saviours & Europe’s Mad Rush For Diesel

Dominic Lawson, The Sunday Times

The “rush for diesel” might seem an unmatchably counterproductive idiocy on the part of the EU member states, as they sought to prove themselves the saviours of the earth. In fact, it is merely one of a number of catastrophic components in the climate-change policy makers’ hall of infamy.

The inability to deal with the crises afflicting the European Union — a malfunctioning common currency and apparently unstoppable migration via the Mediterranean — is blamed by the European Commission on member states failing to act as one.

Yet unity behind a terrible policy is worse than any disagreement: and in no cause has the EU been more destructively united than in the battle against the alleged existential threat to the planet known as climate change.

While America and the developing world refused to sign up to the 1997 Kyoto treaty setting strict targets for reducing CO2 emissions, the nations of Europe, co-ordinated from Brussels, signed without a whisper of dissent. Britain was especially enthusiastic, in a vain delusion that we should achieve “global leadership” in the fight to “save the planet”.

It was idiotic to suppose that even eliminating all of the UK’s 1.5% contribution to worldwide CO2 emissions would achieve anything more than to de-industrialise the nation that started the Industrial Revolution.

Only the latest example is that the UK’s last large-scale steel-making plant, employing 3,000 at Redcar, is having to call on the government to save it from imminent closure. It can no longer compete with plants in countries that do not impose arbitrary CO2 emission limits on its steel manufacturers.

Redcar’s unaffordably high fuel bills are the direct effect of government policy demanding that the plant obtains a portion of its power from “renewables”. The result is not a global reduction of emissions: it merely moves their generation from here to another country, such as China. This is technically known as “carbon leakage”. National death wish is an alternative term.

The same, quite literally, has been the result of Europe’s concerted push to get its populations to abandon petrol for diesel as the fuel to power their cars. This is the real story behind the astonishing scandal of VW’s fraud upon the US Environmental Protection Agency. VW had installed software in its newer diesel cars that detected when the vehicles were being tested for noxious emissions and cut most of the smog-forming compounds caused by burning diesel.

When the cars were driven normally on the road by owners, the software “defeated” the pollution control. This greatly enhanced the vehicles’ performance. And so VW could claim — absolutely dishonestly — that it was selling high-performing diesel cars while conforming to stringent American “clean air” requirements.

Yes: America, frequently accused by Europeans of being a laggard in environmental protection, has stricter regulations governing air pollution than the eternally preachy EU. This is because of — and not despite — Europe’s obsession with climate change.

Our government, after its signing of the Kyoto treaty, set up an incentive through vehicle excise duty to push consumers into buying diesel rather than petrol cars. The point is that diesel produces more oomph per gallon than petrol, so less of it is used for each mile’s driving and hence less CO2 is emitted in the course of any given journey.

However, it has always been known that burning diesel creates much more of the oxides of nitrogen that can cause terrible damage to the human respiratory system: more than 20 times as much of the stuff as burning petrol does. Because in America engine emission controls are related much more to overall air quality than in the EU, VW had a real problem getting its diesel cars into that market. Hence its scam.

Yet here the national obsession — at least in Whitehall — with CO2 means that British lives have been shortened to save future lives in Africa (the continent thought to be most vulnerable to the consequences of climate change). The developing world, meanwhile, is cracking on with fossil-fuel power generation, since its leaders understand that that is the fastest way to lift their countries out of poverty — and really save lives.

By the way, do not listen to politicians such as the shadow energy and climate-change minister Barry Gardiner, who said this year of the decision to go all out for diesel: “Hands up — there’s absolutely no question that the decision we [Labour] took was the wrong decision. But at the time we didn’t have the evidence that subsequently we did have.” A senior Department for Transport civil servant recently admitted: “We did not sleepwalk into this. To be totally reductionist, you are talking about killing people today rather than saving lives tomorrow. Occasionally we had to say we were living in a different world and everyone had to swallow hard.”

That is, the different world of politicians and campaigners who had convinced themselves that the only environmental policy that mattered was reducing carbon emissions. That meant regarding CO2 as a greater public enemy than poisonous fumes. Taken to its logical conclusion, this would classify mouth-to-mouth resuscitation as more dangerous than inhaling particulates from the back of a London taxi, a vehicle that is crazily regarded as better for the planet than the petrol- powered cabs on the streets of American cities. Londoners may choke but we’re saving the Earth. Except that Gaia shows every sign of being able to cope just fine with man’s CO2 emissions.

The “rush for diesel” might seem an unmatchably counterproductive idiocy on the part of the EU member states, as they sought to prove themselves the saviours of the earth. In fact, it is merely one of a number of catastrophic components in the climate-change policy makers’ hall of infamy.

There was the EU’s directive mandating that 10% of energy in transport come from “biofuels” — that is, crops. In this case the US was complicit in the lunacy, although for different reasons: it subsidised ethanol production — fuel from corn — because it wanted to reduce its dependence on Middle Eastern oil.

The result was a drastic increase in global food prices that was felt most acutely by the poorest people on the planet: it was for this reason that a United Nations special rapporteur on “the right to food” said the EU’s biofuels policy was “a crime against humanity”.

Perhaps the craziest policy of all was that derived from Kyoto’s “clean development mechanism”. Under it, signatories to the treaty could gain emission reduction credits by paying poorer countries to reduce their production of gases including HFC23, a by-product of the manufacture of refrigerants thousands of times more potent than CO2 in creating the greenhouse effect.

As a Global Warming Policy Foundation pamphlet, The Unintended Consequences of Climate Change Policy, said: “The upshot of this influx of western money was to completely change the behaviour of refrigerant manufacturers. Instead of HFC23 being merely a by-product of the manufacturing process, it came to represent their principal product. The factories were in effect being incentivised to produce this most powerful of greenhouse gases.”

Nowhere more so than in China. It was an echo of what happened when the Communist party under Mao Tse-tung rewarded citizens who slaughtered the most houseflies: people began breeding them so as to produce the necessary number of dead flies to gain the reward. This is the lunacy that can happen when central planners issue what they call “incentives”. It doesn’t help, admittedly, when the original policy is insane.

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