Michael Fitzalan copy

What idiot would buy a diesel in London?

The science now tells us that diesel vehicles cause more than four times the pollution than petrol cars.

Diesel cars have recently become subject to considerable negative publicity thanks to the amount of toxic emissions they produce. Some governments are planning to discourage their use or even ban them from urban areas altogether.

Yet some diesel car owners have reacted angrily, arguing they bought the vehicles because they were supposedly the environmentally friendly option.

The diesel story

This was a part of the EU’s response to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; especially carbon dioxide (CO₂). Diesel engines are “lean-burn”, meaning they use less fuel and more air to get the same performance as a petrol engine.

But even when governments were promoting diesel cars, we knew there were issues with toxic emissions (those immediately harmful to humans, not CO₂).

Heating air in an engine produces nitrogen oxides (NOₓ) which include the toxic nitrogen dioxide (NO₂), greenhouse gas nitrous oxide (N₂O) and nitric oxide (NO), which reacts with oxygen to form NO₂.

These can be cleaned up by a three-way catalytic converter; that it emits on average around 30% less NOₓ than a diesel car, without after-treatment.

We know that long-term exposure to nitric oxide can significantly increase the risk of respiratory problems.

The fine particulate matter (PM) that diesel engines produce also causes cancer and can have acute respiratory effects.

Particulate filters in car exhausts can reduce PM emissions by more than 90%, but they require good operating conditions and regular maintenance.

They can also produce more nitrogen dioxide, making diesel one of the main sources of this toxic gas.

For all the differences between petrol and diesel cars in the past, current EU emissions standards for new vehicles of both types are quite similar.

But there are still many older cars on the road that conform to earlier emissions standards.

Plus, in order to achieve these standards, diesel engine manufacturers have had to resort to technologies such as particulate filters, which tend to clog up when used mainly for urban driving.

And the latest emissions technology requires the owner to regularly add a urea mixture such as AdBlue to the engine. By contrast, petrol emissions systems regulate themselves, needing less driver input.

The problem is that governments often fail to grasp that focusing on one issue at a time, such as CO₂ output, inevitably leads them to ignore others, such as toxic emissions.

It seems likely that to tackle both problems, governments will eventually have to start banning vehicles with internal combustion engines altogether, initially in urban areas and ultimately more generally.


For most cars built over the past 20 years that may still be in use, petrol is likely to be less polluting overall than diesel. Petrol cars also require less maintenance to keep them performing at that level. But new, well maintained diesel cars, built to the latest standards have similar emissions to new petrol vehicles.


Aonghus McNabola, associate professor in civil and structural engineering, Trinity College Dublin

Overall I find this a fair reflection on the topic of diesel cars. Some points are worth elaborating further. From a health impact point of view.

The public should also be particularly concerned about the fine particulate matter emitted from diesel engines. According to the statistics, they are associated with poor heart health.

It was proven

Research has proven that increases in background concentrations of particulate matter result in more hospital admissions and deaths from heart attacks, particularly among those already at risk.

The near EU-wide plan to encourage people to buy diesel vehicles in the past number of years is another example of the lack of connection between air pollution policy and climate change policy, and the difficulties of considering CO₂ emissions separately to the many other thousands of compounds that human activities emit.

Replacing petrol cars with diesel ones does result in lower CO₂ emissions and climate impacts but it has clearly been worse for human health.

This article rightly sums up the outlook that new; well maintained diesel vehicles have quite similar levels of particulate emissions to petrol cars, although they are still higher. It will take many years for these vehicles to make their way out of operation.

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These statements are checked by an academic with expertise in the area. A second academic expert then reviews an anonymous copy of the article. Please get in touch if you spot a claim you would like us to check by emailing us at uk-factcheck@theconversation.com.

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Fact Check: are diesel cars really more polluting than petrol …https://theconversation.com › fact-check-are-diesel-cars…
2 May 2017: The science now tells us that diesel vehicles cause more than four times the pollution than petrol cars


A well respected author

Michael Fitzalan was born in Clapham, South London; where his mother had established a doctor’s surgery in a house which she filled with children.

With three sisters, two brothers and a library full of books; a love of literature was imbued in him from an early age.

Michael Fitzalan comes from Irish parents were doctors; and they settled on the West Side of Clapham Common and had six children in quick succession.

A story by Michael Fitzalan


Michael Fitzalan’s first novel gained cult status and here are some others: Waterwitch was a hit with those who have ever sailed; two brothers battle storms and Spanish support for the Malvinas in an attempt to meet up with their girlfriends in Ibiza. They have to get from The Algarve to Ibiza, all very straightforward until engine failure and storms threaten to sink all their plans. The Taint Gallery tells the story of a modern Romeo and Juliet; the story is set in Cheslea and Fulham, not Verona, nevertheless, it is a doomed relationship. The book was shunned by big publishers for its highly charged and graphic sexual content and the small publisher who produced the book folded, copies are rare. A reprint is planned for its twentieth anniversary next year; it is still as pertinent and shocking today as it was back in 1996. Switch is an amazing mixture of Franz Kafka realism yet it reads like a Raymond Chandler thriller. Joe Ederer falls for a French girl but he is recovering from being dumped by his English girlfriend. A fish out of water in London, he chases her home only to be rejected. He hooks up with a suffocating drug addict and that is when his nightmares begin. Major Bruton’s Safari is the story of innocents abroad; a family invited to celebrate the coronation of the Kabaka of Buganda become indoctrinated into the ways of Africa. With an acerbic observer on hand, the family experience the warmth and ways of Uganda that help them to understand themselves a little better. IPG – Innocent Proven Guilty is about a teacher, Philip Hayward whose brother sold their shared flat and ran off to America with the proceeds. Philip bumps into his brother’s ex-girlfriend and she tells him his brother is back. Racing to the address she gave him, he arrives to find his brother with a knife in his back. As he leaves, his shoes leave bloody footprints and the police come looking for him. Carom – Finn McHugh and his team take on a swindler and smuggler, Didier, who is depraved in so many ways. They know he is smuggling art and drugs; he must be stopped before others take him out. The Cubans, want him dead, Finn wants to break the smuggling ring. Who will win? Remember the Fifth November – Guy Fawkes was innocent, Catesby was a broken man who brought his children up in the Anglican faith, yet Robert Cecil arranged for them to be portrayed as terrible villains. With a spy service second to none and with moles everywhere how could someone hatch a plot like this and fail to be discovered? The answer, they could not. Read the truth! One – Bullying does not go on anymore in schools. I would not bet on it. Weep as you read the terrible story of a school bully and the misery he dispenses to all the boys. Then, cheer as one of his victims takes revenge. Take a trip to a prep school in a time when kids built tree houses, danced and swung on Tarzan ropes!

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