The World Health Organization has already warned of the link between diesel emissions and lung cancer, and now we hear via John Vidal at The Guardian of a new study linking diesel emissions to 1 in 4 air pollution deaths. A big part of why this is such a problem in Europe, says Vidal, has been the push for better fuel economy without understanding the full impact of particulate emissions:
With government figures for 2008 showing 29,000 people dying prematurely from air pollution each year, diesel fuel burned in vehicles could be responsible for around one in four of all air pollution deaths, said Frank Kelly, professor of environmental health at King's College, London.
"We have walked blindly into a situation where we have a high percentage of diesels in the transport sector. All taxis and buses are diesel. From one in 10 private cars being diesel in 2000 it is now nearly half today. A lot of the minute particulate matter [emitted from exhausts] comes from diesels in cities. It is estimated that 50% of the particulate matter in London is from transport and that diesel makes up about half of all the transport," he said.
But what to do about it?
"Clean" diesels with particulate filters and converted diesel-hybrid trucks may get us part of the way there. Range extended electric taxi cabs can be a help. But they are still stuck in the paradigm that created the problem.
For a real sea change, let's push for walkable, transit-oriented development served by electrified public transit and the occasional ELF. Not only would it bring particulate emissions way down, but people would be healthier and happier too.