In 1952, an “air pollution event” hit London; the Great Smog was so thick that you could barely see. The direct cause was burning of low grade high sulphur coal in power plants and houses, along with exhaust from diesel fuelled buses that had just replaced electric trams or streetcars. As many as 12,000 people may have died because of it. (Watch S01E04 of the Crown to see it dramatized.) According to Wikipedia,
Public transport ceased, apart from the London Underground; and the ambulance service stopped functioning, forcing users to transport themselves to hospital. The smog even seeped indoors, resulting in the cancellation or abandonment of concerts and film screenings as visibility decreased in large enclosed spaces, and stages and screens became harder to see from the seats. Outdoor sports events were also affected.
In reaction, the government passed legislation to replace open coal fires in homes and closed the coal fired power plants in London.
Now, 64 years later, London recently was having another air pollution event. And what are they doing about it? Not much at all. Oh wait, no, they are telling kids not to go outside. Baroness Jones is quoted in the Evening Standard:
If a reading is high the obvious thing is to introduce some controls in terms of parking near the school and for people dropping children off. If there are days when there are extra-high levels of air quality they could keep the children indoors.
That instead of telling parents to stop driving them to school. That, instead of dealing with the source of the problem. Gary Fuller notes in the Guardian that Paris made public transit free, banned trucks and cut the number of cars allowed into town; Madrid brought in emergency controls, but in London? Just don’t breathe.
Sixty years ago, the British government moved to ban the use of coal for heating. Now it is time to ban the use of diesel for driving. Damien Carrington writes in the Guardian:
At the root of the problem are diesel cars, which successive governments across Europe have utterly failed to ensure meet legal emissions limits when driving in real-world conditions on the road. The gaming of regulatory tests by carmakers was blown open by the Volkswagen scandal. The scandal of governments prioritising supposed driver freedom over the lungs and health of their citizens is only now playing out
We were lucky in North America that diesels never caught on to the degree they did in Europe, but should ban them here anyway.