Skip to Content

James Delingpole

The great diesel disaster shows how badly wrong-headed environmentalism can harm the planet

No one has claimed responsibility for the Great Diesel Car Scandal and almost certainly no heads will roll

25 February 2017

9:00 AM

25 February 2017

9:00 AM

Who do you think was responsible for Europe’s biggest environmental disaster of the past three decades; one that caused more widespread damage and killed more people than even the nuclear accident at Chernobyl?

Was it a) greedy and selfish capitalists, probably linked to Big Oil, riding roughshod over the stringent health and safety regulations our wise, caring politicians have designed to protect us and our natural environment?

Or b) an alliance of fluffy green activists, campaigning journalists and virtue-signalling politicians, united on a noble mission to save the planet from the greatest environmental threat it has ever known?

If you guessed b) then you may appreciate why we climate sceptics are experiencing such schadenfreude right now. For years we’ve been vilified by the powerful green lobby as nature–loathing, anti-science ‘deniers’ in the pay of sinister interests. Now it turns out that the real bad guys (as some of us have been saying all along) are those worthy greenies.

I’m talking about the Great Diesel Car Scandal, which has exacerbated all manner of illnesses from asthma, autism and dementia to respiratory problems, heart disease and cancer, driven city air pollution to levels sometimes higher than Beijing’s, and caused tens of thousands of premature deaths across the EU.


No one has claimed responsibility for it and almost certainly no heads will roll. But this was an avoidable, completely man-made disaster: the consequence of a state-orchestrated, tax-incentivised, EU-wide drive from the early 1990s onwards to replace petrol car engines with diesel ones, organised in the belief that it would reduce CO2 levels and thus help spare the planet from the horrors of man-made global warming.

And so it has. One expert calculation says Europe’s mass switch to diesel means that in the next half century, global warming may be as much as four thousandths of a degree Celsius less. Unfortunately, it also dramatically increased the production of more evidently harmful substances such as nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulates (soot particles), with consequences we are all now ruing.

How did our politicians ever fall prey to such lunacy? Why did no scientists warn them? And why did our fearless media not hold them to account? You know why already: because such was the clamour of the times, as it has been for at least three decades. Once a culture has made up its mind that a harmless trace gas is public enemy number one, the potential for suicidal regulatory idiocy is limitless. As one of the few who has been right pretty much all along about this, I’m not asking much. In fact the only thing I want (apart from my bronze equestrian statue, somewhere discreet, like maybe on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square) is for the people responsible to acknowledge their mistakes and begin undoing them as quickly as possible.

This, after all, was the thing that first got me interested in the whole environment/-energy field. As a keen wild swimmer, hill-walker and naturalist, I couldn’t understand why we were allowing our matchlessly beautiful countryside to be blighted — effectively turned into industrial zones — by ugly, environmentally destructive wind turbines. Well, one awkward question led to another, and soon, quite contrary to any life plans I’d made, I found myself being traduced by every-one from BBC Radio 4 comics to the president of the Royal Society as the very emblem of anti-environmental ignorance and wickedness.

My grovelling apology from these people can wait: I’m really not holding my breath. What I do feel very strongly, however, is that none of those involved in the green disasters of our time — not the BBC’s pop-science presenters, not all those politicians who signed the Climate Change Act, many of whom (that’s you, Greg Clark) still defend its nonsensical principles, not the toffs doing nicely out of the wind subsidies on their estates — should be allowed to save face. Their errors must be confronted now and dealt with now; not in five or ten years or 20 years, when everyone has moved on.

The other day I emailed two of the environmentalists I most respect — Matt Ridley and the Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore — for suggestions as to what great green causes Donald Trump could get behind to counter the inevitable eco-propaganda that he doesn’t care about the planet. We came swiftly to the conclusion that almost all the major environmental problems in the world right now are the result of environmental policy.

Beside the Great Diesel Car Disaster you have: forests cut down to create ‘biomass’ for power stations such as Drax; primary rainforest replaced by palm-oil plantations for biofuels; upland landscapes ravaged and millions of birds and bats killed by wind turbines; birds frazzled by solar arrays; forests in America’s Pacific north-west rendered sterile by legislation designed to protect the spotted owl.

Then, of course, there’s the human cost: the malnutrition and high mortality caused by the greens’ war on GM produce such as golden rice; food shortages and poverty caused by the diversion of agricultural land to biofuels; lower living standards created by the enforced rejection of cheap fossil fuel in favour of ‘renewable’ energy; fuel poverty deaths caused by artificially inflated ‘clean’ energy prices.

A few years ago I wrote a book called Watermelons with the subtitle ‘How Environmentalists Are Killing The Planet, Destroying The Economy and Stealing Your Children’s Future’. It wasn’t a provocation. It was no more than the truth. The greens and their useful idiots in politics, business and the media have got away with doing far too much damage for far too long. They are not the good guys. What they have done is evil. It is time the guilty parties made amends.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.


Show comments
Close