Is diesel the new asbestos?

PM in EU[Left] 2000 (pm2) *                                                 [Right] 2014 (pm10) **

294.501 km. That was the mileage on my car, a 2nd hand Audi A4 diesel (2005) bought in 2008.

So, I decided to buy a new one and wanted to select the most eco-friendly car, or should I say, by ‘essence’, the less eco-harmful.

My selection process involved visiting showrooms and talking to vendors, based on my work/residence/family situation, looking at cradle to grave implications, evaluating Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), pure electric, hybrids and conventional fuels.

Having been a diesel driver for years, a diesel Opel Insignia, with 98 g CO2 was to be my choice when a good friend pointed out the negative health implications of diesel’s micro particules. I was aware of it, Brussels’ air quality is very poor for a start, but never stood still at the scale of the problem.

Digging into this topic with some “google science” and “internet truth”, it occurred to me that diesel could very well be our current and our kids’ asbestos case. A lot of construction companies were active with asbestos in the seventies and eighties, unaware of the related health risks. Without pinpointing a single company, not all the companies were brought in front of a jury, I remembered that a trial took place in Italy earlier this year, relating asbestos poisoning to the deaths of nearly 3.000 people worldwide. And that is just for the local branch of one, single company…

Similar asbestos’ dust, companies, the authorities and the general public appear not to be very concerned with diesel’s negative health implications. Or maybe some want to ignore them for plain financial reasons, vested interests?

There is a loss in life expectancy attributable to the exposure to fine particulate matter, mainly less than 2.5 micrometers (PM2,5). In Belgium, the “loss in statistical life expectancy that can be attributed to the identified anthropogenic contributions to PM2.5 (in months), for the emissions of the year 2000” was 14,9 months. In plan language, that’s a big year. And in cities, guess who seems to be responsible 40 to 85% of the PM2,5 emissions? Right, diesel cars.

Carmakers have been offering root filters on their diesel models for some years now. To quote a salesman on that subject: “I am not sure it works well, given how it should be used for optimal filtering”. Do they correctly work for the nano-particules (PM2,5), not only for PM10? And what about at low exhaust heat, i.e. slow driving in urban areas? If anyone can shed a light here, please feel free to do so.

Some cities are taking some first steps to ban diesels in a near or far future, like Paris (“Nous ne voulons plus de diesel à Paris”), Brussels and Antwerpen.

A 2000-graphic from a ten-year old paper by Austrian’s International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and an overview particules concentration in 2014 do not visually differ very much… (see top). I am not a scientist: one is for PM10, the other for PM2,5 (even worse I understood), but I believe one can and should extract a general negative message.

Now, there are obviously different causes and reasons, leading us to several possible solutions, and not all the woes can be attributed to diesel cars. As often in this integrated world of ours, picking one solution impedes the benefits of at least one of the other parties involved. A related example, from a ‘pure’ CO2 point of view, is the story I was told that downtown taxi-drivers from Brussels who drop somebody at the national airport in Zaventem are not allowed to bring another person back to Brussels, to protect those taxi-drivers registered in Zaventem.

However, from a grass root point of view for my own, little contribution to improve the air quality on our planet, I bought a regular gas powered stock car (Audi A3 1.4L).

Did I do the right thing?

All power sources alternatives have good and bad points, depending on underlying characteristics and assumptions, but the real answer to that question is “No”. From a pure ecological view I should do all my traveling walking or with my bicycle, period. Unfortunately, today, with my current constraints, that is unfeasible… Next up in is sharing public transportation modes. Although their ecological footprint is open for debate, what to include or exclude in the calculation, only consider the marginal costs etc…, I already try to do that as much as possible, but could do better. Shouldn’t we all…? Also those with their company cars..?

P.S. In the future, should you or your friends plan to buy a diesel car, please check the state of its technology at that moment in relation with the micro-particules emmissions in order to make a well-informed choice. Thanks.

P.S.S. If you have any remarks or suggestions, scientifically based preferred, feel free to post your comments.

 

* http://ec.europa.eu/environment/archives/cafe/activities/pdf/cafe_scenario_report_2.pdf

** http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Particules_en_suspension#mediaviewer/File:Carte_PM10_Europe_20140314.JPG

 

References:

https://twitter.com/MvanWunnik/status/541640304248750080

http://ec.europa.eu/environment/archives/cafe/activities/pdf/cafe_scenario_report_2.pdf

http://www.lesoir.be/712320/article/demain-terre/environnement/2014-11-20/l-air-respire-par-citadins-europeens-provoque-400000-morts-par-an

http://www.ibgebim.be:8080/Pollumetre/Graph.action?lang=en

http://www.euronews.com/2014/11/20/italian-court-frees-swiss-asbestos-polluter-accused-of-involvement-in-3000-/

http://www.lejdd.fr/JDD-Paris/Anne-Hidalgo-Nous-ne-voulons-plus-de-diesel-a-Paris-705124

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-30368504

http://www.notre-planete.info/actualites/actu_3399_diesel_cancerigene.php

http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Particules_en_suspension

http://www.respire-asso.org/pollution-diesel-ces-voix-qui-se-font-lavocat-du-diable/

http://www.unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/env/documents/2004/eb/wg1/eb.air.wg1.2004.11.e.pdf

 

 

Predict the future or make it possible [re-blogged]

Idea's space

StudentsRecently, I was part of a BarCamp with some entrepreneurs. The topic of the session was the passion of entrepreneurship. During a discussion, one of the members asked me the following question: “What kind of studies would you recommend to your children?” This question was a very good one, in this particular difficult time where in one hand, the level of unemployed people is high, and on the other hand, some countries are facing lacks of talents, as consequences that some jobs opportunities remain vacant.

Nevertheless, what should I tell to a teenager who has to choose studies?  My advice would be that he has to choose studies he is motivated by, independently from the fact that there are job opportunities in that field or not. My answer seems to be a bit unrealistic, but let me explain why I think so. I think and am convinced that it will…

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Schrödinger’s cat playing football

Schrödinger’s cat playing football

Schrödinger's experiment preparation

To put it simple: A football referee is someone who decides if Schrödinger’s cat is alive or dead.

Team A sees a blatant attack on their player and cries for a penalty.
Team B sees nothing special.

Like Schrödinger’s cat, both parties are 100% right until the observer looks into the box.

In our football case, the referee is obliged by his/her role to do so and must decide: Penalty or Schwalbe.

Whatever decision this ‘neutral observer’ takes, one team will be angry, even furious, and disagreeing. The referee is neutral by definition, so his/her observation of the status of the cat at that moment, for that specific action (e.g. dead) is valid for everybody.

But what when Team A intentionally faked the error, and fooled the referee? The cat was actually alive, but they make it appear dead towards the referee.

Should Team B be mad at the ‘observer’, or should they be mad at Team A for their lack of fair-play? It is often the former (with additional yellow cards for Team B for arguing) although the latter would make more sense to me.

In any case, the neutral observer played his or her part and decided the cat was dead, so it is dead. Period. What is the logic of spending minutes, or even hours for some on the side lines, discussing that the cat was still alive according to them?

Football has and always will be a sport with passion, high running emotions and whether or not processed frustrations. All these aspects blur the objectivity and rational view of many players, not to mention supporters. Still, a neutral observer must be present and assume the responsibilities to open the boxes. Let’s just accept that fact and the decisions taken.

Funny that people tend to forget that no football game would last more than 5 minutes without a referee, ‘good’ or ‘bad’, depending if you are supporter for Team A or Team B.

Martin
Football player N°24 at De Goldenboys MTSA (ex-SNAS)
One-time referee (2011)