Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth day: NOx, electric cars and diesel

I was listening to Robert Evans from Cenex, a company developping fuel-cell and "low carbon" (whatever that really means) technologies in this podcast on

He suggests electric cars are THE solution (he would says that, would he not?) as they cut pullution. The interviewer doesn't buy this and questions if it's not just moving the pollution to coal fired plants (in the UK between 60% and 33% of the electricity is generated from coal and the 74% from fossil (can't seem to cross-reference 2 sources), 49% of electricity is made burning coal in the US, while in France 78.1% comes from nuclear in 2006).

Evans answered that moving the CO2 emission from tailpipes up to a power station chimney reduces NOx emissions. Which brings the whole issue I've been raising about diesel.

The goverment has been focussing solely on CO2 emissions, via car tax bands linked to emissions for instance (note that airlines and ships are exempt of fuel duty), which had the effect to favour diesel cars: oil burners registrations have grown from 13.8% in 1999 to 43.6% in 2008!

The problem is while diesel engines emit less CO2 (about 20-30%), they emit much more NOx and particulates, about 24 times more according to this source. While CO2 is not an actual pollutant, NOX and particulates are and are harmful to anyone in the vincinity of traffic -in particular children in urban environments.

Just another proof that the government is using CO2 as an excuse to tax with no proven ecological reasons.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Scrap the VAT, introduce the PAT

A cargo shipI was tweeted this link yesterday: Health risks of shipping pollution have been 'underestimated' | Environment |

Confidential data from maritime industry insiders based on engine size and the quality of fuel typically used by ships and cars shows that just 15 of the world's biggest ships may now emit as much pollution as all the world's 760m cars. Low-grade ship bunker fuel (or fuel oil) has up to 2,000 times the sulphur content of diesel fuel used in US and European automobiles.

The fuel oil (bunker fuel) used by those sea-going levihathans, just like kerosene (the airlines fuel) are not taxed, as opposed to petrol and diesel used by cars. Ironically, cars have become much cleaner, even diesel with new particulate filters -although they're not quite ubiquitous yet.

My conclusion is simple: our government is taxing automobilists and smokers not for health or environmental reasons, but simply because it can. Taxing foreign ships and plane is more difficult but not less harmless.

How to solve this?

I've been wrestling with that idea for a while: it's difficult to tax things that don't fall under a national law. The current system to tax CO2 emissions for instance is profoundly injust as I put it above, and it misses the point as housing for instance is not taken into account. It also favours displacing CO2 emitted by post-industrial countries to developping countries who use old generation coal stations.

One thing that could be taxed is the good when purchased. So what I propose is replacing the VAT with a variable tax based on CO2, NOx and other harmful compounds "embedded" (in reality emitted during the manufacturing process) in the products we buy.

That would be a PAT: Pollution Added Tax.

I can only see benefits: it would give everyone an incentive to be more sustainable, and create a lot of jobs because it would be quite complicated to administer.

But my PAT would be a great way towards more GloCalisation.

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