The Pope, climate change, and Volkswagen

Fixing the diesel emissions problem is not going to be easy

Francis in a FiatWhile Pope Francis was shuttled around during his historic visit to the U.S. in a Fiat, he shared the news cycle with Volkswagen.

The pope made headlines with his calls for action on climate change. USA Today touted: “Obama, Pope Francis praise each other on climate change.” In his September 23 speech from the White House lawn, the Pope addressed President Obama saying: “I find it encouraging that you are introducing an initiative for reducing air pollution.” Addressing that comment, Business Insider added: “He praised President Barack Obama for his proposals, which aim for the U.S. to cut emissions by up to 28% over the next decade.”

The core of the entire climate change agenda is the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions — which proponents like to call “air pollution.” It comes from sources we can’t control: volcanoes; sources we can kind-of control: forest fires (better forest management would result in fewer fires) and human beings exhaling (reduce the population, reduce CO2 emissions); and sources we can control: the use of fossil fuels (we can virtually outlaw them as several countries, including the U.S., are trying to do).

The drive to cut CO2 emissions is at the root of Volkswagen’s unprecedented scandal that broke last week, resulting in the CEO’s abrupt ouster on September 23—the day that Pope Francis’ U.S. visit went into full swing.

With nonstop coverage of the papal activities—including his Fiat Popemobile—the Volkswagen story was likely lost on most Americans. But it is not going away.

On September 18, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency disclosed the scandal: Europe’s biggest auto maker, with 600,000 AudiTDIemployees world-wide and 300,000 in Germany, utilized software on some VW and Audi diesel-powered cars to manipulate the results of routine emissions tests—allowing them pass strict emissions standards in Europe and the U.S. The “defeat devices” have reportedly been fitted to more than 11 million vehicles since 2008 and may cost Volkswagen up to $18 billion in fines in the U.S. alone.

Owners of the impacted vehicles will need to have a heretofore unavailable “fix” installed and may have to provide a “proof of correction certificate” in order to renew their registration and will suffer “loss due to the diminished value of the cars.” As a result of the scandal, Volkswagen’s stock price and reputation have both fallen precipitously, and class-action lawsuits are already taking shape. Fund managers have been banned from buying VW’s stocks and bonds. Tens of thousands of new cars may remain unsold. USNews stated: “Whoever is responsible could face criminal charges in Germany.”

The question no one seems to be asking is: what would drive Europe’s biggest auto maker to make such a costly decision, to take a risk, from which it may be impossible to recover, and tarnish the “made-in-Germany brand”?

While the question isn’t asked, Reuters’ coverage of the story offers the answer: “Diesel engines use less fuel and emit less carbon—blamed for global warming—than standard gasoline engines. But they emit higher levels of toxic gases known as nitrogen oxides.”

In short, the answer is the drive to lower CO2 emissions and the policies that encourage reduction.

In BloombergView, Clive Crook offers this excellent explanation:

dieselcontrolsBeginning in the mid-1990s, mindful of their commitments to cut carbon emissions, Europe’s governments embarked on a prolonged drive to convert their car fleets from gasoline to diesel. With generous use of tax preferences, they succeeded. In the European Union as a whole, diesel vehicles now account for more than half of the market. In France, the first country to cross that threshold, diesel now accounts for roughly 80% of motor-fuel consumption.

What was the reasoning? Diesel contains more carbon than gasoline, but diesel engines burn less fuel: Net, switching to diesel ought to give you lower emissions of greenhouse gases. However, there’s a penalty in higher emissions of other pollutants, including particulates and nitrogen oxides, or NOx. Curbing those emissions requires expensive modifications to cars’ exhaust systems. To facilitate the switch, Europe made its emission standards for these other pollutants less stringent for diesel engines than for gasoline engines. The priority, after all, was to cut greenhouse gases.

If anyone could solve the dilemma, one would expect it to be the Germans, who excel in engineering feats. It is Germany that is touted as the world leader in all things green. The reality of achieving the goals, however, is far more difficult than passing the legislation calling for the energy transformation.

Addressing German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s push for de-carbonization, BloombergBusiness Points out: “Merkel has built a reputation as a climate crusader during a decade as Chancellor.” She “has straddled between pushing to reduce global warming while protecting her country’s auto industry.”

Merkel is, apparently, bumping up against reality. After shutting down its nuclear power plants, Germany has had to rely more on coal. BloombergBusiness continues: “She successfully helped block tighter EU carbon emissions standards two years ago.” Those tighter emissions standards would have hurt Germany’s auto industry, which accounts for 1 in 7 jobs in the country and 20% of its exports. At last week’s Frankfurt Auto Show Merkel said: “We have to ensure politically that what’s doable can indeed be translated into law, but what’s not doable mustn’t become European law.”

Evidence suggests the issue “could be industry-wide.” CNBC reports: “several major companies having exposure to the same diesel VWmantechnology.” BMW’s stock price plunged, according to BloombergBusiness: “after a report that a diesel version of the X3 sport utility vehicle emitted more than 11 times the European limit for air pollution in a road test.” The Financial Times quotes Stuart Pearson, an analyst at Exane BNP Paribas, as saying: VW was “unlikely to have been the only company to game the system globally.” And an October 2014 study, cited in BloombergBusiness, claims that “road tests of 15 new diesel cars were an average of seven times higher than European limits.”

The VW emissions scandal is more than just a “‘bad episode’ for the car industry,” as Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s vice-chancellor, called it. It provides a lesson in the collision of economic and environmental policies that strive to reach goals, which are presently technologically unachievable—a lesson that regulators and policy makers have yet to learn.

The Los Angeles Times (LAT) reports: “Regulators have ordered Volkswagen to come up with a fix that allows vehicles to meet environmental regulations.” If it were that easy, even economically possible, the much-vaunted German engineering could have solved the problem instead of developing technology that found a way around the rules.  The LAT concludes: “automotive experts believe any repair will diminish the driving dynamics of the vehicles and slash fuel economy—the two major characteristics that attracted buyers.”

The fact that, while waving the flag of environmental virtue advocated by Pope Francis, those, with the world’s best engineering at their fingertips, had to use the expertise to develop a work-around should serve as a lesson to policymakers who pass legislation and regulation on ideology rather than reality.

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About the Author: Marita Noon

Marita Noon

CFACT policy analyst Marita Noon is the author of Energy Freedom.,

  • Sorta like the drug industry: the VW pill results in reduced CO2 emissions! (May include side effects of toxic NOx emissions, increased deadly particulate airborne poisons, corrupt lobbying for special interest Exception legislation, etc.etc.)

  • I want to buy a diesel VW so I can tell the Greenies to b*gg3r off!

    • conanthecontrarian

      Never ever bugger a Greenie. It will get all over you and you will never be able to touch yourself again. Its
      Like stroking a summer sausage, and we all know where that goes.

  • Oliver_K_Manuel

    I. The scientific revolution began in 1543 with Copernicus’ report the Sun controls Earth from the gravitational center of the Solar System, and

    II. Quietly ended in 1945 with a secret decision to hide the fact that the Sun is the Creator & Sustainer of every atom, life and planet in the Solar System:

    https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/10640850/Solar_Energy.pdf

    The natural advancement of mankind will continue and deception will end when we accept reality

    https://gunnyg.wordpress.com/2015/09/28/the-revolution-has-begun/#comments

    • AndRebecca

      You think if we worship the sun, all will be well. A new twist on nuttiness.

      • Oliver_K_Manuel

        No, not at all. Max Planck hinted in a speech at Florence, Italy in 1944, God is the “conscious and intelligent Mind” behind the force that holds the spinning subatomic particles together as atoms.

        All matter consists of two forms of one fundamental particle:

        _ a.) Neutrons are compacted electron-proton pairs (e-, p+)

        _ b.) Hydrogen atoms are expanded (e-, p+) pairs

      • Brin Jenkins

        Little call for worshiping the Sun, however it is true that all we are, and have is owed to the Sun. Energy can neither be created or destroyed, all we can do is convert it for one form into another. We need to conserve and store energy as efficiently as we can, and that is my only rule!

        This rule might be called respect for our creator, but then I believe we have a creator and I see God as the energy that produced the Universe.

        • AndRebecca

          Your only rule is to use and store energy properly? And, energy produced by the universe is god. Hmmm…Gaia or a tree just wouldn’t do it for you!

        • Oliver_K_Manuel

          The pulsar core of the Sun is God’s tool (like a hammer or saw) for making & sustaining atoms, lives and planets in the solar system.

    • reagangs

      All astronomers agree that everything came from dying stars (nuclear fusion of elemental ions and free protons and electrons, H+ p + e + H= He, He + He +p +e = Be, ….and so on. When ever dying stars go super nova, super nuclear fusion occurs and heavier elements are formed with in the nuclear furnace. The heavier elements gravitated first and formed compounds. After many cycles and some chemistry solids formed and planets began to form. The miracle of early, simple life was mimicked back in the 1950s when RNA was created in a lab experiment. Study modern astronomy and you will be amazed.

      • Oliver_K_Manuel

        Please read the paper and tell us why Two falsehoods were inserted in the foundations of nuclear and solar physics after WWII.

        1. Aston’s pre-WWII nuclear packing fraction indicates nuclear stability. Weizsacker’s post-WWII nuclear binding energy concept exaggerates proton repulsion and obscures neutron repulsion.

        2. The internal composition of the Sun was changed from

        _ a.) Mostly iron (Fe) in 1945 to
        _ b.) Mostly hydrogen (H) in 1946 . . .
        without discussion or debate.

    • AllenBarclayAllen

      Fossil Fuel is God’s most Efficient source of Solar Power Un duplicated by man in the foreseeable future!! Chloroplast in a leaf Exposed to Sunlight changing CO2 into Oxygen Growing all Botany plant tree decaying in a Tectonic Plate subduction zone and Burned into our Atmosphere as water and CO2 to repeat the cycle . ALL of our Water and Atmosphere comes from Subduction Zone Burning, except for the small portion we MAN uses which also makes atmosphere to a repeating cycle of the Greatest Solar cell of all time Invented by a very Wise GOD Creator !!

  • conanthecontrarian

    Hydrogen via cold fushion. 6 mi/gal @ $3,754.93/gal.

    • reagangs

      Yeah, ever wonder how much a wind turbine actually cost to make, install and maintain verses what comes out at the plug???? Probably never pays for it self with out tax breaks and subsidies. Also, solar cells …. they require expensive silicon-germanium blending in a ~2,000*F furnace, in a vacuum, crystal implanting and very controlled melting and growing of a perfect crystal, in a vacuum, then a perfect mechanical slicing (by a diamond/nickel ID saw blade) and surface etching/polishing, electron beam cutting, some expensive Cu/Au plating for electrical contacts, mounting on a anchor plate, assembled in a frame and wired out with an electrical regulator, all for a few bucks apiece. Won’t happen ….. maybe for a couple hundred bucks a peace. Then again nobody will buy them without a price and tax rebate and with subsidies. Same thing with hydrogen cells and liquefied natural gas. Compress to 1/100 the original volume while cooling in between a multi ten step process, eventually with some not so cheap compressed gas like nitrogen, separate the various gasses by pressure reduction/extraction (vapor pressure, hydrogen first, helium second, ….), then compressing them into their individual containers …. you get my drift. Current batteries can only store only so much energy so many times before the need expensive replacing and reworked or disposed of. Liquid gasoline packs more power per $ than anything else, ever. Gasoline will have to be at least $100 a gallon before “green energy” can even begin to compete.

      • Brin Jenkins

        Super capacitors made with graphene will charge and discharge instantly, and have virtually no internal resistance, no known limitation on life cycles. An almost a perfect storage medium for small to store amounts but can never be used for Gw’s of energy. Unlike batteries the voltage falls rapidly under discharge but they can still start car and truck engines, but you probably only have 3-4 attempts if the engine fails to fire.

  • reagangs

    Another socialist utopia up in flames (pun intended). The EU, UN and American EPA whacko environ-mental crazies are having a fit. They can’t argue with a VW for defying their Marxist agenda. Maybe, just maybe if they realize that the real climate change (cc) and global warming (gw) models are WRONG GUESSES and not REAL SCIENCE. Yes, the “science” is NOT settled. All of their “guesses” (claims of future disasters) over the past several decades have been WRONG and not even close. Go the local library or do a search on the net and bone up on the real science of everyday solar system (Earth and Sun) and the Earths geosciences. The TRUTH will amaze you. Yes, we need to be improving alternative renewable energy sources, but not a break neck speeds and at the expense of the every day hard working tax payers. There is still a plentiful supply of hydrocarbon fuel supplies available other than diesel for the next several decades. Liquefied Natural gas is a winner and there seems to be a plentiful cheap supply in America. With appropriate high pressure safe containers for transport and use, it could buy everybody some time and maybe, just maybe the new energy sources can be ready when the time is right. What seems to escape the RADICAL LEFT ENVIRON-MENTAL WHACKO terrorist is that THE HYDROCARBON BASE FOR GASSOLINE IS ALREADY THERE.

    • Sometime between 2017 and 2022, the Maunder Minimum will begin. I’ll have a great laugh at the Greenies’ expense while they freeze!

  • Mervyn

    Another disaster put down to “central planning” rather than leaving matters to the free market economy.

  • AllenBarclayAllen

    REALLY ??

    Diesel engines are very efficient. They require less oil than gasoline powered vehicles to travel the same distance. Their use should be encouraged. The global warming crowd should love them. However, their emissions of other pollutants put them afoul of another branch of green policymakers. They cheated to get around this and didn’t get away with it.

    SO THEY’RE MESSING WITH MY DIESEL’S HA??

    In diesel emission (Exhaust) they’re still enough Oxygen to run a Gasolene Engine People !! For those people that think Diesels are dirtier than Gasoline your ass is pumping Canal water !! Really has the Pope ever lifted a finger in maintenance of any vehicle ??? I wouldn’t Trust anyone in the Global Warming Vegan Mental defective Crowd to pull the Spark plug in a Lawnmower !!

    • AllenBarclayAllen

      A Diesel Dual Gas Engine of 1200cc Toyota size, Of Industrial Design, with a Pogue Carburetor would get 800 MPG compared to the 212 MPG with a Pogue Carburetor on a Gasoline Engine, and burn off the the wheels every time you touch the throttle !! Such an engine would be 600 HP and the same size compared to 120 HP of a Norman Gasoline engine 1200cc !!
      Why aren’t these MOONBATS talking about that ????????

      http://fuel-efficient-vehicles.org/energy-news/?page_id=986

      THESE IDIOTS DON’T KNOW DO THEY ! SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO TALK TO A REAL MECHANIC FOR INFO LIKE THAT !!!

      • AllenBarclayAllen

        People that say an increase in horsepower causes less Fuel efficiency have Asses that pump Canal Water and know nothing about a diesel !!

        • Brin Jenkins

          True, a better mpg has to be a cleaner burn and thus more efficient.

    • jreb57

      ” I wouldn’t Trust anyone in the Global Warming Vegan Mental defective Crowd to pull the Spark plug in a Lawnmower !!”

      Me neither. Even more disturbing is the lack of knowledge in physical sciences (thermodynamics) and mathematics.

  • celticwanderer64

    My husband and I have a VW Passat TDI clean diesel. Greatest car we’ve ever owned. We travel to Colorado often. We make it from near Houston to Amarillo on one tank of diesel. Our trip has definitely become more affordable since we bought the Passat. We were pretty sure we knew the reason behind the EPA overzealousness. The ridiculous rules and regulations that govern every aspect of our lives anymore because of the government and greenie weenies of all varieties, especially in this country, is definitely out of control. While I wish VW hadn’t done what they did, I certainly understand why. No one seems to care about all the diesel trucks that travel the roads daily. No TDI clean diesel car can hold a candle to what they spew and they’re much cleaner than they used to be. But VW dissed the EPA and destroying them seems to be the agenda item du jour.

  • cshorey

    ““Diesel engines use less fuel and emit less carbon—blamed for global warming—than standard gasoline engines. But they emit higher levels of toxic gases known as nitrogen oxides.”

    In short, the answer is the drive to lower CO2 emissions and the policies that encourage reduction.”

    Marita, do you read what you write? That is rather the opposite of what that statement was saying. It says CO2 is less of a problem with diesel, and the emissions they were avoiding in testing was the NOx. Does any CFACT writer have an article that does’t have such fatal flaws? I have read many and can’t find one yet.

    • jreb57

      Diesel engines have higher thermal efficiency than gasoline engines but diesels use compression ignition as opposed to spark ignition, At low to moderate power levels, the diesel burns a leaner mixture than a gasoline engine so there are less unburned hydrocarbons in the exhaust of the diesel than in an uncatalyzed gasoline engine. Further reductions in CO2 output are achieved by burning a fuel (biofuel) with a low carbon output in the diesel. The real pollutant is the NOX which is disposed of in the catalytic converter of the gasoline engine. The NOX forms nitrous acid when mixed with water causing acid rain. NOX is however a plant food. Tomato plants for one like high nitrogen fertilizers. When they are grown in a greenhouse, a two to fourfold increase in CO2 levels produces a higher yield of tomatoes. Both gasses are beneficial to plant life, the bugaboo is controlling where they end up.

      • cshorey

        Overall good arguments, but watch out with the “plant food” angle. The sun is good for plants, but don’t shoot a plant into the sun. There is too little of a nutrient, and too much.

        • Brin Jenkins

          A good argument, too much of anything can be damaging. Spill Nitrogen fertilizer on grass and it can burn it. We are talking about massive overload levels though and atmospheric CO2 is not in this brkt

        • jreb57

          The NOX problem is harder to deal with in diesels because NOX is an oxidizer and there is little to oxidize in a diesel exhaust. It will still be necessary for farmers to add nitrogen rich fertilizers to the soil no matter the NOX content of diesel exhaust..

  • Nicholas Schroeder

    As I understand it the basic premise of the CAGW crowd is
    that increasing concentrations of atmospheric CO2 disrupt the “natural”
    atmospheric heat balance and the only way to restore that “natural” balance is
    by radiating that unbalanced heat back to space per the S-B relationship, i.e.
    increasing the surface temperature. BTW, the atmosphere is not, as some
    postulate, a closed system. That assumption simplifies calculations, but
    ignores reality.

    One, there is no such thing as the “natural” heat balance.
    As abundantly evident from both paleo and contemporary records the atmospheric
    heat balance has always been and
    continues to be in constant turmoil w/o regard to the pitiful 2 W/m^2 of
    industrial CO2 added between 1750 and 2011. Fluctuations in incoming and
    outgoing radiation, changing albedo from clouds and ice, cosmic rays, 10 +/-
    W/m^2 range of solar insolation from perigee to apogee, etc. refute that notion
    of a closed system.

    Two, radiation is far from the only source of rebalancing
    the “natural” heat balance. Water cools the surroundings when it evaporates and
    warms the surroundings when it condenses. The water vapor cycle, clouds,
    precipitation, etc., a subject which IPCC AR5 admits to having a poor
    understanding, modulates and moderates the atmospheric heat balance and has
    done so for millions of years all without the help or hindrance of
    industrialized man. The atmospheric water cycle is just on huge global atmospheric
    swamp cooler for the earth. Other planets don’t have that. The popular GHE
    considers radiation only and excludes water vapor. Large commercial greenhouses
    typically have a wall full of evaporative cooler pads, water & fans.

    CAGW has zip to do with science and everything to do with a
    hazy, starry eyed, utopian, anti-fossil fuel (90% anti-coal) agenda bereft of facts
    & reality.

  • jreb57

    Gasoline engines use the NOX produced during combustion as an oxidizer in the catalytic converter to clean up the rest of the unburned hydrocarbons in the exhaust. Diesels depend on a mix of “biofuels” with regular diesel fuel to reduce the carbon content and thus the CO2 content. Problem is, the hybrid fuel contains less energy than standard diesel fuel requiring more of it to be burned to produce the same amount of power. Biofuels are produced from food crops (corn/ethanol) and (soybeans/soy oil) so the increase in the use of biofuels serves to drive up the costs of fuel as well as food. All to get rid of a gas that has no measurable effect on the climate but has a definite benefit to growing food crops.