The Oil junkies and The moral panic over pollution

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Every trainee journalist is taught about a model of behaviour exhibited by the general public called ‘moral panics’. In a moral panic the media pumps out stories like it has bad guts after a curry and people get enraged over the issue. Currently there’s a swirl of stories going out on pollution killing us and our children. The BBC is running a series of stories called So I can breathe and even the fossil fuel loving Telegraph has stooped to tell its high Tory readership that the air is foul. I smell a moral panic somewhere…


But hold on, wasn’t it bad before the media storm?

Traffic congestion has got steadily worse over the years on nearly every major British road, and energy demand has rocketed. No matter what they tell you, a car pumping out 130g/km of carbon emissions would kill you in about five minutes if you sat in an airtight room with it. Energy supply has to come from somewhere and generally that’s coming from coal, gas and even oil powered power plants.


We are at a tipping point with Global Warming. Even if Donald Trump hadn’t got into power we would be in a dire climate emergency and, guess what? That’s the same pollution that’s choking us.


Oil junkies

Let’s start a new name for climate change deniers and those who can’t get their heads away from fossil fuels. Let’s call them oil junkies. Junkies freak out and get sick without heroin, and given the US and UK governments’ somewhat less than rational stance on renewable energy, you wonder if they need to be locked in a room for a month with 24 hour medical care if they stopped using fossil fuels central to their energy policy.


Forget Trump – our oil junkies have been in for almost a decade now. Only last week the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer said he would give more tax breaks to oil companies working in the North Sea. A 2015 LinkedIn blog by energy expert Simon Ede says simply: “As it now stands, local communities will have veto power to stop new wind turbines being constructed but should those communities resist or delay the development of Shale gas projects they’ll risk their case being fast tracked to Ministers in Whitehall for decision.”


The air looks clean…

The UK, US and Europe have all got ‘clean air’ legislation that prevents the smogs that choke Beijing, Kolkata and other developing countries’ cities. These clean air acts and regulations ensure at least some semblance of cleanliness in the pollution that our power stations, cars and factories belch out.

Even so it is estimated that 2,500 people in London died due to pollution in 2016. Though people can smell the fumes of cars, vans and lorries they can’t see the stuff. Much of this has been put down to diesel?


The diesel red herring

The focus of the moral panic is turning towards diesel engines. London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan has started a campaign to get rid of diesel engine vehicles in his city. His campaign seems to be gaining traction and there is talk of a ‘diesel scrappage scheme’ to get rid of the most polluting older diesel engine cars.


This might be the way our oil junkie government stops the moral panic. Anything that involves burning fossil fuels will ultimately choke us in the streets and warm the planet. Yet the media is dangling this gift in front of the eyes of a government seeking to get the heat off the pollution debate.


Petrol and even Autogas engines pollute. Your hybrid Prius pollutes. From the combustion cycle you will have CO2 (the main greenhouse gas), as well as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and a whole range of other nasties that you wouldn’t choose to breathe in.

Diesel however emits soot that is often small enough to get into your lungs’ microscopic airways and block them. It adds to the misery, which is why it is being targeted by the media right now. Clamping down on diesels may well be the way governments nip the issue in the bud rather than dealing with it properly.


How to really deal with pollution?

Do you seriously think that the moral panic is going to change government policy at the top? I wouldn’t go to the bookies to place a bet if I were you. You may well see a diesel scrappage scheme if the media gets hot enough on the government’s back over it. What we won’t see is the government backing down on its anti-renewables and pro-fossil fuels policy.


At a government level we need them to turn 180 degrees away from fossil fuels and face the fact that all fossil fuels are going to poison our children, if not literally through the air they breathe then through the devastating impact of global warming. Denmark managed to run entirely on wind energy for one day earlier this year. The UK has some of the best tidal, wind and solar energy resources in the world. All we need to do is tap into it.  


You too can make a difference

For us to make a real difference we need to vote with our wallets. Invest in green energy through a scheme like Assetz Capital’s P2P green energy fund. Get a zero emissions car. Use green energy gas and electricity suppliers such as Green Energy or Ecotricity. Get your home as energy efficient as you can manage – zero carbon or carbon negative homes are possible.
If the silent majority quietly switched to a greener path then the oil junkies in Westminster and the White House could end up being in such a small minority they’d soon go where the love was. If you love your children and your planet, it is time for you to start making a difference. Lead – let the government follow if it won’t lead you!   


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