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Tories forced to publish useless plans on toxic air
Corbyn must campaign on emergency measures to phase out diesels
Pete Dickenson, Tower Hamlets Socialist Party
The Tory government has finally come out with its response to the toxic air crisis - after being forced by legal action from environmental pressure group ClientEarth.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has estimated that 23,500 premature deaths a year are caused by pollution from nitrogen dioxide, mainly due to fumes from diesel engines. Emissions have been above the legal limits in almost 90% of urban areas since 2010.
The May government's proposals are vague and toothless, just a cynical attempt to avoid the subject while the election campaign is going on. The responsibility is put on local authorities to deal with the problem, but with no money to do it.
The Tories suggest councils should eliminate speed bumps as a way to cut down on the deadly gas, and only then consider anything that will cost a significant amount of money - even though, according to ClientEarth, the government has admitted this is the "largest environmental threat to public health" in the UK.
Tony Blair was one of the first to push diesels as a green option because they emit slightly less of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming than petrol engines, although it was clear then that switching over would have a negligible impact on global warming.
The Tories' proposal raises the theoretical possibility of introducing 'clean air zones' and a scrappage scheme to phase out the most polluting vehicles. No details, timescales, scope or costings for these ideas are put forward - in other words, it is just hot air.
London mayor Sadiq Khan intends to introduce a clean air zone to deal with the crisis, based on the present central London congestion zone and charging arrangements.
However, his approach will not tackle the problem. It could even make it worse, as diesels avoid the central area by going into the densely populated neighbouring boroughs. And it will make the motorists who were conned into buying diesels pay for the scheme.
What is needed is emergency measures to phase out diesels as soon as possible. Included in these must be a scrappage scheme that will fully compensate present diesel owners.
At the same time, retrofitting public service and commercial vehicles with non-polluting engines must be massively stepped up. The car companies responsible for misleading the public must be made to pay for the scrappage scheme - not us.
Campaigning on a programme like this could enthuse thousands to vote for Corbyn to save them from poisonous air.
More generally, as long as profit rules, the big vehicle corporations will always put the environment and public health low on their agenda. Democratic public ownership of these multinationals is vital to protect our health and the environment.
In The Socialist 10 May 2017:
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