‘Protecting the Planet’ (WEA course)


Week 2: Case Studies: Industry and the Environment


Air pollution.

(Also notes on coal, oil and nuclear industries – not part of this course)


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                                                                                                                                                                                                          Updates and extra notes from 2020

Week 2 notes continued




Air pollution: #air pollution

1.1 extent and causes of the problem: causes illnesses: asthma, bronchitis, heart disease. Possibly mental impairment in children, and Alzheimer’s. 40,000 people a year die prematurely from air pollution in Britain, and ca. 9,000 in London. Note: not just cars (a major source), but also e.g. smelting, working of metals, building works and power stations, aircraft and ships....

1.2 Particles (pm10 and pm2.5: inhalable particulates).#particulates

1.3 Gases/fumes from the internal combustion engine: carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons.  #gases

1.4 Effects of air pollution #effects in UK. #Beth Gardiner and Tim Smedley books.          #The Coronavirus Pandemic.  

1.5 Effects in Europe and Globally.

1.6 Lead in petrol – eventually removed by government legislation, despite opposition from the ‘car lobby’: US auto industry, CBI, Oil companies, the road lobby. #lead

1.7 Car manufacturers lobby and can cheat. #manufacturers lobby     #dark money

1.8 Diesel and the Dieselgate scandal: Volkswagen emissions scandal (‘#Dieselgate’) – and other manufacturers. #Volkswagon emissions including #chronology.

            #Further notes on diesels.



For possible solutions to air pollution, and rest of Week 2 see Cases and solutions.


The next topics will not be covered in May 2021 course: 


2. Coal: #coal

2.1 World-wide, coal is still being extensively used in power stations, despite the illnesses caused.

2.2 Carbon capture and storage (CCS) - CO2 would be buried: not (yet?) viable.

2.3 Britain aims to shut down all coal-fired power stations by 2025.

Example: Drax provided 7% of our electricity in 2015. Three of its six generators have been converted to biomass. 6 million tonnes of wood pellets imported from North America each year.

2.4 Divestment campaign (local authorities, pension funds etc invest in coal).

2.5 Decline of coal: US and China burning less coal. UK: coal down to 2% used for electricity, growth of renewables (see later)



3. Oil – the industry and the environment: #oil industry

3.1 Exxon Valdez disaster 1989, Alaska, 11– 38 million gallons of oil, affecting 1,300 miles of coastline, and 11,000 square miles of ocean. Sea life killed. Long-lasting effects. Dispersants. #Exxon Valdez

3.2 The Arctic  #Arctic

3.3 Deepwater Horizon (Gulf of Mexico). Deaths & injuries. 4.9 million barrels. #Deepwater Horizon

3.4 North Sea

3.5 Shell & Nigeria: execution of protesters. Pollution, thefts from pipeline. #Nigeria         #Shell

3.6 Other issues: (i) safety (ii) other cases of political involvement. #other issues

3.6.1  #workers' safety

3.6.2 #politics         #Iraq              #Hallliburton

3.6.3 global warming See Global warming - causes and controversy

3.6.4 #oil updates              #BP & 'greenwashing'



4. Nuclear power and damage to the environment: #nuclear

4.1 Radiation, radioactive waste. Nuclear weapons. Not needed (renewables)? #radiation

4.2 Waste and decommissioning – costs and time needed. #waste

4.3 Security (terrorism, attacks, and stealing fuel for bombs). #security

4.4 Accidents:

4.4.1 #Windscale  

4.4.2 #Sellafield

4.4.3 #Three Mile Island 

4.4.4 #Chernobyl 1986, 

4.4.5 #Fukushima 2011.


See Energy policies for other issues concerning nuclear power – environmentally friendly? CO2-free? Cost? etc





Case Studies: the role of industry in affecting the environment:

I want to use these case studies to demonstrate some applications of the principles noted in the first session, and to begin to link the issue of pollution to specific industrial or commercial practices.

It can be argued that large companies like car manufacturers and oil companies are not only the worst offenders when it comes to pollution and damage to the environment, but that they have tremendous power – because of their role in the ‘advanced’ economies. So in order to do anything about damage to the environment we have to take on the power of these industries.


George Monbiot argues: ‘If you take on pollution, you take on the combined might of some of the world’s most powerful industries. Pollution is the tangible manifestation of corruption.’ (9th Jan 2019).

1. Air pollution and motor vehicles:

1.1 Extent and causes of the problem:

The most obvious consequence of air pollution, as noted already, is illness, and especially damage to the lungs. Children and the elderly are more vulnerable – children’s lungs are still growing and are easily damaged. Such illnesses as asthma and bronchitis are on the increase – almost certainly triggered by air pollution. Since the first concerns about smog etc (see last week) and the Clean Air Act, we have become aware of a new danger, largely from car and lorry exhausts, but also from the construction industryWood-burning stoves are also a cause of air pollution. (See updates below)


There are two main offenders: (i) particles/particulates (ii) poisonous or harmful gases.


1.2 Particulates are ‘any material [except water]... that exists as a solid or liquid in the atmosphere or in a gas stream at standard conditions.’ (H.W.Parker; Air Pollution 1977). They include carbon emissions, metal and rubber from engine and brake wear, and dust from construction.


They are known to be harmful, as they penetrate deep into the lungs, causing respiratory diseases. They cause DNA mutations as well (Wikipedia). Research at the University of Southern California, in 2004, (reported in the Guardian, November 2004) identified another problem: when they enter the lungs, the tiny particles cause inflammation of the arteries which eventually builds up into a hardening that can cause heart disease and heart attacks


These particles are measured in micrometres, and those that fall between 2.5 and 10 micrometres are inhalable.


Parker (loc cit) says ‘Air pollution is a silent killer! It may shorten a man’s life by 20 years without him ever realising he has been a victim.’


They come mainly from the burning of fossil fuels such as oil (and diesel engines are the main offenders here), but other industrial processes such as smelting and working metals also produce them, as do building works and power stations (especially coal – see below); not to mention aircraft (the controversy over the expansion of Heathrow comes in here!), and ships, which are heavy polluters but are not, I believe, subject to regulation...


1.3 Gases from internal combustion engine: some of the ingredients of the exhaust from the internal combustion engine are: carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons. Carbon monoxide is a gas which causes suffocation in large quantities, and hydrocarbons are carcinogenic. 


Some of these (nitrogen oxides – but not nitrogen dioxide, which inflames the lungs) are comparatively harmless in themselves (especially in small quantities), but as noted, when combined with other ingredients such as small particles, and especially when mixed with water (i.e. rain – or the moisture in our lungs) then the resulting solution is a harmful acid (e.g. ‘acid rain’ which is caused mainly by sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide).


Moreover, as mentioned before, when sunlight acts on mixes of these chemicals there is a photochemical reaction, causing a particularly nasty kind of smog. Ozone is a component of ground-level smog.


1.4 Effects of air pollution, UK: [see Cases and solutions for solutions...]

UN report 31st Oct 2017: air in 44 UK cities and towns is unsafe according to WHO standards for PM2.5 (10 micrograms per cubic metre of air – EU level is 25). Glasgow has 16, London, Southampton and Leeds 15, Cardiff, Birmingham and Oxford 14, Manchester 13. 


16th Feb 2018, Ian Sample – scientists say that household cleaners, paints and perfumes have become substantial sources of urban air pollution, especially now that traffic pollution is being reduced. These are Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) which react in the air to form ozone or PM2.5. Ground level ozone is harmful to health, affecting breathing. ‘Between one quarter and a third of all particles are made up of organic compounds that originate as VOCs’. (A. Lewis, Prof of chemistry Uni of York). The problem is that many of these substances are not controlled.

14th May 2018. Manchester has a very bad problem of poor air quality. It costs the regional economy £1bn every year, and is reducing life expectancy in the region by an average of six months, according to an IPPR North report. Manchester doesn’t have the powers the mayor of London has to enforce clean air zones etc. Emergency admissions to hospital for asthma in Central Manchester are the highest in England, and more than double the national average. North Manchester is second highest. The bus fleet is one of the most polluting in the UK (only 15 electric buses, while more than 500 in London).


29th Aug. 2018: 40,000 early deaths a year in UK, 9,000 in London, and costing £22.6bn. (See e.g. Matthew Taylor, 29th Aug 2018).

Nearly 40 million people are living in areas with illegal levels of air pollution.

After the Clean Air Act things improved, but they have been getting worse again: a 25% rise in number of asthma-related deaths in England and Wales since 2007 (ten years). 


From The Independent: air in 44 UK cities and towns is unsafe according to WHO standards for PM2.5 (10 micrograms per cubic metre of air – EU level is 25). Glasgow has 16, London, Southampton and Leeds 15, Cardiff, Birmingham and Oxford 14, Manchester 13


18th Sep 2018, Matthew Taylor: Q Mary Uni has found children are absorbing soot particles – black carbon – during the school day = more than 60% of the air pollution they take in each day. On the way to school and in classrooms and playgrounds. In one school in Holborn levels in the classroom were over three times above WHO limit for pm10 Swedish firm Blueair can provide air filters that reduce levels by 96%.

24th Sep 2018 (James Bridle, author of New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future). Researchers from Beijing and Yale show people living in polluted cities are losing cognitive functions. High levels of lead cause low scores in maths and language – equivalent in some cases to losing several years of education. High levels of CO2 also cloud the mind. Currently atmospheric levels are over 400 ppm. By 2100 they could be 1,000 ppm – and people could lose 21% of their cognitive abilities. Outdoors levels often reach 500 ppm, and sometimes indoors it exceeds 1,000 ppm – in Denmark studies found over 2,000 ppm.

Bridle suggests that since those who grew up between 1965 and 1985 have been found to have 20 micrograms of lead per decilitre of blood – they are suffering from cognitive impairment which may explain some of the irrational behaviour we see now! EPA in US has loosened restrictions on power-plant emissions, so there will be more mercury in the atmosphere too...

11th Dec 2018. Diesel cars emit more pollution in hot weather. Research in Paris by the Real Urban Emissions (known as True) initiative – emissions of NOx rose by 20% - 30% when temperatures rose above 30C. Emissions were many times higher than those declared in lab tests – the Dieselgate scandal found there was 40 times more NOx on the road than in tests. True uses a beam of light to examine the fumes, together with automatic number-plate recognition.

17th March 2019. Tim Smedley.


 -the Exhale study. The Exhale (Exploration of Health and Lungs in the Environment) study tested the lung volume of eight and nine-year-old children in more than 25 schools in east London, and the findings were shocking. As a result of the high levels of traffic pollution, the children’s lung capacity had been stunted. Dr Ian Mudway, a respiratory toxicologist at King’s College London, said at the time: “The data show that traffic pollution stops children’s lungs growing properly … by eight-to-nine-years-old, children from the most polluted areas have 5-10% less lung capacity and they may never get that back.”

Last week scientists put the number of early deaths caused worldwide by air pollution at double previous estimates: 8.8 million a year, according to research published in the European Heart Journal, meaning toxic air is killing more people than tobacco smoking.

We had sleepwalked into a public health crisis. And not just in the UK, but across the world. The 2015 smog in Beijing was so bad that it was dubbed the “Airpocalypse. Pictures circulated on social media of Beijing students sitting their exams so couched in smog that they could barely see the neighbouring table. The toxic smog that covers Delhi every Diwali now lasts for months at a time.

An experiment in London found the difference between walking beside the road on a pavement, and walking on the building side of the same pavement, was 163,000 particles per cubic centimetre versus 33,000 particles per cubic centimetre – in effect, breathing in five times the number of nanoparticles, as a result of the proximity to traffic.

Clearing the Air: The Beginning and the End of Air Pollution, by Tim Smedley, is published by Bloomsbury, £16.99, on 21 March

31st March 2019. Two book reviews reveal the ‘shocking damage’ done by atmospheric pollution:


In 1952, with smog, an estimated 8,000 to 12,000 eventually died. “The fog caused more civilian casualties than any five-day German bombing campaign had managed a few years before,” says Tim Smedley in Clearing the Air...

Our air today may not have the look of a peasouper. Nevertheless, its quality has been worsening relentlessly and is poisoning us as assuredly as it did in 1952, though the deadly airborne contaminants we now inhale consist of microscopically tiny particles rather than gobs of carbon. Polluted air used to stare us in the face. Today, it is an almost invisible threat...

Earlier this month, scientists put the number of early deaths attributable to this atmospheric poisoning at an incredible number: 8.8 million a year. Nine out of 10 people round the world now breathe air containing high levels of pollutants. As a result, nearly 600,000 children die every year from diseases caused or exacerbated by air pollution.

Of the two books, Gardiner’s is the more descriptive, following the story of the harrowing impact of air pollution – from Brooklyn to Poland and Delhi to Berlin – in terms of its human cost. Smedley, by contrast, is more prescriptive and ends his book with a detailed blueprint for saving our cities. Suggested measures include a ban on all petrol and diesel cars in city centres; the replacement of diesel buses and trains with electric vehicles; and an end to the use of wood-burning stoves and coal fires. It’s an achievable vision, he insists. “However, whether it happens in 10 or 100 years is down to public pressure and political will.”

Choked: The Age of Air Pollution and the Fight for a Cleaner Future by Beth Gardiner is published by Granta (£14.99).

Article extracted from Tim Smedley’s book:


- this includes action taken in various places... See: Cases and solutions.

25th March 2019. Two letters in Guardian make good points: 1. (From scientific advisor (Dr Robin Russell-Jones) and chair (Geraint Davies) of APPG on air pollution): particulates from exhausts are more dangerous than from friction (brakes, tyres etc) – though government ‘likes to pretend that all particulates are equivalent, regardless of source.’ (It even brings in agricultural particulates...). 2. On modern cars, catalysts take time to warm up, so while CO2 will be reduced by not idling, it could be that more of NOx, unburned fuel, and CO will be emitted.

3rd May 2019. The most obvious damage done is to cause asthma and lung disease. The High Court ruled in May 2019 that the death of Ella Kissi-Debrah 6 years ago could be linked to air pollution. High Court rules this can be considered at a new inquest. The South Circular road had levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulates that breached legal limits for much of the time Ella was ill.  (Guardian 3rd May 2019, Sandra Laville).

18th May 2019. (Damian Carrington). Air pollution damages every organ in the body. Scientists from the Forum of International Respiratory Societies have published two review papers in the journal Chest. They say that ultrafine particles pass through the lungs, are readily picked up by cells, and carried by the blood stream to expose virtually all cells in the body. WHO director of public and environmental health, Dr Maria Neira, says there are more than 70,000 scientific papers to demonstrate that air pollution is affecting our health. WHO also says that more than 90% of the world’s population is exposed to toxic outdoor air New analysis indicates 8.8m early deaths every year – making air pollution a bigger killer than smoking.

The main reason for the wide-ranging harm is systemic inflammation: immune cells think a pollution particle is a bacterium and try to kill it by releasing enzymes and acids. These inflammatory proteins then spread into the body...

Harmful effects occur even at levels below air quality standards previously considered to be safe, the scientists say. The review was led by Prof Dean Schraufnagel from the University of Illinois at Chicago.


13th July 2019. (Damian Carrington). Billions of toxic, iron-rich, air pollution particles are found in the hearts of young city dwellers. This could be the underlying cause of the link that has been found between dirty air and heart disease. Prof Barbara Maher of Lancaster University also found that these particles were associated with Alzheimers-like damage to the brain.

All ages are affected, but of course children cause the most concern. Other studies have found links with diabetes, and increased miscarriages. The particles were inside the mitochondria. The number of particles in inhabitants of Mexico were 2 – 10 times higher than where there was less pollution.

The particles begin as molten droplets produced by the combustion of fuel and they cool rapidly into spheres with fused surfaces (and thus are different to iron particles found naturally in the body, which are crystalline).


20th Aug 2019: mental health issues: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/aug/20/growing-up-in-air-polluted-areas-linked-to-mental-health-issues Nicola Davis.

People who spend their childhood in areas with high levels of air pollution may be more likely to later develop mental disorders, research suggests. Air pollution has become a matter of growing concern as an increasing number of studies have found links to conditions ranging from asthma to dementia and various types of cancer. There are also signs it may take a toll on mental health. Research published in January found that children growing up in the more polluted areas of London were more likely to have depression by the age of 18 than those growing up in areas with cleaner air. But a study by researchers in the US and Denmark has suggested a link between air pollution and an increased risk of mental health problems, including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and personality disorders.

Between 1% and 2% of the UK population have bipolar disorder in their lifetime, with similar figures for schizophrenia. It is estimated that about 5% of people in the UK have a personality disorder at any one time. Prof Andrey Rzhetsky, a co-author of the research at the University of Chicago, in the journal PLOS Biology,

Note also that there are links between how we treat the atmosphere and climate change: CO2 is a greenhouse gas, but so is NO2; and the built environment (especially cement in buildings) contributes 40% of greenhouse gases. To be dealt with later…


18th Sep. 2019. Air pollution particles found in foetuses – showing the placental barrier can be penetrated by particles breathed in by the mother. Damage to foetuses has lifelong consequences. People should avoid busy roads when possible. Published in Nature Communications. In the mothers who lived near main roads there were 20,000 particles per cubic millimetre, while there were 10,000 per cubic millimetre for those who lived further away.

In 2010 (?) black carbon particles were found in the urine of school children (10 million per millilitre) – particles go from the lungs all over the body.

More research is needed to determine the impact of the particles, but research has linked air pollution with heart and lung disease, diabetes, reduced intelligence, brittle bones and damaged skin... There are at least 8.8 million early deaths every year from air pollution. (Damian Carrington)

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/sep/17/air-pollution-particles-found-on-foetal-side-of-placentas-study Damian Carrington

27th Sep 2019: Nicola Davis on a similar topic: babies living in areas with high levels of air pollution have a greater risk of death. Dr Sarah Kotecha of Cardiff University says you can’t mitigate against the air quality where you live. Study not yet published shows 19% increase in chances of baby dying in first year where SO2 readings are high; 7% where NOx high; 4% where pm10 high.  However, the study had limitations according to Prof. Mireille Toledano of Imperial College.

90% of the world’s population live in areas where air pollution is above WHO guidelines.

See also other articles by Nicola Davis:

Oct 2019: Cleaning up our air – Science Weekly podcast | Science | The ...

Nov 2019: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/nov/27/impact-of-air-pollution-on-health-may-be-far-worse-than-thought-study-suggests

11th Dec 2019. Diesel cars emit more pollution in hot weather. Research in Paris by the Real Urban Emissions (known as True) initiative – emissions of NOx rose by 20% - 30% when temperatures rose above 30C. Emissions were many times higher than those declared in lab tests – the Dieselgate scandal found there was 40 times more NOx on the road than in tests. True uses a beam of light to examine the fumes, together with automatic number-plate recognition.

18th Dec 2019: There will be a fresh inquest into the death of Ella Kissi-Debrah in 2013 (after 2014 inquest was quashed in the high court after new evidence of air quality). New inquest will be under article 2, the right to life, of Human Rights Act. A 2018 report found air pollution levels consistently exceeded lawful limits. 


24th Dec 2019. Fiona Harvey. Mayor of London calls for more funding to clean up pollution after the effects of driving on rivers were revealed. The Brent and the Lea were worst affected – run-off from oil, diesel and petrol spills, residues from tyre and brake wear which then are washed off into rivers, make one of the biggest factors in river pollution. Only one London river is ‘good’ by EU standards, the Wandle. Responsible agencies – Environment Agency, Highways England, Defra, Dept of Transport have all had funding cut in the last decade. Solutions include improving drainage, providing natural barriers and filters – including the planting of suitable vegetation near waterways. Thames21 was one group behind the research. Electric cars would be somewhat better but there is still pollution from tyres, brakes etc.


Jan 2020. And there is a link between air pollution and class/ethnicity/age/health:

Efforts to improve air quality should target areas with vulnerable people first and should prioritise public health. Rather than seeking to beautify already affluent areas, action on pollution should address existing inequality by providing good quality public transport and investing in healthcare for deprived communities. Pollution is political – and so are its remedies. From The Conversation Jan. 13th 2020, by Jon Fairburn, Professor of Sustainable Development, Southampton University. https://theconversation.com/air-pollution-your-exposure-and-health-risk-could-depend-on-your-class-ethnicity-or-gender


From March 2020 there have been reports of the connection between the severity of the effects of the Coronavirus and air pollution. For example:


Preliminary studies show polluted areas such as northern Italy also are pandemic hotspots. Dr Maria Neira of WHO says there are no statistics yet but ‘we know if you are exposed to air pollution you are increasing your chances of being most severely affected.’ Lungs and heart are weakened by air pollution, which also inflames the lungs potentially making catching the virus more likely, and it is even possible that small particles of pollution can carry the virus... Several studies (not yet peer-reviewed) suggest there are connections.


Moreover, the drop in air pollution may be saving lives: in China scientists said that during lockdown there was a 25% reduction in city air pollution, which might have prevented between 24,000 and 36,000 early deaths over one month. In Europe it could be 11,000 fewer deaths according to Centre for research on Energy and Clean Air, including 1,700 in the month up to April.

Patients with severe Covid-19 are twice as likely to have had pre-existing respiratory diseases and three times as likely to have had cardiovascular problems.

And decades of gold standard research have shown air pollution damages hearts and lungs.

So is dirty air, which already kills at least 7 million people a year, turbo-charging the coronavirus pandemic?

The overlap of highly polluted places, such as northern Italy, and pandemic hotspots is stark and preliminary studies point in this direction, while a link between the 2003 Sars outbreak and dirty air is already known.

(There is no clear scientific evidence yet to make the link, and ‘correlation does not necessarily mean causation’ but) air pollution may be important in three ways, studies show. Higher death rates due to lungs and hearts weakened by dirty air is the best understood. Pollutants also inflame lungs, potentially making catching the virus more likely and raising concern about rising pollution levels after lockdowns are lifted. Finally, particles of pollution might even help carry the virus further afield.

One US study, by a well-respected group at Harvard University, found that air pollution is linked to far higher Covid-19 death rates across the nation. Another, analysing European data, concluded that high levels of pollution may be “one of the most important contributors” to coronavirus deaths, while a third hinted at the link in England.

In Italy, coronavirus was detected in air pollution samples by scientists investigating if this could enable it to be carried over longer distances and increase the number of people infected, though it remains unknown if the virus remains viable on pollution particles.

9th May 2020. Susanna Rustin: In 2016 transport overtook energy to become the single biggest source of domestic emission. Motor vehicles on their own are responsible for around a fifth of the total. On aviation, the UK is the world’s third-worst polluter, behind China and the US. The lockdown has led to 90% fewer flights from European airports in April, compared to a year ago. Road traffic has fallen to levels last seen in 1955.Emissions could have dropped by 36% in the UK.  Town mayors are working together for a green recovery – a radical reorientation of street space in favour of walking and cycling. Milan has announced that 22 miles of road will be transformed and in Paris the mayor is spending £262 on a new cycle network. New York, Mexico City, Bogota and Barcelona have plans.


‘So what of the UK? While it is only fair to point out that the country has been a leader on decarbonisation (after doing so much to carbonise the planet in the first place), when it comes to transport we are a laggard. For a mixture of reasons (powerful oil companies; successful car manufacturers; an unhealthy identification, nourished by popular culture, with the car-mad US), we have been painfully slow to take even obvious steps... Having started slowly, British cities are putting in place pandemic measures such as temporary cycle lanes in London, and a Safe Streets Save Lives scheme in Greater Manchester. The Committee on Climate Change, which advises the government, has told ministers that green policies such as an accelerated transition to electric vehicles would be the strongest basis for an economic recovery.

The UK’s chronic over-centralisation remains a brake on progress. Properly accountable and resourced regional government is needed to engineer, both politically and practically, the modal shifts that are needed.’


1.5 Effects in Europe and Globally:

Oct. 2017: Globally: air pollution kills approx. 9 million people a year worldwide, of which 800,000 due solely to coal burning. (Commission on Pollution and Health report in Lancet, 20th Oct 2017, Prof Philip Landrigan Mt Sinai Univ NY, and Richard Fuller, Pure Earth charity (Guardian, Damian Carrington).

More people worldwide die of dirty air than of HIV/Aids, malaria and flu combined (Hadassah Egbedi13th Feb 2017).


However, coal burning peaked in 2013.4 million new asthma cases among young people were caused by NO2 according to research April 2019.


15th Feb. 2018. Kenya: Jonathan Watts: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/14/kenyas-erin-brockovich-defies-harassment-to-bring-anti-pollution-case-to-courts  problem of lead pollution from a metal plant – the Center for Justice, Governance, and Environmental Action has forced closure of the plant in Mombasa, and is now seeking compensation and a clean-up. This could be a landmark case for environmental groups across Africa. Led by Phyllis Omido who was co-winner of the Goldman environmental prize in 2015 with Berta Caceres, a Honduran activist who was murdered a year later. The EPZ refinery was closed, and two other companies are being pursued in a class action.

28th Aug 2018 (Damian Carrington): research in China links air pollution and reduction in intelligence – high pollution levels led to drops in scores for language and arithmetic, with the average loss equivalent to a year of education. The effect is worse for the elderly (over 64) and for men, and for those with low education. Air pollution causes 7million premature deaths a year.

Previous studies have shown links to mental illness in children, and to extremely high mortality in people with mental disorders. Those living near busy roads have been found to have an increased risk of dementia.

Published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study looked at 20,000 people across China, and found that the longer they were exposed to dirty air, (particulate, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide), the greater the damage to intelligence, with language ability more harmed than maths, and men more harmed than women. They ruled out changes with age. The likely cause is oxidative stress, neuro-inflammation and neurodegeneration.

21st Nov 2018. (Damian Carrington): air pollution is the single biggest threat to human health. Air pollution reduces the average lifetime across the globe by 1.8 years. However, in Uttar Pradesh, India, it is 8.6 years, and 4.3 in India as a whole – one of the worst polluted countries. (Energy Policy Institute at Chicago University – led by Michael Greenstone, director). The research proposes a new measure: air quality life index (AQLI) to show how much longer you would live if the air you breathe meets WHO guidelines. Smoking reduces average lifetime by 1.6 years, dirty water and sanitation by 7 months and HIV/Aids by 4 months.

April 2019 UNICEF report: www.unicef.uk/healthyairnationalaction 

3rd April 2019. Fiona Harvey, Guardian: ‘the State of Global Air 2019’ reports that, in the world, on average, children born today will have their lives shortened by 20 months because of air pollution. In 2017 it was a bigger killer than malaria and road accidents, and comparable to smoking. In south Asia lives are shortened by 30 months and in sub-Saharan Africa by 24 months – one factor being cooking fires. Alastair Harper of Unicef warns that there is a relationship between exposure to toxic air and low birth weight, reduced lung development and childhood asthma.

In China the situation is improving as there is less reliance on coal, and control over the number of vehicles in some cities.

Last year’s study found that more than 90% of people were breathing in dangerous air. Air pollution has been described as a global emergency. Studies link it to dementia, miscarriages etc.

8th Aug. 2019: 67,000 new cases of asthma in children across 18 European countries could be prevented every year if particulates are cut to recommended levels (Nicola Davis, 8th Aug 2019). Research co-authored by Dr Mark Nieuwenhuijsen of Barcelona Institute of Global Health.

Feb. 2020: Greenpeace also has researched the world-wide picture: Greenpeace South-East Asia has estimated that exposure to PM2.5 from fossil fuels is responsible for 7.7 million asthma-related hospital trips each year and for the death of around 3 million people due to cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease and lung cancer.

A further estimated 1 million people die prematurely due to ozone pollution and 500,000 people due to NO2. 

According to the report, the cost of this, based on health care costs and the cost of the lives lost is up to $8bn a day, this is 3.3% of the world’s GDP. 

China, the U.S. and India bare the highest cost from fossil fuel pollution, $900bn, $600bn and $150bn respectively.


This costs trillions of dollars every year, and ‘threatens the survival of human societies.’ Air pollution causes more deaths than water, soil and workplace pollution. The deaths are three times those for Aids, malaria and TB combined.

(Water/sewage pollution kills 1.8m; workplace pollution: 800,000; lead: 500,000).

Low-income countries suffer 92% of pollution-related deaths. (India: 2.5m; China: 1.8m; Russia and US in the top 10).

Workplace pollution: UK, Japan and Germany all in top 10. 

Air pollution deaths in south-east Asia could double by 2050.

Traditional pollution deaths, from contaminated water and wood cooking fires are falling, but ‘modern’ forms (fossil fuels) are rising.


1.6 The case of lead – an example of progress (eventually!):

It is worth mentioning the issue of lead in petrol: in order to reduce the amount of refining that petrol needed to give a smooth combustion, lead in the form of tetraethyllead (TEL) was added. This was first done in the 1920s. In 1921 Thomas Midgley tested it as an anti-knocking agent.


In the US the health authorities asked for safety tests soon after leaded petrol went on sale, in 1923. The first sign of a problem was when workers in the DuPont works in America started falling ill: ‘sickening deaths and illnesses of hundreds of TEL workers’ (Kitman 2000 from lead.org.au). Despite some investigation, it was decided there was no problem, and further independent tests were not carried out until the 1960s.


It is known that in 1953 GM (General Motors) was preparing to argue that TEL is not dangerous; but at King’s College London, Derek Bryce-Smith asked the manufacturers for a sample of what was added to petrol. He was told it was incredibly dangerous (if he got any on his finger it would be absorbed through the whole of his skin and drive him mad or kill him!!).


Scientists began to be concerned about the effects – especially on children - of lead in the blood (from tiny lead particles – aerosol - in the atmosphere). Children living in inner city areas, or near roads with heavy traffic, it was suggested, might even suffer a loss of IQ (a measure of the abilities of the brain). There was a long campaign – because, as ever, petrol producers maintained that it would be too expensive to change the fuel (or that the customer would not pay!).  Lead was also used as a solder in tins of food, and in paint. In 1969 WHO published research showing lead in blood was highest near roads. In the 1970s research showed that even small amounts of lead in the blood could cause permanent learning and behavioural problems in children.


In 1975-6 lead paint was banned and a phasing out of lead in petrol began.

In America EPA in America eventually had already ordered car manufacturers to phase out lead in petrol – they had to re-design engines – by 1975. In the UK it was finally banned, 30 years later, in 2,000 – after 70 years of exposure to it, and 17 years after Mrs Thatcher promised to phase it out (Geoffrey Lean, The Independent, 26th Dec 1999). New lead-free petrol began to appear in October 1999.  As Lean points out, you put a poison in petrol and then allow cars to drive all over the country for years spreading the poison! ‘Victory has been a long time coming. Oil companies have continued to make leaded petrol, long after its dangers have been accepted by doctors and governments, and substitutes became known. Millions of motorists have continued to use it, though their cars don’t need it, and even though unleaded fuel has been available, cheaper, at the same pump.’


Update: 6th Oct 2017. I have just learned from Greenpeace that a UK company, Innospec, exports leaded petrol to Algeria!  While it is illegal to produce leaded petrol for our cars, it is apparently not illegal to export it – to the one country in the world that has not banned it!


1.7 The roads and car manufacturing lobby:


SMMT: Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (smmt.co.uk) argues:

·  Average new car CO2 emissions have fallen by 26.4% since 2007 to 121.4g/km in 2015, with a 2.6% decline on 2014.

·  New cars were, on average, over 20% lower CO2 emitting than the average car in use.

·  Total CO2 emissions from all road transport has fallen by 9.6% since 2007, with a 10.6% reduction from cars (Source: DECC). Emissions have fallen despite a rise in vehicle use and the number of vehicles on the roads.

·  Diesels have played an important role in delivering lower CO2 emissions. By buying diesel, UK motorists have prevented almost 3 million tonnes of CO2 from going into the atmosphere over the past 14 years – enough to fill the Royal Albert Hall 16,000 times over.



this story does illustrate another aspect of the issue: the power of vested interests – in this case the roads and car manufacturing lobby. Vested interests are always lobbying

government to try to convince them that there is no problem. Back in 1975, the US auto industry predicted that the 1975 clean Air Act would wipe out car manufacturing

overnight (Simon Caulkin, Observer, 31/8/2003). In Britain, whilst Shell and BP argue in favour of cutting greenhouse gases (see later), the CBI has warned that the European

Environmental Directive could be “the last nail in the coffin of manufacturing”. Given this, Stephen Tindale, director of Greenpeace says: “The current gulf between a

company’s green credentials and the behaviour of trade associations” risks exposing companies as hypocritical.


There were also signs that the ‘New Labour’ government responded to such anti-environmental lobbying: Tony Blair, early in 2005, raised the permitted levels of carbon

dioxide emissions, having originally accepted a target of 20% reduction over three years.


Cornal Walsh (Observer Business, 6/3/2005) says the United States withdrawal from the Kyoto climate change agreement was due to corporate pressure: companies such as

the oil giant ExxonMobil have given large sums of money to political parties that will adopt their line and oppose further controls (according to Friends of the Earth, in the same

Observer article by Walsh).


It is also revealing to note how the car and oil industries put up a long resistance to the idea that they ought to be researching alternative fuels. [Neale, in Fairweather at al 1997]


There are other powerful voices in favour of more cars: the British Roads Federation has long campaigned against cuts in road building, and it is a significant donor to the Conservative Party, which it (rightly?) sees as more road-friendly. Even the RAC and AA are of concern to anyone who wants to see car use reduced, since they – naturally – are not in favour of any reduction of car use. If you want to join a road rescue/protection organisation that does not campaign for more roads, there is an Environmental Transport Association, ETA. (“The motoring organisation that won’t cost the earth”!).


‘Dark money’ etc.

The power of business and industry is exercised in many ways – after all, persuading people to buy their products is essential for business to survive; and competition leads to ever more subtle marketing techniques. However, when groups (so-called ‘think-tanks’ for example) exist whose financing is secret or at least obscure, and they have influence over government policy, then I believe we should be concerned. This is what is known as ‘dark money.’

For example, the Guardian revealed documents suggesting that the firm run by Boris Johnson’s ally and advisor Lynton Crosby has produced unbranded Facebook ads on behalf of the coal industry (according to George Monbiot...). Monbiot calls this ‘... the Pollution Paradox. Because the dirtiest industries attract the least public support, they have the greatest incentive to spend money on politics... They fund political parties, lobby groups and think-tanks, fake grassroots organisations and dark ads on social media.’

See: The power of ‘Corporate Dark Money’, by George Monbiot:


See my notes: dark money.  

Beyond the shareholder? B Corps.

Of course, business will defend itself against such criticisms – but most people are aware of ‘green-washing’ (false claims to be protecting the environment). I have long been an advocate of Corporate Social Responsibility (see notes here) and recently there has been more discussion, as some companies are arguing that the ‘shareholder first’ model is out-dated. The Business Round Table lobby group, which represents 181 of the largest US companies, changed its ‘purpose of a corporation’ statement from simply making money for shareholders to include goals such as caring for staff and the environment. This is not a new idea (see Will Hutton’s ideas on ‘stakeholder capitalism’ – and there are companies in America which describe themselves as B Corps – part of ‘global movement of people using business as a force for social good.’ A group of these American businesses issued a full page ad in the New York Times calling on the large corporations such as Apple and Amazon to follow suit. (Zoe Wood, 26th Aug 2019).


Going green on the quiet:

8th Sep 2019 (Cassandra Coburn, Observer): there are businesses, such as a factory in Asia that has cut the amount of water it uses, that don’t want to publicise their green credentials. The writer does not know its name. This is ‘secret sustainability’ – it can be seen with organic food. This market increased by 5.3% in the past 12 months and is now worth £2.2bn a year. It is thought (Prof. Steve Evans, Cambridge |university Institute for Manufacturing) that it comes from a common perception that the goods produced must be more expensive or of poorer quality (or both). Fear of ‘greenwashing’ can play a part: if one aspect of production is green, what about the other aspects?

Businesses may be particularly cautious about this when dealing with suppliers – who might fear higher cost or lower quality. There are many companies now trying to be green – and there is evidence that sustainable business does thrive – e.g. Dow Jones Sustainability Indices shows those at the top end outperform those at the bottom.

Green Alliance works with business to be more sustainable, and recognises public perception needs to change.

 (iii) Need for transparency: many firms are not revealing climate impact (Jillian Ambrose): more than 700 firms accused of having big impact which concealed. US has one fifth of companies listed, Australia next with 16%and UK 3.5% (June 16th 2019)


1.8 Diesel: ‘Dieselgate’ as a prime example of deception by motor industry:

Background. Diesel particulate filters, tests: (DPFs) that capture 99% of all PM are now fitted to every new car. Today, PM from cars meeting Euro-5 is equivalent to just one single grain of sand per kilometre driven.

The previous Euro-5 standard, introduced in 2011, focused on PM (or soot) from diesel cars, requiring an 80% reduction in these emissions.

With Euro-6, the emphasis has shifted from particulates to NOx, reflecting concerns about the emerging science connecting these emissions with respiratory problems. The new standard mandates a 56% cut in diesel NOx emissions compared with Euro-5.

Euro 5 standards: Petrol NOx:    0.06g/km        Diesel NOx: 0.18g/km Diesel PM: 0.005g/km

Euro 6:                                       0.06                                   0.08                          0.0045


(*) Car manufacturers argued for a ‘regulatory holiday’ after the 2007 financial crash (says Greg Archer, former head of the government’s air pollution research). They claimed that the Euro 5 and 6 emissions standards would lead to a significant reduction in pollution, but Emissions Analytics has found that 97% of diesel cars made since 2011 exceed NO2 safety limits.



Car Emissions (these figures are very dated, but still give an idea of the range):   Examples of CO2 emissions by type: 

Low end:

A. VW Polo BlueMotion 1.4: <100 (g/km)

B. Peugeot 107 1.0: 101 – 120


C. Fiat Panda 1.2: 121 - 150

E. Renault Scenic 1.4: 166 – 185

High end:

G. Porsche Cayenne: 225 (some Porsches 300)


Average CO2 emissions in cars sold in EU: 160 g/km

EU target: all new cars must emit average 130 g/km by 2012.



Introduction and recap effects of air pollution. Focus on diesel.

March 2013: John Vidal article, Guardian (G2) 20.03.13) – distressing to see that photochemical smog is still around... (my notes on this were first written in the ‘70s and ‘80s – and the Clean Air Act goes back to 1955!!). There are 5.4 million people in Britain with asthma, and tens of thousands of others with respiratory diseases – yet the air quality in many of our major cities is still very bad. 29,000 people a year die from air pollution. The main offender is diesel engines... The cost to the NHS is up to 17% of its budget. London has 4,300 deaths a year. We could be subject to fines from the EU (air pollution laws were passed 13 years ago), and the WHO has warned that NO2 is harmful at even lower levels than set by Europe. ClientEarth has taken the government to court: the issue is that it is all very well having EU laws, but if there is no ability to ensure they are enforced what is the point?


June 14th 2016 (Damian Carrington, Guardian): growing body of evidence says that air pollution can affect mental and cognitive health – especially in children. New research in BMJ Open examined more than 500,000 under-18s in Sweden and compared pollution exposure with records of medicines prescribed for mental illness. Increases in PM and NO2 (of 10mcg/m3) levels both showed increases in mental health problems (4% and 9% respectively). EU and WHO limit for NO2 is 40mcg/m3 (micrograms per cubic metre). In other words, even a small increase may have an effect – and this puts into question the whole notion of ‘safe levels’...


6th Sep 2016 (same source): Recent research has suggested links between magnetite particles and Alzheimer’s disease, and that air pollution can significantly increase the condition. Toxic nanoparticles have been found in human brains, according to the National Academy of Sciences. They found ‘millions of magnetite particles per gramme of freeze-dried brain tissue’ – magnetite is an oxide of iron, and it can create free radicals. This doesn’t prove a cause, but is significant. Yet again, we find an ‘unintended consequence’ of pollution!


The 2016 VW emissions scandal:

Once again it has to be said that business can always find a way round regulations: the 2016 scandal involving Volkswagen has caused a lot of alarm. 11 million diesel cars were fitted with software that allowed them to cheat emission tests, and were sold from 2008. The software changed the performance of the engines under test conditions, with the result that on the road the engines were producing emissions above the permitted level.

The company has put aside 16.2 billion euros to deal with the scandal and is facing legal cases around the world. A chief executive (Martin Winterkorn) has resigned and is being investigated by prosecutors – but he was paid 7m euros last year... VW owns Audi and Porsche. 

But motor manufacturers have been known to cheat: #Dieselgate’ being an extremely serious example.

Timeline from France24.com:

2014 - US researchers at the University of West Virginia discover that certain VW diesel cars emit up to 40 times the permissible levels of harmful nitrogen oxide when tested on the road.

- 2015 - September 18: The US Environmental Protection Agency accuses VW of duping diesel emissions tests using so-called "defeat devices". September 22: Volkswagen admits installing software designed to reduce emissions during lab tests in 11 million diesel engines worldwide. VW shares plunge by 40 percent in two days. September 23: Chief executive Martin Winterkorn steps down but insists he knew nothing of the scam.

- 2016 - April 22: VW announces a net loss for 2015, its first in 20 years, after setting aside billions to cover the anticipated costs of the scandal. June 28: VW agrees to pay $14.7 billion in buybacks, compensation and penalties in a mammoth settlement with US authorities. The deal, which covers 2.0 litre diesel engines only, includes cash payouts for nearly 500,000 US drivers. September 21: The first VW investors file lawsuits in a German court seeking billions in damages. They accuse the automaker of failing to communicate about the crisis in a timely way. December 8: The European Commission launches legal action against seven EU nations including Germany for failing to crack down on emissions cheating.

- 2017 - January 11: VW pleads guilty to three US charges including fraud and agrees to pay $4.3 billion in civil and criminal fines. As part of the plea deal, VW signs up to a "statement of facts" in which it admits that the cheating dates back to 2006, but it remains unclear how much the top brass knew about the scam. January 27: German prosecutors say they are investigating Winterkorn on suspicion of fraud, accusing him of knowing about the defeat devices earlier than admitted. He is already under investigation for suspected market manipulation over the scandal.

13th Jan 2017: Fiat Chrysler accused of cheating with software that disguises the amount of nitrous oxide their Jeep Cherokee and Dodge Ram vehicles produce when being tested. It could be fined £37,000 per vehicle, and 104,000 vehicles could be recalled. NOx contributes 8% of the warming of greenhouse gases. Fiat Chrysler denies it has done anything wrong, and it had to ‘balance the requirements for emissions control with engine durability and performance, safety and fuel efficiency.’ (Sam Thielman, NY)

February 1: Car parts maker Bosch, which supplied elements of the software, agrees to pay nearly $330 million to US car owners and dealers but admits no wrongdoing. VW says it will pay at least $1.2 billion to compensate some 80,000 US buyers of 3.0 litre engines as well as buying back or refitting their vehicles. August 25: A Michigan court sentences VW engineer James Liang to 40 months in prison and a $200,000 fine, after he pleads guilty to conspiracy to defraud the US and to violating the US Clean Air Act. He had asked for a more lenient sentence after cooperating with investigators. December 6: VW executive Oliver Schmidt, who was arrested while on holiday in Florida, is sentenced to seven years in jail after pleading guilty to fraud and violating the US Clean Air Act.

2018 - February 23: VW roars back to profit after record sales in 2017. February 27: A German court paves the way for cities to ban the oldest diesels from their roads to combat air pollution. April 12: VW brand chief Herbert Diess hastily replaces CEO Matthias Mueller after he too lands in prosecutors' sights. April 20: A top manager at Porsche, a VW subsidiary, is arrested in Germany as part of "dieselgate" inquiries. May 3: Winterkorn is indicted in the US, accused of trying to cover up the cheating. June 13: VW agrees to pay a one-billion-euro fine in Germany, admitting its responsibility for the diesel crisis. The scandal has now cost the group over 27 billion euros. June 18: Rupert Stadler, CEO of VW's Audi subsidiary, is arrested in Germany, accused of fraud and trying to suppress evidence.

All this shows that industry has to be pushed into making changes!

From the Independent 2nd May 2019: Volkswagen said the diesel emissions scandal has now cost the company €30bn (£25bn). The German car maker’s chief financial officer revealed the figure on Thursday alongside a 10 per cent fall in quarterly profits. The group set aside a further €1bn to cover legal costs associated with the scandal, which was first revealed in 2015. VW admitted that it had cheated tests to make its vehicles appear less polluting than they were. 

After-tax profit fell to €3bn from €3.3bn in the same quarter a year ago. Group revenues revenue rose 3.1 per cent to €60bn as sales volumes fell but profit margins rose. Mr Wittner said that earnings were under pressure from high outlays for the company’s future lineup of battery vehicles, but said that was “without alternatives”.

The company is pivoting to zero-local emissions vehicles to meet lower EU limits on greenhouse gas emissions. The company expects to begin production later this this year of the battery-powered ID hatchback at its plant in Zwickau in eastern Germany.    So, some progress in the end?

Other scandals: 

This was not the first time such cheating occurred: in 1973 Chrysler, Ford, GM, Toyota and VW all had to remove ambient temperature switches which controlled emissions. In 1996 GM was fined $11m and recalled 470,000 vehicles because of software that disengaged emissions controls unless the car was being tested. Previous similar cases include Fiat of Brazil, Honda, and no fewer than 7 heavy truck manufacturers (in 1998 they were fined a record amount at that time).


Aside from using software to cheat tests, many cars have been found to have a different level of emissions and/or fuel consumption when on the road conditions are compared to manufacturers’ claims. Note that all the above covers both CO2 and NO2 emissions... See account below by #Beth Gardiner .

Further notes on diesels:

13th Jan 2017: Fiat Chrysler accused of cheating with software that disguises the amount of nitrous oxide their Jeep Cherokee and Dodge Ram vehicles produce when being tested. It could be fined £37,000 per vehicle, and 104,000 vehicles could be recalled. NOx contributes 8% of the warming of greenhouse gases. Fiat Chrysler denies it has done anything wrong, and it had to ‘balance the requirements for emissions control with engine durability and performance, safety and fuel efficiency.’ (Sam Thielman, NY)


12th Feb 2017: London Mayor Sadiq Khan says motorists should be given up to £3,500 to scrap old diesel cars. Low-income families could be given £2,000 towards alternative forms of transport. He is urging the government to introduce a scrappage scheme, which would cost an estimated £500m in London alone. Car tax needs re-designing so as not to favour diesel. ‘It is shocking that nearly half of new car sale in the UK are still diesel vehicles.’ Air pollution causes 50,000 early deaths a year, and costs £27.5bn every year, according to government estimates. 25th Feb, 2017. Mayor says twice as many sites as thought are affected by illegal levels of air pollution. This includes 800 schools and colleges (a third of state-maintained nurseries, 20% of primaries, 18% of secondary schools, and 43% of FE colleges in London).


2nd April 2017. John Vidal, Observer: article on Stuttgart, where car industry was born, and which facing problems because of large number of vehicles, and need to reduce CO2. Stuttgart has 600,000 inhabitants and around 300,000 cars. One in three industrial workers in Stuttgart is in the car industry. China is pushing for electric cars (market of 23 million a year, against Germany’s 2 – 3 million). But the FDP (free market opposition party) claims only 7% of pollution comes from exhausts, and the problem is mostly dust, from brakes and construction... Posted on Facebook 4th April


5th April 2017. Joint investigation by The Guardian and Greenpeace reveals: dangerous levels of NO2 are experienced across the country, not just in large metropolitan centres.

-         over 2,000 schools, nurseries and FE colleges and after school clubs are within 150 metres of a road with illegal levels

-         over 1,000 nurseries looking after children from six months to age 5 within 150 metres

-         5/10 worst exposed nurseries outside London are in the West Midlands, where it is estimated there are 3,000 deaths a year from poor air (Matthew Taylor loc cit).

--         Plymouth, Poole, Hull – all had nurseries and schools in dangerous areas

-         15 London boroughs had at least 25% of nurseries in an illegal NO2 hotspot.

-         The highest hotspot at 118mcg/m3 at a nursery in Tower Hamlets is 4 times the legal limit.


Legal action against the government means it is supposed to produce a plan by 24th April 2017. A letter from the former chair of the Campaign for Lead-Free Air (Guardian 4th May 2017) says:

‘There are three reasons the government is reluctant to publish its clean air plan: First, it will demonstrate that Defra has prioritised the interests of car manufacturers over the public good for the past five years. Second, the proposals are likely to be deficient and will be heavily criticised pre-election. Third, it will highlight the dangers of Brexit: for without the EU air quality directive, there will be no legally binding standards to protect the public from the harmful effects of air pollution.’ (Dr Robin Russell-Jones)


‘The former chief scientific advisor has now admitted it was wrong to cut fuel duty on diesel vehicles in 2001 after being hoodwinked by the car industry.’ Matthew Weaver, Guardian 5th April.


6th April 2017, Julia Kollewe and Damian Carrington, Guardian. In March 562,337 new vehicles took to the road, of which almost half were diesel – and this was the biggest month for car sales since records began in 1976, and a rise of 8.4% from a year earlier. In the first quarter there was a 6.2% increase over 2016 – 820,016 cars in total. (But see Oct. 2017 below).

Industry experts say that car makers should be forced to recall cars that exceed the emissions figures of the tests when on the road.

However, there has also been a 31% year-on-year rise in sales of alternatively fuelled cars in the first three months of 2017.


April 8th 2017, Decca Aikenhead interview with Sadiq Khan: ‘experts tell me that 40% of adult onset asthma is caused by pollution.’ 9,000 Londoners died early last year because of it. There are children in parts of London whose lungs are 10% smaller than they should be. 50% of the causes is transport. The new charge should deter 40% of the drivers causing pollution. We need a new clean air act and a national diesel scrappage scheme. Economic cost to the capital of poor air quality is £3.7bn a year. The US got £12bn compensation from VW, our government only got £1.1m.


15th April 2017: The death of diesel by Adam Forrest. Air pollution kills 3.3 million people prematurely every year – more than HIV, malaria and influenza combined... but the global response is growing: Paris, Madrid, Athens, Mexico City have agreed to outlaw diesel by 2025.


24th June 2017. Damian Carrington. Independent tests show that new diesel models are still failing to meet pollution limits when tested on the road. Testing firm Emissions Analytics publishes EquaIndex, and it shows 86% of all diesel models put on the market since 2015 (the VW scandal) failed, and 15% produced at least eight times the limit. Nissan Qashqai is 18 times over the limit.

Levels of NOx have been illegally high in 90% of UK’s urban areas. Some the cars that failed did meet the Euro 6 standard – and BMW5 meets the limit on the road. But Land Rover Discovery, MaseratiQuattroporte and Suzuki Vitara all failed (though they meet current legal standards).

New more robust tests will be introduced in September.


July 25th 2017, Matthew Taylor: Sadiq Khan accuses VW of showing ‘utter contempt’ for Londoners by refusing to pay compensation for Dieselgate scandal. He claims London lost £2.5m in congestion charges – if they pay, the money would be used on a schools air quality programme.


6th Oct 2017: sales of new cars in the UK have fallen for a sixth consecutive month in September, according to the SMMT (Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders) – this is due partly to uncertainty surrounding Brexit, but also to fears about diesel and ‘confusion over plans to improve air quality.’ (Julia Kollewe, Guardian). More than one in 20 new cars sold are neither petrol nor diesel (22,628 in September 2017, as against 16,052 last year). New car registration fell 3.9% over the first 9 months of 2017.


On the theme of “growth”: the number of cars on the roads in Britain has doubled over the past 30 years, from 10 million to 23 million. Apart from pollution, the major negative consequence of the car is deaths and accidents: some 300,000 people are killed or injured every year on the roads in Britain.


23rd Jan 2018. UK taken to court: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jan/23/renewed-calls-for-uk-to-tackle-toxic-air-ahead-of-high-court-hearing - and found for the third time to be breaking legal requirements! Clean air in the UK will now be overseen by the courts rather than ministers, in what was described as  a ‘wholly exceptional ruling.’

29th Aug 2018.

Drivers have paid a lot more than they would have if their cars had performed as well as they were told they would. Car companies have legally gamed tests of fuel economy for many years, by for example using very hard tyres during tests or taking out equipment to make the cars lighter. The gap between test and actual performance has soared from 9% in 2000 to 42% today. (Damian Carrington).

Analysis was done by Transport and Environment. Motorists have paid £136bn extra in fuel between 2000 and 2017 as a result.


Moreover, there has been no real world change in CO2 emissions for 5 years and only a 10% improvement since 2000, despite regulations and car manufacturers’ claims.


Manufacturers have even reported higher levels than they found with the new tests – because this would affect the baseline for future reductions!


19th Sep 2018. Brussels has launched a formal investigation into whether BMW, Daimler, VW, Audi and Porsche colluded to limit the development of clean emission technology.  Der Spiegel claimed in July last year that there had been secret meetings since the 1990s. This is three years after the revelation of VW’s software found to be cheating tests.

The technology is catalytic reduction systems and Otto particulate filters. (Daniel Boffey, Brussels).

In 2016 four European lorry manufacturers were fined £2.6bn for colluding on prices and passing on the costs of emissions reduction technology for 14 years.


In 2019 (6th April) they were charged and given 10 weeks to respond – they could face fines of up to 10% of their global annual turnover if they do not have satisfactory explanations.


22nd March 2019. Detailed account of the scandal from Beth Gardiner (*):


Tests were first carried out in 2013 by John German at the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) in the US – who expected to be able to show how well the US was doing in making diesel clean!

They chose a Volkswagen Jetta as their first test subject, and a VW Passat next. Regulators in California agreed to do the routine certification test for them, and the council hired researchers from West Virginia University to then drive the same cars through cities, along highways and into the mountains, using equipment that tests emissions straight from the cars’ exhausts... Nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution from the Jetta’s tailpipe was 15 times the allowed limit, shooting up to 35 times under some conditions; the Passat varied between five and 20 times the limit. German had been around the auto industry all his life, so he had a pretty good idea what was going on. This had to be a “defeat device” – a deliberate effort to evade the rules.

[They reported the results in May 2014 – anxious that VW being such a big organisation could ‘crush them’. ]

After months of foot-dragging, Volkswagen promised to remedy the problem, which it blamed on a technical glitch. It began recalling cars, updating the software in hundreds of thousands of them.

Months later, California ran new tests. Emissions were still far over the limit. Now regulators wanted to see the software controlling the vehicles’ pollution systems...

if Volkswagen did not turn over the code, it would not get the approvals it needed to sell cars in California and a dozen states that used its standards. The EPA threatened to withhold certification for the entire US market. “That,” German says, “was when VW came clean.”

Dieselgate, as it became known, exploded into one of the biggest corporate scandals in history. Over almost a decade, Volkswagen acknowledged, it had embedded defeat devices in 11m cars, mostly in Europe, but about 600,000 in the US.

With mind-boggling gall, Volkswagen had even used the software update it was forced to carry out to improve cars’ ability to detect when they were being tested.

Later it was discovered that comething like 97% of diesels tested – i.e. different models – had defeat devices. ‘Everyone’s doing it.’

The problem was worst in Europe, where consumers had been encouraged to buy diesel: In 2015 alone, one study found that failure to comply with the rules caused 6,800 early deaths. To put it more plainly, tens of thousands of people had died because carmakers felt so free, for so long, to flout the law.

The author says that the US’s EPA at least has a lot of expertise – though it has been cut down in effectiveness by Trump – but in Europe standards vary and there is no government enforcement.

Now, at last, European regulators have begun requiring cars to be tested on the road, not just in the lab. But the real problem, to my mind, is even bigger: it seems clear that the flaws in European nations’ enforcement are more fundamental than the particulars of one testing method.

The number of vehicles in the US has more than tripled since 1960; in the UK, there is one car for every two people. And the biggest growth is now in developing nations such as India and China. If they follow the path we have taken, the world could go from about 1bn cars today to more than 3bn by 2050. What is really needed is not just a slowing of that growth, but fewer cars altogether, of any sort.

(*)  This an edited extract from Choked: The Age of Air Pollution and the Fight for a Cleaner Future by Beth Gardiner, published by Granta on 4 April 2019 – the article finishes with some points about electric vehicles.


27th April 2019. US department of justice has launched criminal investigation into Ford’s emissions certification process. Ford says it does not involve ‘defeat devices’. The focus is on the assessment of ‘road load’ or drag and resistance, and ‘coast down’, when a vehicle stops and power is no longer applied. International Council on Clean Transportation found in 2016 that manufacturers under-reported carbon emissions in these circumstances by an average 7%. (Gwyn Topham)


Also in April 2019 German prosecutors charged former VW CEO Martin Winterkorn with fraud adding to the US indictment he already faced. (Beth Gardiner 12th July 2019)


Conclusion: ‘Nearly four years after the scandal, car makers are still selling diesels whose nitrogen dioxide emissions are many times over the legal limit. And of course, all their old cars, which violate the rules even more egregiously, are still on our roads too’. (Beth Gardiner, 12th July 2019). ‘Diesel owners... are not perpetrators, but victims of one of the biggest corporate scandals ever.’


This episode also lays bare the profound shortcomings of regulators who failed for years to stop it.   


For discussion of solutions to environmental damage by cars see Cases and solutions.



2. Coal: pollution and global warming. (Not covered in May 2021).


(CO2 emissions are the main cause of global warming – we will deal with this later. See the causes of global warming. These notes deal mainly with pollution.)


2.1 worldwide:

March 2013: India and China are increasing their coal-burning power stations. John Vidal, Guardian 11th March 2013: coal-burning plants in India are causing 120,000 deaths a year, according to a report from Greenpeace, based on research by a former World Bank head of pollution. Millions of Indians suffer from asthma as well. There is hardly any regulation or inspection of pollution. India generates 210 GW of electricity a year, mostly from coal – there are plans to approve a further 160GW annually.



Dec 2013: George Monbiot, 17th Dec 2013, has shocking figures for premature deaths from coal: 250,000 in China...


Extract from Health and Environment Alliance report http://www.env-health.org/IMG/pdf/heal_report_the_unpaid_health_bill_-_how_coal_power_plants_make_us_sick_finalpdf.pdf:

‘A study by the Clean Air Task Force suggests that coal power in the US causes 13,200 premature deaths a year. In Europe, according to the Health and Environment Alliance, the figure is 18,200. A study cited by the alliance suggests that around 200,000 children born in Europe each year have been exposed to "critical levels" of methylmercury in the womb. It estimates the health costs inflicted by coal burning at between €15bn (£12.5bn) and €42bn a year...

Among the most polluting power stations in Europe, Longannet in  Scotland is ranked 11th; and Drax, in England, is ranked seventh. Last week the House of Lords failed to pass an amendment that would have forced a gradual shutdown of our coal-burning power plants: they remain exempted from the emissions standards that other power stations have to meet.

While nuclear power is faltering, coal is booming. Almost 1,200 new plants are being developed worldwide: many will use coal exported from the US and from Australia. The exports are now a massive source of income for these supposedly greening economies. By 2030 China is expected to be importing almost five times as much coal as it does today. The International Energy Agency estimates that the global use of coal will increase by 65% by 2035. Even before you consider climate change, this is a disaster.’

2.2 Little has happened on Carbon Capture and Storage. This involves pumping condensed CO2 into underground ‘reservoirs’ for storage instead of releasing it into the atmosphere. Not only is the technology experimental (and the long-term feasibility of such storage is unknown) it appears that more fuel is needed by a power station that is going to capture and condense the CO2. So to run such a power station is more costly. Moreover, the chemicals used in the process are likely to go into the atmosphere, so the air quality is reduced (Wikipedia).


2.3 By 2015 Britain aims to shut down all coal-fired stations by 2025. The last coal mine in UK is closing down. In the mid ‘90s there were 30 mines, with 7,000 workers, and 50 million tonnes of coal were produced each year. (Before the 1984-5 strike there were 170 mines employing 148,000 workers, producing 120 million tonnes of coal).


There were three deep mines left in 2015, but two closed in the summer. Of 48 million tonnes of coal consumed the previous year, 42 million were imported (from Russia, US, Colombia). Each day 3 or 4 trainloads of coal still go to Drax which provides 7% of our electricity, but three of its six generators have been converted to biomass, and 6 million tonnes of wood pellets are brought in from North America each year...


2.4 May 2015: Guardian is leading a divestment campaign – Keep it in the ground....

28th May, a key parliamentary committee recommends Norway should withdraw its sovereign wealth fund which is the world’s largest, from coal. (continued below*)


7th Feb 2017: A letter from Christian Schaible of the European Environmental Bureau points out that government subsidies to coal plants are worth up to £72.8m. The Transitional National Plan still allows plants to pollute above European limits.


2.5 Decline of coal:

22nd March 2017. Adam Vaughan: the amount of new coal power capacity being built globally fell by nearly two-thirds last year (2016), according to as report by Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and a research network called CoalSwarm. The fall is mainly due to China and India chz\

anging their policies, and to falling investment prospects. Also a record capacity was retired, mostly in Us and EU. Beijing has recently ordered its last coal-fired plant to close. However, there are still about 570 new coal-fired plants under construction globally, and the coal industry argues that coal is still central to both India and China’s energy mix. 


Apr 6th 2017, Arthur Neslen Guardian. National energy companies from every European country except Poland and Greece (26 out of 28) have agreed not to invest in coal plants after 2020. The press release from Eurelectric represents 3,500 utilities with a combined value of more than £170bn. The pollution from coal-fired plants etc accounts for 20,000 deaths each year in Europe. This is the beginning of the end for coal – although investments will continue for another three years. Poland depends on coal for 90% of its electricity. 


14th June 2017. Adam Vaughan. Global demand for coal has fallen for two years running, helped by US and China burning less. UK has moved dramatically away and now uses ‘levels not seen since the start of the industrial revolution.’ According to BP report. In the US, cheaper and cleaner gas is being used. In China, there is large investment in renewables, and less on coal, and it is seen as a leader on climate change now. British coal consumption fell by 52.5% in 2016, and there has been the first coal-free day since the 19th century.

Renewables grew faster than any other fuel – at more than 14% in 2016 (slightly below the 10-year average). Oil in the US fell back last year but is now bouncing back.


23rd June 2017: (*) divestment update: Fiona Harvey. Analysis by NGOs including Rainforest Action Network and Sierra Club shows that multinational banks are claiming to be green while pouring money into the dirtiest fuels. The top 37 banks invested £69bn in 2016 in fossil fuels, including tar sands and other ‘extreme fossil fuels’. Banking on Climate Change 2017. A small number of banks are scaling back investment in fossil fuels.


20th July 2017, Adam Vaughan: Drax is ‘looking at opportunities for a coal-free future’. 68% of Drax’s power is from wood pellets now (imported from America), and it wants to switch another one of its 3 coal-fired units to gas. As noted above, three of its six units run on biomass and another could be converted. Drax has appointed David Nussbaum, former chief of WWF, and chief executive of the Elders (a group set up by Nelson Mandela to promote human rights and action on climate change) to the board as a non-executive.


Coal once employed 1.2 million people; five years ago coal generated more than 40% of UK’s energy – now it is down to 2% (first half of 2017). There have been 300 hours when coal was not used for electricity this year. There were once more than 1,000 deep mines and nearly 100 surface ones. Today there are 10 small mines left. Last year wind farms provided more power than coal. Pollution laws and carbon taxes have forced large coal-fired plants to close. There are now 8 coal power stations left, most with 100 – 200 staff. They now fill in gaps when wind and solar output is low. Only if we don’t build enough alternative plants will coal ones be left running.

Coal Updates:

Further reading: history of coal mining in UK: New Statesman has good overview of the history of the industry, by Martin Fletcher: http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/energy/2015/11/last-days-big-k


Deep coal mining dates back to Tudor times and peaked during the arms race before the first world war, with 3,024 mines producing 292 million tonnes of coal, and employing 1.1 million people, in 1913. Bevin boys were 48,000 men brought in to keep the industry going in the second world war.


Since 1700 164,000 miners have lost their lives. Mining deaths did not fall below a thousand a year until well into the 20th century. 1,297 were killed and 20,000 injured in 1923.


1972 and 1974 miners’ strikes were a turning point: Wilson government increased wages dramatically.


1984 - 5 strike was triggered by a plan drawn up by the Thatcher government to close 20 unprofitable pits and lose 20,000 jobs. But Scargill played into the government’s hands:  the strike was called in the spring when demand was falling, he didn’t call a national ballot and split the union, undermining legitimacy of the strike, he also got money from Gaddafi and USSR. NUM has 800 members (was once half a million). Miners still employed don’t believe the reasons given for closing mines are good – rather see it all as political.


Global use of coal (see Protecting the Planet 7 effects of global heating):

China not moving away from coal as fast as thought:


Other mining industries: Oceans: Sep. 2019, from ‘Sumofus’ and earthworks: - 220 million tonnes. That’s the appalling amount of toxic waste that mining companies dump directly into our oceans, rivers and lakes every year.

A Credit Suisse-financed mining company is about to dump 30 million tonnes of toxic heavy metals - Chrome. Nickel. Copper -and chemicals into a beautiful Norwegian protected fjörd -- a natural reserve for many salmon.


3. The Oil Industry – a walking disaster! (Not covered in May 2021)


The impact of the oil industry is clear in a whole range of ecologically damaging situations. Such is the power of the industry, and its importance to governments, that it also has significant impacts on politics. Often the resultant civil conflict has caused death and suffering.

Here are a few examples of environmental damage by the oil industry (some of these are from New Internationalist 335, June 2001):

3.1 Exxon Valdez oil spill 1989:   by Ewen MacAskill in Guardian 2/2/07:

US government scientists are about to publish a report on the situation in Prince William Sound, Alaska, where the Exxon Valdez spillage occurred 18 years ago in 1989:  11 – 38 million gallons of oil were spilled. It hit Bligh Reef. The tanker was on its way to California. The largest spill in US waters until the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010 (below) in terms of volume released. But the arctic waters made access difficult. The spill covered 1,300 miles of coastline, and 11,000 square miles of ocean.

Salmon, sea birds, seals and otters were affected.

The crew’s ability was partly to blame, and the Raytheon Collision Avoidance system had not been maintained. There were other failings – stressed crew and not informed that coastguards were no longer issuing warnings of Bligh Reef, etc.

Dispersants failed (and some were not used because of toxicity fears), explosions were tried, and burning, (but these led to fumes harming villagers downwind). How water was tried but this killed plankton – food for bacteria and fungi which would otherwise have ‘eaten’ the oil. 


Clean-up crews suffered illnesses afterwards. Only 10% of the oil was actually cleared up.


In 2007, there were more than 26,600 gallons of oil still in the water, and in 2010 23,000 gallons lying on the sand – it was thought the pollution would gradually disappear, but it is only going at a rate of 4% a year, and even slower in the Gulf of Alaska. This means the oil could remain there for decades – some of it near beaches, and all of it a danger to wildlife. 


Between 10,000 and 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbour seals, 247 bald eagles, 22 orcas, and unknown numbers of salmon and herring killed.


Meanwhile, “ExxonMobil posted the largest ever annual profit by a US company, $39.5bn (£20bn) yesterday.”  The Guardian also reports: ExxonMobil and Shell reported combined profits of nearly £90m a day.

3.2 Other dangers to the arctic:

BPAmoco (a joint British/US company) is involved in plans to extract oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

- Dangers of encroachment into permafrost:  BP’s Alaskan Prudhoe Bay oilfield: closed after spill…as were Russian gas/ plants e.g. Sakhalin, Yamal,

- Settlements also bring environmental damage and HIV… New St 13.08.07

- There were over 100 oil spills in the Arctic over a two-year period in the late ‘90s.


In the Arctic: Greenpeace is alarmed at the prospect of Greenland drilling for oil offshore – Cairn Energy, a British company, has found signs of hydrocarbons. This does not bode well for the Arctic! http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/aug/23/cairn-oil-strike-arctic-fears.


See also: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/aug/24/greenland-cairn-energy-oil-gas. 


Dangers of encroachment into permafrost in Arctic:  Russian gas/ plants e.g. Sakhalin, YamalBP’s Alaskan Prudhoe Bay oilfield: closed after spill… Settlements also bring environmental damage and HIV… New St 13.08.07

Update: another Arctic oil (diesel) spill: https://theconversation.com/a-20-000-tonne-oil-spill-is-contaminating-the-arctic-it-could-take-decades-to-clean-up-141264  

Diesel oil contains between 2,000 and 4,000 types of hydrocarbon (the naturally occurring building blocks of fossil fuels), which break down differently in the environment. Typically, 50% or more can evaporate within hours and days, harming the environment and causing respiratory problems for people nearby.

Other, more resistant chemicals can bind with algae and microorganisms in the water and sink, creating a toxic sludge on the bed of the river or lake. This gives the impression that the contamination has been removed and is no longer a threat. However, this sludge can persist for months or years.


Other negative environmental effects of the oil industry:


Shell’s CO2 emissions for 2005 were 102m tonnes (more than 150 countries produce each) Shell’s Chief Executive, Joeren van der Veer refused to confirm this figure (obtained from the company), nor would he say how much of their $23bn capital expenditure was going into renewable energy resources, except that it was a small amount.


3.3 Gulf of Mexico: Deepwater Horizon oil spill 2010 

An explosion and fire in the semi-submersible Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit (MODU) killed 11 workers and injured 17 more. There was a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and it was the largest environmental disaster in US history.

The drilling platform was built in South Korea, owned by Transocean (whose record on accidents was poor), operated under the Marshalese flag of convenience and was leased to BP. It was capable of drilling at great depths – it went to a record 10,685 meters in 2009. 

Oil started leaking at 8,000 barrels of crude per day. 4.9 million barrels were spilled in the end. troops on the coast of Louisiana to try to protect it.  In 2010 there were still a million barrels in the water. 

Criticised for a ‘rush to completion’ of the well, poor management decisions, and no culture of safety on the rig. Six or seven faults in procedure and equipment. (Wikipedia) 

Three oil industry titans blame each other during questioning by US senators. BP America owned the well, and blames Transocean who owned the sunken Deepwater Horizon rig and the blowout preventer, Transocean blames Halliburton who cemented the well… (Suzanne Goldenberg, G 120510).

Less wildlife damaged than in Alaska accident (3,000 birds, 500 turtles, 64 dolphins) – and difficult to tell effects given seasonal variations (BBC).


‘The Deepwater Horizon operation saw the injection of 771,272 gallons (2,919,582 litres) of dispersant at depth, in addition to the 1,072,514 gallons (4,059,907 litres) used on the surface.

The impact of the deep water deployment is definitely an unknown unknown, as it has not been used on anything like this scale before.

Expeditions are planned to investigate the impact on reefs, but they have yet to report.

Other important investigations are going on into how quickly the oil is breaking down in the warm Gulf waters - something that should in principle happen much faster than in the icy conditions of Alaska's Prince Edward Sound, or the Cornish seas where the Torrey Canyon spilt its cargo in March 1967.

That rate will have practical implications for the seabirds that will come to winter along the Gulf coasts - the piping plover, the blue-winged teal and the northern pintail - because it will largely determine how much oil will be there to greet them.

Two decades on, the ecological impacts of Exxon Valdez are still being counted. And while the warmer Gulf waters are unlikely to take quite so long to settle, even a preliminary reckoning will have to wait until the first wintering birds have returned, shrimping boats have cast their nets again right across their grounds, and the wetland grasses have had a first chance to shed their oily carapaces and sprout anew in a fresh Spring.’ (Richard Black, BBC).

17th Jan 2018: BP has had to make another payout of $1.7bn for the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The total compensation is likely to be $65bn (£47bn). The total for 2017 is $3bn (it expected only $2bn). Eight years after the disaster, BP has processed nearly all the 390,000 claims made under the court-supervised settlement, and hopes to complete the process in coming months.

The spill, at the Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 people and affected fishing and tourism.


3.4 North Sea: Feb 2017: Shell announces plan to dismantle four enormous rigs in the North Sea – in the Brent field. At one time they produced about a tenth of the UK’s North Sea oil. Shell was opposed in 1995 when it wanted to sink the Brent Spar oil rig. (There were protests by Green peace and a boycott by Germany, and a falling share price...) A specially built ship will lift the top section, which weighs 24,000 tonnes. They want to leave the concrete bases in the sea – as they were not made to be dismantled.  Oil will be left in storage cells, with metre-thick walls, and some will be left on the seabed. WWF Scotland says Shell is just trying to avoid the cost of removing oil despite it being a danger to wildlife. The company gets 40% - 75% tax relief against the cost of decommissioning, which means the government (UK citizens!) would contribute £24bn.  But Shell argue that the oilfield has contributed £20bn in tax during its lifetime, and the decommissioning will cost single-figure billions. The company made $3.5bn (£2.8bn) in profits last year. Greg Muttit of Oil Change International says ‘why should the taxpayer carry the tab for most of the decommissioning costs, when oil revenues have gone disproportionately to the companies?


3.5 The environment and politics: Shell and Nigeria:

In the Niger Delta, Shell has been extracting oil for some time. The resultant pollution (oil leaks ruining the land, gas flares poisoning the air) has been a cause for anger on the part of the local Ogoni people. Protests have been put down ruthlessly, with many killed by police and – it is alleged, by paramilitaries employed by the company and armed by the government.

In November 1995, a special court established by the military government illegally detained and tried some protesters on spurious charges. Convicted without due process, they and the “leader” Ken Saro-Wiwa were executed 10 days later, despite enormous international outcry.

The UN questioned the legitimacy of the Saro-Wiwa trial, to no avail (May 2009). It is alleged that there has been widespread brutality against the Ogoni, involving torture and the destruction of villages. Sadly, this is not an isolated occurrence. A recent report by human rights organization Global Witness documents the murders of more than 700 environmental and Indigenous-rights activists over the past decade– more than one killing a week, on average. (Greenpeace USA) We will return to the impact on indigenous people at the end of this course...

More recently (e.g. 2013) there have been explosions at points in the pipeline where oil has leaked. The company blames local people for steeling oil, but the son of the executed Ken Saro-Wiwa, also called Ken, is now a presidential aide; he alleges that the theft of vast quantities of oil from the pipeline ‘is on and industrial scale, and involves commodity traders, international [criminals] and a whole network of people. There are some allegations that the oil companies themselves are implicated.’

See John Vidal in The Observer, 06.10.13: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2013/oct/06/oil-theft-costs-nigeria  Extract follows:

"From the moment I got to the scene [the next day] I was suspicious," says Catholic priest Father Obi, appointed by Shell to be an official observer for the Bodo investigation. "The scene had been hurriedly deserted. Shell must have known what was going on. The military must have known. Everyone knew there was complicity. I am personally sure that Shell knew that its oil was being stolen. If the managers did not know, then those who they put in charge [of the operation] seemed to know. This [theft] could not have happened without the collusion of the authorities and the military." Obi is concerned that the official report has still not been published and is threatening to release his own.

It all adds up to organised crime stealing oil, using the cover of the authorities, he says. "Why was a massive barge able to hold 10,000 barrels of oil being loaded at 2am with crude? Why did another catch fire? Why were excavators there? Why were local observers arrested the next day, their cameras confiscated and memory cards destroyed? Were the thieves being protected by the military? Was the company paying workers to clean up oil spilled in the process of theft they themselves were engaged in? Did Shell know its oil was being stolen from under its nose?" he asks.

Oil, war, climate change. See also 6. Climate change: causes.

Sep 18th 2019. Bill McKibben writes of the link between oil and war, after missiles struck Saudi oil facilities over the weekend. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/sep/18/climate-crisis-oil-war-iraq-saudi-attack-green-energy

He Includes this: ‘Thanks to great investigative reporting, we now know that the oil industry knew all about climate change decades ago, but instead of acknowledging it and helping us move to a new energy future, they instead spent billions building the scaffolding of deceit and denial and disinformation that kept us locked in the present paradigm. Just as they have profited from sea-level rise and Arctic melt, so they will profit from the war now starting to unfold. (Right on schedule, the share prices of fracking firms and oil majors all jumped perkily northwards on Monday morning.)

3.6 Other issues for the oil industry


3.6.1 Workers’ Safety: (by Andrew Clark and Terry Macalister, in Guardian Financial, 8/12/2006)

In 2005, the BP Texas refinery exploded, killing 15 people – recently disclosed documents show the director responsible for running the refinery, Don Parus, knew that it was held together by little more than “Band Aid” and “superglue”.

Parus made remarks to an independent investigation, which was held after 23 fatal accidents in 30 years (the most recent involving a worker being boiled alive!).

The local fire brigade say that there is an average of one fire every week – 50 to 80 a year. The site director, appointed in 2002 had worried whether he could turn round the lax safety attitude single-handed, and even said: “killing somebody every 18 months seems to be acceptable at this site”. 

Many documents have been disclosed as a result of a legal settlement with a woman who lost both parents in the explosion.

An external report said there was “an exceptional degree of fear of catastrophic incidents” – and it was surprising how many workers going into the plant in the morning volunteered that they were thinking about safety and wondering whether they would go home!

BP has pledged to spend $7 billion to improve the safety and integrity of their US plants.


3.6.2 Politics:

Shell’s involvement in Nigeria has been dealt with, but other conflict areas where the oil companies are involved include: Chad and Cameroon, Sumatra and Indonesia, and Tibet.


A consortium of oil companies operates in southern Sudan, where government-backed militia are persecuting opponents of the regime. In Sudan, Darfur has become a disaster zone. The consortium has given large sums of money to President Omar Bashir, and a Canadian Government sponsored study concluded that “oil is exacerbating conflict in Sudan”. The same army that is bombing and terrorising civilians is protecting the oil pipelines.


Finally I think no-one could be unaware of the involvement of US companies in Iraq, and particularly the oil company Halliburton. Here we have a case of the “revolving door” – where top industrial or commercial personnel are able to move into politics, thus retaining their contacts and promoting their commercial interests. From “assisting” in the repair of damaged oil extraction equipment after the Iraq war, they quickly moved to extracting oil and are said to have made $10 billion in contracts. Although they have not caused environmental damage directly, it has to be said that they operate in the interests of the USA, whose policies have created massive environmental damage (especially after the first Iraq war).


3.6.3 And global warming. See Global warming - causes and controversy


12th March 2019. Oil industry and lobbying against climate change restrictions: https://unearthed.greenpeace.org/2019/03/12/bp-lobbied-trump-climate-methane-obama/ See causes of climate change Protecting6. 

20th Jan. 2020 (Jillian Ambrose); The International Energy Agency (IEA) will warn the oil and gas industry that it needs to stop thinking primarily of short-term profits, and do more about the climate crisis at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week.  IEA says there are twin threats, to its financial profitability and its social acceptability. ‘No energy company will be unaffected by clean energy transitions. Every part of the industry needs to consider how to respond. Doing nothing is simply not an option’ says Fatih Birol, IEA’s executive director. The world’s oil companies have channelled less than 1% of their spending towards alternative energy technologies despite growing calls to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


Greenpeace is campaigning to stop the expansion of coal mining and oil extraction in Australia, at the Australian Bight. 


Conclusion: this is just a brief portrait of the power and scope of the oil industry. When it comes to dealing with damage to the environment we also have to acknowledge to role of the electricity generating industry, car manufacturers, and the offshoots of the oil industry namely petrochemicals and pharmaceuticals. In my view all these industries contain huge companies that are, to say the least, slow to recognise their social responsibility – and most of the time they are positively hostile to such notions. Again, I have only given a glimpse of their power and influence, but this needs to be kept in mind when we move on to “solutions”.


3.6.4 Oil Updates:

23rd June 2020. ‘Peak oil’: a report by a French think-tank Shift Project says there is a risk of reaching peak oil before major economies have transitioned to cleaner energy sources. (Jillian Ambrose). This could happen within a decade. Oil production from Russia and the former USSR has already reached ‘a systematic decline’, and Africa’s will decline sharply soon too. EU gets 40% of its oil from Russia/former USSR.

22nd Jan 2020. Waste water from oil and gas industry is serious problem: https://www.desmog.co.uk/2020/01/22/american-petroleum-institute-oil-workers-radioactive-nobel-rollingstone

Feb 2020. BP and greenwashing: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/feb/14/oil-execs-environmentalists-bp-change-oil-climate

Alice Bell is co-director at the climate change charity Possible https://www.theguardian.com/profile/alice-bell - see other articles on climate change etc here.

The oil industry is incredibly savvy when it comes to public opinion, and can see the steady erosion of its “social licence to operate” (a company’s ability to go about its business without too much challenge). It has been struggling to recruit young people for years, well before the school climate strikes started.

The Royal Shakespeare Company and National Galleries Scotland have both turned their back on BP sponsorship in recent months, and last weekend more than a thousand people turned up at the British Museum to protest at the firm’s involvement there.

BP is not the first oil company to give itself a lick of green paint to appear more acceptable in this era of increasing climate concern. We’ve seen Statoil dropping the word “oil” with the refreshed identity of Equinor, and Dong (Danish Oil and Natural Gas) relaunched as the renewable energy company Ørsted. It’s hard to see Equinor as anything more than greenwash while it’s still drilling the Arctic, but Ørsted may yet become the world’s first green energy supermajor, betting on the power of offshore wind to eventually see off natural gas. Shell is also keen to show off its green credentials, as anyone who has seen its multimillion pound advertising campaign can tell. It’s scared, or it wouldn’t bother.

BP has been here before, with a £100m “Beyond Petroleum” rebrand in the early noughties. Alongside a new sunflower logo, this emphasised the company’s commitment to wind, solar and biofuels alongside oil and gas, but renewables remained a small part of its portfolio. Clean energy is good for press photos, but not really central to BP’s core business model. Environmentalist Jonathon Porritt originally tried to engage in its initiatives, but turned away in disgust, declaring it was impossible for today’s oil majors to change at the radical speed required.

Earlier protests:

In 2016, Tate and the Edinburgh Festival announced they were ending sponsorship deals with BP, after two decades. In Nov. 2019 National Galleries Scotland announced this would be the last time it held its BP portrait award exhibition. The Gallery said it had a ‘responsibility to do all we can to address the climate emergency’. In Oct 2019 the RSC announced it was ending its sponsorship deal two years early, after a campaign by environmentalists and artists.

Nov. 2019, Reem Alsayyah and Zoe Lafferty (performer and director) protested at the British Museum’s exhibition Troy: Myth and Reality, sponsored by BP, because of BP’s backing of the second gulf war, and its ‘eyeing opportunities to take control of oil reserves in the region’. They described it as ‘artwashing.’ In February there had been an occupation of the British Museum in protest against BP’s sponsorship. Extinction rebellion called on the NPG and the Royal Opera House to sever ties with BP, and the actor Mark Rylance resigned from the Royal Shakespeare Company, saying the sponsorship allowed BP to ‘obscure the destructive reality of its activities.’


Further reading: The Quest: energy, security and the remaking of the modern world, by Daniel Yergin (Allen Lane £30) reviewed Observer 16th Oct 2011. Yergin won a Pulitzer prize in 1992 for The Prize, a political history of the oil industry.




4. Nuclear power – environmental damage caused. (Not covered in May 2021). For nuclear power as energy source see: Energy policies to deal with climate change.


4.1 Introduction:

Nuclear power is of concern because:

(i) it carries with it new dangers such as nuclear radiation – which not only poisons individuals subjected to it, but damages their genetic makeup, and therefore affects future offspring. Some radioactive materials also “decay” very slowly (radioactivity is a process of decay of the atoms in a substance), and some man-made radioactive elements will take hundreds of years to disappear.

(ii) almost all nations that have developed nuclear power have done so because it provides a way of manufacturing nuclear weapons.


In my view, along with the appeal as a way to develop more powerful bombs, nuclear power was seen as a scientific and technological challenge: at the centre of the process is a nuclear reactor in which atoms of uranium are split. For hundreds of years it was believed that the atom was the smallest particle of matter (its name, from the Greek, signifies this). When radiation was discovered, it was realised that some atoms ‘decay’ and give off radiation in the form of atomic particles. Einstein realised that matter and energy were interchangeable: E = mC2 means that a small quantity of matter (m) would create a very large amount of energy (E) – the number m multiplied by the velocity of light (186,000 miles per second) squared! -  if it were entirely converted into energy. In an atom bomb, the fissile material is split instantly, and1kg of matter could produce an explosion equivalent to 40 megatons of TNT. See https://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/apr/05/einstein-equation-emc2-special-relativity-alok-jha


On the other hand, if the release of energy from the atoms being split could occur slowly, then you would have a tremendous amount of heat. In a nuclear power station this heat is used to drive turbines and generate electricity. Again, a lot of heat is generated from a small quantity of fuel, and in the early days of nuclear power we were promised electricity so cheap it would almost be free!!


Needless to say, this turned out to be a myth, as the construction of reactors that would safely control the enormous heat and the radiation generated was a costly technological challenge. But this was only one ‘myth’, as in this country at least the building of Calder Hall in the 1950s was said to be for peaceful purposes – in fact it contributed to our atom bomb programme.


Studies by Sustainable Development Commission as well as Greenpeace and CAT show that Britain can meet its energy needs without nuclear, and reduce carbon emissions at the same time.  (FoE Stop New Nuclear campaign) It is expensive, takes a long time to get on-line, and diverts funds from renewables. It also has civil liberty implications because of security aspects. See http://stopnewnuclear.org.uk


Problems associated with nuclear power:


4.1 Radiation Some scientists believe that nuclear power stations are unsafe because they spread radioactivity into the environment.



The risk:

Chris Busby (in The Ecologist : Scientific Secretary of ECRR – European Committee on Radiation Risk):

First cases were childhood leukemia near Sellafield in the 1980s. Then high rates of this were found near other reactors. Adult cancers were not taken into account.



Letter in The Guardian 09.01.08:

Risk of tumour/leukemia in children increases closer to plant (study of 41 districts near 16 plants in Germany 1980 – 2003) - recent German government study found 22% increase in leukemia, 160% in embryonal cancer among children living near all German nuclear reactors.


Chirs Busby (loc cit): Recent studies near Trawsfynydd power station in Wales show risk of cancer, especially breast cancer, doubles if people live near the plant. Thus of those surveyed, 19.5 were expected to get cancer but 38 actually did.


Nowhere has solved problem of waste Nuclear Consultation Working Group. Tim Jackson, Economics Commissioner at Sustainable Development Commission (G 160108): SDC report 2006 said could save 4% of carbon by replacing all existing nuclear plants with new ones (7m tonnes), But: danger of waste, and of private involvement which leads to “moral hazard” i.e. “under-insurance of public risk” - risk to public so high that public pays in the end. Also danger of “distraction” from reducing demand (which the biggest issue); and conclusion: no justification for new nuclear programme. Why govt now in favour, when not a safer world? Economics? Not more favourable, and not much progress. made towards demand reduction (of cost?). Committee on Radiation Waste Management: creation of new wastes leads to new problems. Latest white paper report barely refers to SDC, and claims wrongly that the government sees eye to eye with the SDC on proliferation – which nonsense. Government assures commercial developers that nuclear liability will be capped.


A threshold? Problems of measurement

Jan 2010: Dr Ian Fairlie replies to retired professor Wade Allison (not a radiation biologist nor epidemiologist) who, 11.01.10, minimised risks from nuclear radiation (esp. said that there should be a threshold, not a continual level of less risk from decreasing doses). LNT (linear no-threshold theory) is used by UN, International Commission on Radiological Protection, Health Protection Agency etc.

Recent German government study found 22% increase in leukemia, 160% in embryonal cancer  among children living near all German nuclear reactors. Data from Hiroshima not useful for slow long-term exposures. He also says there are ‘non-targeted effects of radiation’ – cause changes in cells temporally and spatially distant from the radiation… These are new effects which do not support current estimates of risk, and suggest dose limits should be tighter…


Busby (loc cit): the International Commission on Radiological Protection worked out a method a long time ago, and bases assessment of risk on ‘average dose’ in millisieverts. But this is not appropriate, Busby says, as particles that enter the body give of high doses near the particle, and none elsewhere in the body. Moreover some radionucleides (strontium, uranium, plutonium) bind preferentially to DNA.


4.2 Waste and decommissioning: Almost all agree that there is a problem of the long-term safe storage of radioactive waste. When a nuclear power station reaches the end of its life it has to be safely dismantled or ‘decommissioned’. I was told there are hundreds of workers at the old ... site in Essex which now looks like a giant concrete block!


Jan/Feb 2010 (Guardian): at Sellafield there are 100 tonnes of plutonium – a ludicrous amount!!  The budget to clean up old nuclear sites is £2.8 bn per annum.


It has been argued that a ‘fast breeder’ reactor would use the waste plutonium to generate more electricity, but:

Feb 2012: letters Guardian point out, in response to article on ‘prism’ reactor, said to be able to use up spent fuel: we have 25,000 tonnes of depleted uranium and 100 tonnes of plutonium; the Japanese spent $13 billion over four decades trying to develop fast breeder reactors unsuccessfully (Tom Burke et al).  Between 1955 and 1995 the UK spent more than £4bn on fast breeders with nothing to show but a radioactive mess at Dounreay (Walt Patterson).


Feb 4th 2013: Highly critical report (Nuclear Decommissioning Authority: Managing Risk at Sellafield) published on management of Sellafield – (Terry Macalister) Commons public accounts committee, chaired by Margaret Hodge, saying ‘the public are not getting a good deal from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority arrangements with Nuclear Management Partners.’


It’s not clear how long it will take to deal with Sellafield’s waste, and last year the consortium got £54 million, despite only 2 out of 14 major projects being on track. Of the 14 projects, 12 were behind schedule, and 5 of those were over budget.


Every year some £1.6 billion is being spent on the site, where waste includes 82 tonnes of plutonium.



4.3 Security – owing to the value of plutonium (used as a fuel in some reactors, and created as a by-product in others) for anyone wanting to make a bomb, nuclear power stations have to be protected by a high level of security. When we visited... we had to notify them in advance so security checks could be made, then to surrender our passports while visiting the plant, and the guide told us that he had been into the reactor building (we were not allowed to) but when he went he was blindfolded so he would not know how to reach the controls. The other danger is that a power station could be attacked – by a plane for example – and the resulting explosion would devastate a large area of the country round the power station. Consequently the building has to be strong enough to withstand a direct hit by an airplane!


22.11.09 Obs: The government is refusing to give details of five separate security breaches at nuclear power stations. These could include: unauthorized incursion, incidents involving explosives, attempted theft of nuclear materials… See the Office of Civil Nuclear Security (OCNS) annual report. Dai Davies MP tabled a question, but energy minister David Kidney refused to give details.


4.4 Accidents:

Globally there have been at least 99 recorded power plant accidents from 1952 to 2009 (Wikipedia list of nuclear power accidents)



Oct 1957 Windscale: (John Vidal) Guardian 10th March 2012 (sixty years after the event) Windscale No 1 Pile caught fire. It was hushed up, and the workers went on making plutonium for the H-bomb. 11 tons of uranium burned for three days. Radioactive material spread across the Lake District.

Sellafield Stories’ (ed. Hunter Davies) gather memories from people involved.


The deputy general manager, Tom Tuohy scaled the reactor building and poured water on the burning fuel. If it had exploded ‘Cumberland would have been finished’ says union leader Cyril McManus: ‘There was contamination everywhere, on the golf course, in the milk, in chickens... but it was quickly forgotten about’ he says. People working there at the time were told to carry on as normal.


The book tells how a wartime bomb factory was dumped in one of Britain’s most cut-off areas, turned to producing plutonium for the atom bomb, then nuclear electricity and is now an American-led multinational corporation decommissioning the mess that it largely created. The plant dumped radioactive water in the sea, and filled up old mine shafts with radioactive material... A significant number of rare cancers were found, including leukaemia in children, especially in the Seascale area which was near the chimney. The authorities argued that these cases had been brought into the area...


4.4.2 Sellafield (formerly Windscale...) 2005.

(Paul Brown, Guardian 9th may 2005): ‘A leak of highly radioactive nuclear fuel dissolved in concentrated nitric acid, enough to half-fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool, has forced the closure of Sellafield’s Thorp reprocessing plant. About 20 tonnes of uranium and plutonium fuel (enough plutonium to make 20 nuclear bombs!!!) leaked from a pipe into a stainless steel container. Recovering the liquids and fixing the pipes will take months and may require special robots to be built. Not a danger to the public, but a financial blow to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority which took over the plant from British Nuclear Fuels in April. It has a £2.2bn clean-up budget. Some of this was to come from Thorp, but this has now been lost.

Thorp produces uranium and plutonium from spent fuel, but it has never operated to design capacity and has always been behind with its orders. It makes a large amount of uranium and plutonium, but only a small amount of this can be used for reactor fuel. It has been criticised from the outset as uneconomic.


4.4.3 1979 Three Mile Island

Near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, USA. Rated 5 on a 7-point scale of serious accidents. A valve got stuck open, and large amounts of nuclear reactor coolant escaped. The people operating it didn’t realise what had happened, but there was a partial meltdown which meant that radioactive iodine and gases were released into the atmosphere – though the authorities claimed the levels were very low (a claim disputed by Arnie Gundersen, a former nuclear industry executive who is now an expert witness in nuclear safety issues).


The accident was badly handled, with different people giving conflicting information. It took five weeks before it was realised that reactor operators had measured temperatures near the melting point. And only years later, when the reactor vessel was physically opened that they found that roughly half of the uranium fuel had melted. (Victor Gilinsky, a NRC commissioner sent to investigate the accident) The reactor has been out of commission ever since. The film China Syndrome was based on the accident – much to the anger of those responsible for the plant, who said it was a travesty. The fear expressed in the film was that if the melted fuel had not been contained it would have gone down into the earth and through to China...


4.4.4 Chernobyl April 26th 1986.

The worst nuclear accident yet, it happened during a safety test when safety systems were turned off. Reactor design flaws together with mis-handling by the operators led to uncontrolled reaction conditions. Water flashed into steam and there was an explosion, and an open-air graphite fire. Two workers were killed, and 134 were hospitalised with acute radiation symptoms: 28 of them died (some were firemen).  There were 14 cancer deaths from this group within the next 10 years, and higher than usual numbers of childhood thyroid cancer. It will be some time before the full extent of illness caused will be known.


Plumes of radioactive material went up into the atmosphere for about nine days. This was a level 7 event (as was Fukushima). Over 500,000 workers were involved in the clean-up and it cost 18 billion rubles. A city of 14,000 residents before it was evacuated, there are now 690 people living there. ‘Resettlement may even be possible [as the levels of radiation are declining] in prohibited areas provided that people comply with appropriate dietary rules... Rivers were polluted, and drinking water was a cause for concern (though eventually it was said to be safe...). (Wikipedia: Chernobyl disaster).


Approximately 100,000 square km of land were contaminated. Radiation spread as far as Sweden, and Europe... and in fact it was when Swedish workers at a nuclear plant detected radiation on their clothes but could find no leak in Sweden that it was suspected that something had happened in Russia!


The No 4 reactor building is known as the sarcophagus and work is ongoing to enclose it safely.


4.4.5 Fukushima – aftermath of the March 2011 disaster (Fri 14th Nov 2014, Guardian):

The problem of radioactive water is enormous: each day around 400 tonnes of ground water flows from surrounding hills into the basements of three of the reactors, where it mixes with coolant water. Most of the contaminated water is pumped out into storage tanks – of which there are more than 1,000, holding 500,000 tones of contaminated water.

Work has begun on a barrier underground to prevent water from reaching the basements – it is 1.5 km long and will be frozen.

Workers are removing 1,331 spent fuel rods from reactor number four – and this should be completed by the end of this year. In the other three reactors radiation levels are still too high for humans to enter.

Decommissioning the entire plant is expected to take at least 40 years, at a cost of around £55 bn.


Feb 24th 2013: after-effects of Fukushima disaster – http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/feb/28/cancer-risk-fukushima-who?




http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/feb/24/divorce-after-fukushima-nuclear-disaster? on the emotional and psychological effects.


Oct 2012: Rupert Neate, Observer, reports the price of uranium has sunk since Fukushima (from $135 a pound in 2007 to $44) and has declined more since several governments have announced they will move away from nuclear. Japan has said it will get rid of nuclear by 2040. Germany and Belgium have also said they will stop, and Italy will not go back to it. France is scaling down (though it’s the most nuclear country in the world). But China is going to restart its reactor building programme aiming for 5% by 2020 (currently 2%), India hopes to have 50% nuclear by 2050 (last year was 3.7%), and there are 65 reactors being built, 69% of them in Bric countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China)...


Guardian 26th May 2015: China. Chinese physicist He Zuoxiu criticises the lack of concern for safety in China’s planned expansion of nuclear power:



4.5 CO2  See also: Climate change & global warming - causes.

Whether nuclear power is good because it does not produce CO2

March 2012: letters in the Guardian on news that the UK government is secretly lobbying the European commission for the abolition of future renewable targets. There is now discussion on the merits of nuclear, and one letter points out that a power station needs 3MW of cooling to keep the rods stable; and that nuclear power in a warming climate is unstable - the French have had to close down plants in hot weather because of shortage of cooling water [Prof Susan Roaf, Edinburgh].


Feb 5th 2013: George Monbiot – argument in favour of nuclear power (because if we don’t build nuclear stations then more coal will be burned):



4.6 Cost

Weds 1st Feb 2012: group of MPs and experts allege govt has distorted evidence and presented a false analysis of case for new nuclear reactors. Ron Bailey author of report... Govt commissioned research which began with assumption that 10 reactors would be built, then presented evidence as a case for this. The govt’s research also showed how Britain could cope without new nuclear investment. Report: A Corruption of Governance? By Unlock Democracy (director Peter Facey) and the Association for the Conservation of Energy. Endorsed by a number of MPs from all parties. Fiona Harvey, Environment correspondent. See also Leo Hickman’s blog: http://www.guardian.co.uk/global/blog/2012/feb/01/nuclear-power-carbon-emissions-target?  


One of the difficulties in assessing the true cost of nuclear power is that the government is always able to give subsidies to one form of electricity generation or another (the choice based on political reasons?):

Feb 19th 2013: coalition is backtracking on its promise not to have the public pay for nuclear: it has pledged £240 m in subsidies for new nuclear power stations. This money says Professor Sue Roaf could be used to give each home in Britain £10,000 to supply solar heating and new boilers!! There is also a call for molten salt or thorium reactors, which are said to be cheaper than coal, and to produce short-lived and ‘valuable’ waste...


Feb 21st 2013: Terry Macalister and Richard Cookson report that Paul Massara, RWE’s new chief executive has warned the government not to saddle the public with unnecessarily high bills by doing a deal with the nuclear industry behind the public’s back. The same piece points out that at least 15 people working for the nuclear industry or its consultants have been seconded to areas of government where they are responsible for policy or regulation. For example, EDF has seconded two staff to the Office for Nuclear Regulation at HSE. Rolls Royce and Atkins are also mentioned.



14th July 2016: Hinkley Point: (Terry Macalister)

The likely cost continues to escalate: the National Audit Office has warned that consumers could pay £30 bn in ‘top-up payments’ due to falling wholesale power prices. DEC has already put the potential cost of Hinkley Point at £37 bn. Hinkley would produce 7% of Britain’s total electricity, but it has been hit by delays due to concerns in EDF about the financial burden. In addition, trades unions in France have put up objections. Top-up payments under ‘contracts for difference’ have quadrupled in three years since the government struck a deal with EDF – under the terms of this, the consumer must compensate EDF for lower wholesale prices – but costs of fossil fuels have been going down dramatically.


30th July 2016: Hinkley Point (letters to Guardian)

Instead of HS2 we need ‘a European supergrid... to iron out fluctuations from different sources of renewable energy’ (Robin Russell-Jones, Chair, Help Rescue the Planet).

Decc (now demised!) showed that renewables with ‘backup gas can produce same output as Hinkley Point a decade earlier and at least 25% cheaper. Only 900 new jobs would be created by Hinkley, each at a cost to consumers of 800,000 a year’ (Neils Kroniger, Green Hedge UK Ltd)

‘For the same price as Hinkley we could put solar hot water and PV with battery storage on [the same] 6m homes and thus taking a quarter of British homes out of fuel poverty for ever... We have over a million solar roofs, and tens of millions have been invested in solar research – meanwhile 2.5 bn has been invested in moving some dirt and laying some concrete at Hinkley... (Professor Sue Roaf, Edinburgh).

The Severn Barrage could produce 10% of our energy needs (Michael McLoughlin).


March 30th 2017

Westinghouse has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection: cost overruns on two nuclear plants in US (Georgia and South Carolina) have caused a $6bn write-down. Westinghouse is owned by Toshiba and its technology is installed in about half of the world’s reactors. Toshiba will now only build nuclear plants in its home market. A new power station proposal for Moorside in Cumbria is now effectively dead (20,000 lost jobs?). 

Meanwhile safety and quality control issues have been found at Le Creusot – but EDF chief says this will not affect Hinkley Point C. Work is under way on what is the largest engineering site in Europe. There will be a ramp into the sea so boats can bring loads and there will not be a need for endless lorries on the roads; a sea wall; millions of tonnes of earth and rocks dug up.


23rd June 2017. Adam Vaughan: Hinkley Point C will be risky and expensive, says the National Audit Office. The power station was agreed last September, but it will bring ‘uncertain strategic and economic benefits.’ If we quit the Euratom nuclear co-operation EU treaty, because of Brexit, the situation will be worse: taxpayers could have to meet compensation for EDF (?). EDF is guaranteed £92.50 per megawatt hour generated – twice the current wholesale price. Householders will pay £10 – £15 per household by 2030.

The Audit Office is especially critical of the failure to find an alternative financing model. We could, for example, have taken an up-front stake in the project – but all the construction risks lie with EDF and CGN (Chinese state-owned) to keep the project off the government’s books...

Costs of the project have boomed from £6bn in 2013 to £30bn now, and could rise still further.

Nils Pratley, same paper, says it is a vanity project: the financial model committed to was inflexible (the developer bears the construction risks in return for a guaranteed price for electricity generated), then commercial terms were agreed in 2013 when energy costs were sky-high – but they have fallen since.  It is scheduled to produce 7% of our electricity, and is ‘bigger than anything ever seen before’ – and the price guarantee runs over 35 Years.

‘Time will tell whether the deal represents value for money (says the NAO) but we cannot say the department has maximised the chances that it will be.’


An alternative that is mentioned from time to time, but in my view shows no evidence of being a viable replacement:

thorium reactors – less dangerous as don’t produce plutonium; smaller (300 MW) and therefore cheaper – India is developing but says 6 years needed develop and build. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/nov/01/india-thorium-nuclear-plant  Thorium more abundant and more energy-dense than uranium. Could be used by states with embargo on nuclear power.


4.7 Nuclear Power Updates:

Hinkley Point: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/aug/13/hinkley-point-c-rising-costs-long-delays-power-station

‘The Hinkley Point nuclear site, on the Somerset coast, should have begun powering around 6m homes well over a year ago. Instead, the 160-hectare (400-acre) sprawl is still the UK’s largest construction site more than a decade after the plan for Britain’s nuclear renaissance first emerged. It will be at least another six years before Hinkley Point C, the first nuclear plant to be built in the UK since 1995, begins generating 7% of the nation’s electricity. The price tag is expected to exceed £20bn, almost double that suggested in 2008 by EDF Energy, which is spearheading the project alongside a Chinese project partner

. At the time, EDF Energy’s chief executive, Vincent de Rivaz, said the mega-project would power millions of homes by late 2017. He pegged the cost at £45 for every megawatt-hour.

The National Audit Office condemned the government’s deal to support the Hinkley Point project  through consumer energy bills in a damning report, which accused ministers of putting households on the hook for a “risky and expensive” project with “uncertain strategic and economic benefits”. Hinkley Point will add between £10 and £15 a year to the average energy bill for 35 years, making it one of the most expensive energy projects undertaken.’ (Jillian Ambrose)

Aug. 2019: Hunterstone B – one of UK’s oldest nuclear power stations can restart having been shut down last year because of cracks in the graphite ore. The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) will allow it to run for 4 months. It is hoped the plant will run until 2023. EDF spent £125m investigating the plant, in North Ayreshire, Scotland. EDF owns and operates all UK’s nuclear plants, and they provide about 20% of our electricity.

Further reading: Oct 2012, obituary of Crispin Aubrey – investigative journalist and green campaigner – note he published two books on Sellafield etc: Meltdown: the collapse of the nuclear dream; and Thorp (1991): the Whitehall nightmare (1993). He began his campaigning at Time Out in the 1970s.