Saturday, September 24, 2016

VW may have killed hundreds in the US, thousands in Europe, and who knows everywhere else

Some news stories buried the lede about how many people may have been offed by VW lying about its NOx emissions. Headlines say "Volkswagen emissions cheat may lead to 50 premature deaths", and only deeper in the apparently-a-press-release mention that figure is only for a single year, as well as not covering some vehicle models also implicated in illegal emissions. The illegal activity covered multiple years, and even I can multiply.

Diesel has a tiny penetration in the US market but an order of magnitude higher in Europe. Thousands died there if we extrapolate, a crude thing to do but maybe conservative given the higher population density.

Some caveats if you jump past the press release and RTFA: 50 deaths a year is the high end of a range, with the lowest at merely 5 people killed by Volkswagen annually. AFAICT this is illegal emissions and not total emissions we're talking about. Europe allows far higher NOx levels, so VW can proudly trumpet that many of the thousands it killed in Europe were offed legally. These numbers are also higher than older estimates I saw last year. Fifty a year is now a reasonable number though.

One defense of VW often heard last year that it wasn't killing its own customers through emissions, it was killing other people who doubtless deserved it (I paraphrase). Kill enough people though, and you're eventually going to send some VW owners into fatal asthma attacks. Defenders need to amend their argument to concede that yes, VW was killing VW owners, but with cars purchased by other VW owners, not their own cars.

My own speculation - I'm curious how many VW owners ever drove into their garage, closed the door and forgot to turn off the engine for 30 seconds while they wrap up something. With emissions 10-40 times the allowed amount, that's equivalent of spending up to 20 minutes breathing exhaust in an enclosed garage. Maybe Volkswagen caused (and has) additional problems.


EliRabett said...

One of the VW engineers who set the system up is coping a plea in the US. Also, it has become clear that Bosch is deeply involved in creating the cheat software. Popcorn please

jrkrideau said...

It sounds like we're approaching Big Tobacco country. This may be fun in a horrible manner.

CapitalistImperialistPig said...

I think that this is a bit hysterical. It presupposes that other technologies which would have been used if VW vehicles had not been available would have been more benign. It also relies a bunch of unproven links.

How many people do you suppose you kill when you fly to, say, Iceland? Of course its probably less than one, but those fractions do add up.

No doubt the effluvia of civilization do create health hazards for some, but it's pretty hard to sort out the relative contributions of NOx and Mulberry trees.

Brian said...

CIP, I believe VW managed to make the single most polluting vehicle in its class, seeing as the pollution level was illegal. Any other similar vehicle would've been better.

AFAICT all the studies done to date show deaths from VW's illegal emissions. Got something contrary?

As for creating emissions every time I drive a car or fly in a plane, guilty, but VW took it to another level.

Mal Adapted said...

Brian: "As for creating emissions every time I drive a car or fly in a plane, guilty, but VW took it to another level."

Both Brian and CIP have their points.

Is it the number of death or the duplicity that VW takes to another level? Are we RR denizens less culpable than the engineer, James R. Liang, because we've caused fewer deaths than he has, or because we acknowledge our own externalities? US courts will presumably decide that the people who knowingly participated in the emissions deception are guilty of crimes. For now, my own guilt is for my own conscience to decide.

(LOL, reCAPTCHA asked me to "select the pictures with cars"!)

CapitalistImperialistPig said...

Brian - I'm no expert, but it sure looks to me like the evidence is pretty shaky. Here is one pretty old review:

Russell Seitz said...

Has Brian asked the EPA to take a bite out of CO2 emissions by mandating NO injection to boost vehicle engine efficiency on America's highways as well as its drag strips?

dlen said...

Sorry, but in my view this "VW killed x people by emitting more NOx as they said they would" - meme is kind of ridiculous. Why? Because those numbers are ridiculously small compared to the noise of deaths ocurring by all kinds of causes. Let's take the big hammer as an example. Every day (day!) 20.000 (or let it be 10.000) die from hunger and hunger related deseases.
Every year in the U.S.A. alone > 30.000 are killed in traffic accidents. A similar number in the E.U. So the very use of cars is killing and maiming orders of magnitude more people than the slightly higher emission.
How many people would be "killed" if VW would have made the cars keep the NOx emissions limit, but emit more CO2, because of the accelerated climate change then to expect? How many people are "killed" by the SUV frenzy through the same mechanism?
I am not saying, that it's not a bad thing to cheat and emit more NOx. I am saying: put it in perspective.