Are diesel emissions a human rights violation?

The European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) was born on September 3rd 1953. It took a rather long time from then until it became an integral part of various national laws but today citizens of most European countries are able to directly invoke it before national courts in order to protect their rights.

Article 2 of the ECHR (Wikipedia) protects human life directly. It regulates the rights and obligations between public authorities and individuals in all member countries. The original version of article 2 still allowed for the selective use of capital punishment but this possibility had been abolished altogether with the 6th and the 13th additional protocol.

Back to something the normal human brain processes a little easier. The government may not kill you and it must also protect you from getting killed by others. Today this is interpreted as a very strong duty of protection from harm on the government and for the benefit of the individual.

The link with LNG is not readily apparent.

All European economies use diesel as their backbone fuel for most of their heavy logistics. Diesel has been touted the savior of the planet and our health but over the last couple of years, it has lost the sparkle. Today we know that Diesel exhaust contains some of the most potent toxins humanity knows. This is the reason why the WHO has classed diesel exhaust as being as carcinogenic as Arsenic, Asbestos and mustard gas.

Who protects my rights ...

Who protects my rights …

Proponents of diesel like to argue that as a result of successive emissions limitations, diesel has become clean as most of the stuff that harms us is filtered out. But not all the stuff is filtered out and even if vehicle makers had not cheated around even very mushy limits, the current testing procedures for new vehicles are laughable. Besides, current technology makes stuff like Particulate Matter ever (PM) finer enabling them to slip under the radar.

PM is one of the most potent poisons we can expose ourselves to and it’s exactly those fine particles that made the WHO classify diesel exhaust gas as extremely toxic and carcinogenic in 2012.

The most poisonous part of the PM is the ultra-fine dust. Those are particulates with a diameter of less than 2,5 micro meters. That’s about the size of average bacteria. Most particles are between 0,01 and 0,1 micro meters and they are highly toxic. I have explained the way those particles impact on our bodies in another articles but bear in mind that those particles are absolutely deadly. They enter the cells of our bodies and it’s very hard to get rid of them once they are in the cell. They are also laden with dangerous chemicals which they take into the cell as well.

This ultra-fine matter cannot be filtered out of the exhaust stream and hence goes straight from the engine into our lungs, the blood, the brain and all other organs. Paradoxically the new, so called clean diesels produce most of this ultra-dangerous stuff but I have explained this in other articles.

The Indian Supreme Court found in 2004 that pollution is an infringement against the right to live and it had ordered the Indian government to phase out diesel fuel. This is the foundation of the gas boom that has driven the countries drive for a better environment. Let me repeat the words of the Indian judges here:

It was because of the Supreme Court that the right to life and liberty, a fundamental right under Article 21, came to include the right to a healthy environment. As a result, an individual can approach it directly when the public interest is at stake due to environmental harm.

Courts in California and in Hong Kong have also found that diesel exhaust is a serious infringement on people’s rights and on their right to live. What’s the situation here in Europe like?

Absolute silence. The European Convention of Human Rights contains one of the clearest textual guarantees for the people in the member states and the ECHR is also directly applicable in all member states. All those governments are therefore obliged to protect its population from physical harm. Since the declaration of the WHO in 2012, someone should have taken action.

In L.C.B. v. United Kingdom (9th June 1998)  (http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-58176#{“itemid”:[“001-58176”]}) , the European Court of Human Rights has found that the State has an obligation to prevent an applicant’s life from being avoidably put at risk’. It also imposed on the authorities a general obligation to take appropriate steps to protect the lives of those within their jurisdiction through enacting laws with that effect and to coerce its administrations to produce regulation in order to prevent, stop and punish infringements.

Current emissions legislation only regulates diesel exhaust. They limit the amount that may be emitted. CO2 for example does not kill directly so the emission of CO2 should be OK although even this may be argued. CO2 is not toxic but only fuels global warming but then again, it can be recycled.

mrk-diesel3

Look how good Diesel was to us …

Diesel particulate matter on the other side is directly toxic so it must be prevented to enter our world even in small volumes. Statistics show that about 8000 persons die every year in Austria alone as a result of diesel pollution. That’s more than those who die from accidents.

Some European countries are taking concrete action. The Netherlands – as an example – encourages the use of LNG as a fuel which does not produce any particulates. Norway makes it more and more difficult to use diesel as a fuel because of numerous diesel restrictions and emissions free zones and Paris has already said that diesel shall be phased out and banned from the city.

In Öneryildiz v. Turkey (30 November 2004) (http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-67614#{“itemid”:[“001-67614”]}) , the ECHR found there is a right for protection from danger that the state must have reasonably known, it is accountable if authorities could have reasonably known of the danger a garbage dump represented. Since the 2012 WHO report the danger represented by diesel exhaust must be reasonably known to anyone. Ignorance does not protect authorities from sanction as the state must know what it is obligated to.

The ECHR obliges all member states to take all measures in order to protect us from mortal danger. It’s not enough to reduce the amount of poison. The danger must be averted. And the excuse of no alternative does not work in this case either. LNG can do anything that diesel does for about the same cost or cheaper and it does not produce the toxins that kill us.

We have an alternative and if we want so we have it now for reasonable cost. Any government that does not take action now must be regarded as guilty by omission. The rights of their own citizens are clearly not important to them. Voters, take note until next elections.

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