Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


I'll get to the evil part in a minute, but first I have to say that the stupidity of Volkswagen's executives is incomprehensible. Obviously they were going to get caught eventually. While corporate psychopathy is the norm, the billions of dollars drug companies make from fraudulent research and illegal off-label marketing far exceeds the fines they end up paying. They don't care about their brand image because people don't buy prescription drugs for the brand name, their doctors prescribe them.

This is different. VW is going to end up losing far more than any ill-gotten gains from selling a few more cars than they might have otherwise. I must also note that hundreds, if not thousands of VW employees must have known about this, but nobody ratted them out. That speaks to German efficiency and discipline, for sure.

Now, as for the evil part. I know that your average Republican thinks that regulating tailpipe pollution is tyranny, and that we have a God-given right to breathe oxides of nitrogen and ultra-fine particles. But here's the cold truth from my friends Doug Brugge and Wig Zamor. "PM2.5" means particles smaller than 2.5 microns. When motor vehicle fuel burns (gasoline or diesel, but diesel somewhat more so) vapor comes out of the tailpipe which then condenses into tiny particles -- you could call it hydrocarbon steam. Here's what Doug and Wig have to tell us:

[T]he most recent estimates still suggest that more than 100,000 Americans die each year, mostly from cardiovascular disease, from breathing in the (reduced) levels of PM2.5 that remain in our air. Indeed, PM2.5 appears to have health consequences similar to the effects of second hand smoke, an exposure that the public will no longer tolerate.

Most Americans are unaware that particulate pollution is the single most deadly pollution they face (and the pollutant of greatest economic consequence). Nor is there much awareness that existing regulations are inadequate. EPA is likely to propose lowering the PM2.5 standard modestly as part of a legally mandated review, a reduction that would save lives, but not eliminate the hazard. Despite the cautious nature of this proposal, EPA is under attack for “killing jobs” rather than lauded for trying to saving lives.
So the regulations aren't stringent enough, but VW was grossly violating them. That means they were killing people. For money. Throw the bastards in jail.

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