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Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace demand answers from Transport Secretary on VW scandal

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Both Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth have written to the government to ask if ministers knew before this month that VW was fixing emissions tests. Greenpeace has also published new data revealing the extent of the car lobby’s power in Brussels.

Greenpeace has written to Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin and Environment Secretary Liz Truss, posing four questions:

– Did the government know before this month about the existence of so-called ‘defeat devices’?

– If it did, what did it do to combat efforts by car manufacturers to fix emissions tests?

– If the government was aware of the existence of ‘defeat devices’, did it discuss the issue with manufacturers of diesel cars? If so, how many meetings took place, who attended and what was the outcome?

– What action did the government take to investigate the reported discrepancies between NOx measurements registered in testing, and so-called ‘on the road’ performance, in which NOx emissions were substantially higher?

Greenpeace has also today published figures showing the extent of lobbying in Brussels by manufacturers of so-called low-emission diesel cars.

Publicly available industry data shows that in 2014, manufacturers of diesel vehicles built to comply with the European Union’s new emissions standards, known as Euro 6, spent up to €18.5 million lobbying the EU and employed 184 lobbyists. This included 51 lobbyists who were granted passes giving them access to European Parliament premises.

Volkswagen alone employed 43 lobbyists and spent €3.3 million lobbying in Brussels, making it one of the biggest spenders on lobbying in the EU. The figures, drawn from the EU’s voluntary transparency register, are likely to be a conservative estimate of actual lobbying spend as they are provided by the companies themselves and are not independently reviewed.

In a written answer to a German parliamentary question, the transport ministry in Berlin said on July 28 that both the German government and the European Commission were aware of “defeat devices” – the industry name for the software that allowed VW to cheat emissions tests. In its answer, the ministry wrote that it shared “the view of the European Commission that there is no extensively proven means of preventing defeat devices.”

Greenpeace activists also turned up today outside the VW headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany, where the company’s board is meeting. They displayed a banner with the slogan: ‘No more lies!’.

John Sauven, Greenpeace UK executive director, said: “As evidence emerges that the German government and the European Commission knew about the test-cheating software, people will be wondering why it took the Americans to expose it. The extent of the car makers’ lobbying power could provide some clues to the answer

“This scandal is not about a slide in a company’s share price, it’s about heart attacks, lung disease and loss of life. Air pollution has for too long been the great neglected environmental emergency.

“The UK government has been caught lobbying on behalf of polluters from the transport and power sectors before. It’s time for our ministers to be completely transparent on what they knew and when about the pollution fix scandal. Many people will want to know which matters more to our government – the polluters’ profits or the health of their citizens.”

In a similar move Friends of the Earth Chief Executive Craig Bennett has written to the Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin. In his letter he says: “VW’s cheating of US emissions regulations will have led to many premature deaths as a result of the air pollution the additional emissions will have caused.

“If the same proves the case here, and manufacturers have been cheating regulators, then some of the UK’s annual 52,000 premature deaths as a result of air pollution will be attributable to their deception.

“We are particularly concerned at suggestions that governments may have known for some time about attempts to cheat the regulators and we would like you urgently to confirm how much was known by your department and when.

“And while we welcome your commitment to an investigation, this must be ruthlessly independent, wide-ranging, immediate, well-resourced and only the start of a programme of urgent action.

“Air pollution in the UK is second only to smoking as a cause of premature death, and kills more people than alcohol and more than obesity. It also hits the most vulnerable and disadvantaged hardest.

“The UK has a woeful record. 37 of the UK’s 43 Air Quality Zones are still failing pollution limits set by Europe to protect health, even after the final compliance date expired this year, and your government has recently been ordered by the UK Supreme Court to produce new plans to tackle the problem in the shortest possible time. Diesel is a major contributor.

“On behalf of the tens of thousands of people whose lives are shattered by losing loved ones to air pollution, the many, many more whose lives are blighted by ill health due to breathing poor air, and the millions of motorists who have been deceived about how clean their vehicles are, Friends of the Earth urges you to:

– Ensure the UK inquiry is wholly independent, wide-ranging, and immediate so that key information feeds into the new Air Quality plans the government has to produce by the end of the year following the Supreme Court ruling.

– Accelerate the development of the framework for a network of Clean Air Zones, and develop plans to phase out diesel by the earliest feasible date, starting with an immediate ban of the worst-polluting vehicles in the most polluted places.

– In the meantime, launch a scrappage scheme to encourage motorists to get rid of diesel vehicles, remove the current road tax incentive for diesel over petrol, and offer better incentives for vehicles which are both low air polluting and low carbon.

“Our strong view is that diesel sells UK motorists a fundamental lie. VW’s cheating exposes the fact that as a technology it is simply not capable of delivering fuel efficiency and performance while reducing CO2 emissions and doing what is required to tackle air pollution.

“As well as cleaner vehicles, to square this circle, the UK urgently needs a transport strategy that cuts air pollution dramatically by reducing traffic levels and congestion. It’s time to take the car keys away from motor manufacturers, regulate their emissions tightly and effectively, and aim for a revolution to end diesel use. We must work towards a vision where every possible journey is taken safely on a bike or on foot, and in which there is clean, affordable public transport for longer journeys.”

Environment

Build, Buy, Or Retrofit? 3 Green Housing Considerations

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green housing techniques

Green housing is in high demand, but it’s not yet widely available, posing a serious problem: if you want to live an eco-friendly lifestyle, do you invest in building something new and optimize it for sustainability, or do you retrofit a preexisting building?

The big problem when it comes to choosing between these two options is that building a new home creates more waste than retrofitting specific features of an existing home, but it may be more efficient in the long-run. For those concerned with waste and their environmental footprint, the short term and long term impacts of housing are in close competition with each other.

New Construction Options

One reason that new construction is so desired among green living enthusiasts is that it can be built to reflect our highest priorities. Worried about the environmental costs of heating your home? New construction can be built using passive solar design, a strategy that uses natural light and shade to heat or cool the home. Builders can add optimal insulation, build with all sustainable materials, and build exactly to the scale you need.

In fact, scale is a serious concern for new home buyers and builders alike. Individuals interested in green housing will actively avoid building more home than they need – scaling to the square foot matter because that’s more space you need to heat or cool – and this is harder to do when buying. You’re stuck with someone else’s design. In this vein, Missouri S&T’s Nest Home design, which uses recycled shipping containers, combines the tiny home trend with reuse and sustainability.

The Simple Retrofit

From an environmental perspective, there’s an obvious problem with building a new home: it’s an activity of mass consumption. There are already 120 million single-family homes and duplexes in the United States; do we really need more?

Extensive development alone is a good enough reason to intelligently retrofit an existing home rather than building new green structures, but the key is to do so with as little waste as possible. One option for retrofitting older homes is to install new smart home technology that can automate home regulation to reduce energy use.

Real estate agent Roxanne DeBerry sees clients struggle with issues of efficiency on a regular basis. That’s why she recommends tools like the Nest Thermostat, which develops a responsive heating and cooling schedule for the home and can be remotely adjusted via smartphone. Other smart tools for home efficiency include choosing Energy Star appliances and installing water-saving faucets and low-pressure toilets. These small changes add up.

Big Innovations

Ultimately, the most effective approach to green housing is likely to be aggressive retrofitting of everything from period homes to more recent construction. This will reduce material use where possible and prevent further aggressive land use. And finally, designers, activists, and engineers are coming together to develop such structures.

In the UK, for example, designers are interested in finding ways to adapt period houses for greater sustainability without compromising their aesthetics. Many have added solar panels, increased their insulation levels, and recently they even developed imitation sash triple glazed windows. As some have pointed out, the high cost of heating these homes without such changes will push these homes out of relevance without these changes. This is a way of saving existing structures.

Harvard is also working on retrofitting homes for sustainability. Their HouseZero project is designed for near-zero energy use and zero carbon emissions using geothermal heating and temperature radiant surfaces. The buildings bridge the gap between starting over and putting up with unmanageable heating and cooling bills.

It will take a long time to transition the majority of individuals to energy efficient, green housing but we’re headed in the right direction. What will your next home be like? As long as the answer is sustainable, you’re part of the solution to our chronic overuse – of land, energy, water, and more.

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Environment

How the Auto Industry is Lowering Emissions

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auto industry to clean air pollution

Currently, the automotive industry is undergoing an enormous change in a bid to lower carbon emissions. This has been pushed by the Government and their clean air plans, where they have outlined a plan to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2040.

Public Health Crisis

It is said that the levels of air pollution lead to 40,000 early deaths in the UK, with London being somewhere that is particularly bad. This has led to the new T-Charge, where heavy polluting cars will pay a new charge on top of the existing congestion charge. Other cities have taken action too, with Oxford recently announcing that they will be banning petrol and diesel cars from the city centre by 2020.

Eco-Friendly Vehicles

It is clear that the Government is taking action, but what about the auto industry? With the sale of petrol and diesel plummeting and a sharp rise in alternatively fuelled vehicles, it is clear that the industry is taking note and switching focus to green cars. There are now all kinds of fantastic eco-friendly cars available and a type to suit every motorist whether it is a small city car or an SUV.

Used Cars

Of course, it is the cars that are currently on the road that are causing the problem. The used car market is enormous and filled with polluting automobiles, but there are steps that you can take to avoid dangerous automobiles. It is now more important than ever to get vehicle checks carried out through HPI, as these can reveal important information about the automobile’s past and they find that 1 in 3 cars has a hidden secret of some kind. Additionally, they can now perform recall checks to see if the manufacturer has recalled that particular automobile. This allows people to shop confidently and find vehicles that are not doing as much damage to the environment as others.

Public Perception

With the rise in sales of alternatively fuelled vehicles, it is now becoming increasingly more common to see them on UK roads. Public perception has changed drastically in the last few years and this is because of the air pollution crisis, as well as the fact that there are now so many different reasons to switch to electric cars, such as Government grants and no road tax. A similar change in public opinion has happened in the United States, with electric car sales up by 47% in 2017.

Progress

The US is leading the way for lowering emissions as they have declined by 758 million metric tons since 2005, which is the largest amount by far with the UK in second with a decline of 170 million metric tons. Whilst it is clear that these two nations are doing a good job, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in order to improve the air quality and stop so many premature deaths as a result of pollution.

With the Government’s plans, incentives to make the change and a change in public perception, it seems that the electric car revolution is fully underway.

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