The Grumpy Old Man

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Diesel Engine Pollution

What effect is leaving diesel engines running having on pollution

Well, the hotel over the road is now closed, at least during the week for the winter, and the peace and quiet that has descended on the area is tremendous. Grumpy is absolutely delighted that he no longer has to put up with the self-centred and inconsiderate antics of the tour coach drivers. They seem to have little consideration for local residents, the environment or costs to their own company.

What actually prompted me to write about this now is an incident that occurred late last week just before the hotel closed. At about eight thirty in the evening (itself rather unusual) a large tour coach pulled up outside the hotel. It sat there for a good twenty minutes with the engine humping away while the passengers alighted. I accept the noise per se was not particularly loud but at that time of night one is very conscious of the low rumbling in the background. I sometimes wonder if these coaches actually have an off switch. Many of them arrive outside the hotel and sit there generating noise pollution and diesel fumes. I daresay the coach driver would claim the engine has to be left running in order to keep the air conditioning going and the heating on. But Grumpy would argue "what about the air condition of the environment?"

The arrival of this coach at this particular time was fairly unusual and the noise it generated just niggled. However later that night at three thirty in the morning the damn thing was back doing the same thing. It sat there for a good twenty minutes with the engine running loading up a gaggle of noisy drunken visitors.

For the coach to sit there with its engine running for a total of forty minutes generated a load of noise pollution (which I agree dissipated) but also generated what I am sure must have been a significant amount of longer lasting environmental pollution in the form of carcinogenic gases and carbon particles. The length of time this particular coach was there was in itself not significant, however if one adds up all the coaches and heavy goods vehicles around the world doing the same thing over and over again it is easy to see significant levels of pollution being generated.

If the coach driver turned off his engine, a small amount of this pollution would be avoided. He would also save on the cost of diesel he used. When this has happened during the day, I have on a couple of occasions asked the driver if he would kindly turn off his engine. In each instance all I got was a torrent of abuse. Finally, and not many drivers seem to know this, in some jurisdictions it is actually illegal for the driver of a vehicle to leave his driving seat while the engine is running.

From the hostile reaction Grumpy received, it would suggest that, in his heart of hearts, the driver knew he was wrong, knew he was upsetting local residents and he was somewhat embarrassed at being caught out. It would have been far more pleasant for all concerned if instead of being rude and arrogant, he had apologised and turned his engine off.

On a much wider front, it is interesting to note that the thinking on diesel engined vehicles seems to have done a complete about-face in recent months. People are at last acknowledging the gaseous pollution of even the more modern diesel cars although they are now fitted with filters in their exhaust systems to reduce the particulate carbon emissions.

It is high time people recognised that vehicle exhaust systems generate greenhouse gases. We can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to our responsibilities. The carbon particles generated by unfiltered diesel engines are discharged into the atmosphere from which they are washed out by precipitation. Some of this precipitation will fall as snow on glaciers. As the glacier melts, the melt water runs off leaving more and more of the carbon particles on the surface. As the level of this surface carbon increases, the surface of the glacier absorbs rather than reflects the sunlight. It is rather obvious that this will increase the rate at which the glacier melts. Since the carbon discharged into the atmosphere circulates freely around the globe in the atmosphere, the effect of this carbon particle concentration on the surface of glaciers is becoming increasingly apparent, even in places like the Antarctic.

It may not seem much, but earlier this year Mrs Grumpy and I hired a car. Like most hired cars these days it was the latest model. Being used to older vehicles I was a little taken aback when we stopped in very heavy traffic at traffic lights and the engine 'died'. At first it seemed we had broken down but Grumpy then realised when the accelerator was pressed, the engine restarted. This is a very common fuel saving and anti-pollution feature of new cars. It must be a cost effective feature as to achieve this must require additional parts to be added to the car. Car manufacture is very cost sensitive conversely, if it was not cost effective, it wouldn't have been fitted.

So you might ask, what difference would I make turning my car off for a few seconds or not leaving my coach engine running unnecessarily? Well to quote a well-known supermarket's slogan "every little helps". One can look at this in a number of ways the concerted efforts of the little man can move mountains but what is more important is that without those little efforts nothing will be moved. One has to start somewhere and the place to start is to chip off the corners of the problem as and when we identify them. After a while, one realises that the problem is either smaller or a totally different shape. Either way the problem must be resolved for if it's not God help the future of mankind.