The Environmental Impact of Diesel Automobiles: Debunking Myths and Facts


When a diesel engine is running, it emits a lot of soot and other particles into the air. This is a huge problem because it causes lung problems and leads to respiratory illnesses like asthma and can even cause heart diseases. These diseases can lead to expensive medical treatment, loss of work or even death. The pollution also harms the environment, for example, it creates acid rain which damages soil, lakes and streams. It can also reduce visibility and kills vegetation. On the other hand, when a diesel automobile is equipped with a particulate filter it can significantly reduce its emissions.

It can reduce the car’s NO x emission by up to 90% and its particulate emissions by up to 50%. It is important to note that this benefit only applies when the diesel engines are properly maintained. Many European drivers have been lured by government fuel tax incentives into switching to diesel vehicles based on alleged carbon dioxide savings. However, the alleged CO2 reductions are largely due to overall efficiency improvements in all vehicle categories, including both petrol and diesel cars.

As a result, the CO2 emission advantage of diesel cars is quite moderate and can be close to absent if measured against modernized petrol-driven vehicles. In addition to CO2, diesel engines produce other toxic substances, such as nitrous oxide and soot. Nitrous oxide is a greenhouse gas and can contribute to climate change, while soot is a known carcinogen. Exposure to these toxic emissions can lead to lung disease and even cancer, especially for children and the elderly. In addition, diesel exhaust can trigger ground-level ozone which affects crops and trees and harms water quality.

It can also contribute to the formation of acid rain which destroys soil, lakes and streams and can enter the human food chain through water, produce, meat and fish. The best practice debunking strategies include using images to support correct explanations (Cook and Lewandowsky 2011; Dan 2021). Research shows that debunking texts with a scientifically created image have higher persuasive effects than the same text without an image. The use of images also increases the perceived credibility of the message.