Here's what the VW fraud is really going to cost us


Since Volkswagen’s massive emissions-cheating scheme was revealed last week, there’s been no shortage of appalled reaction. The company’s CEO has already resigned, and there’s talk of potential criminal charges in both US and Germany. In a flagrant example of corporate malfeasance, the company rigged computers on its diesel cars to pass emissions tests by temporarily reducing the output of nitrogen oxides (NOx), the stuff that causes smog.

Talk about German ingenuity: Once the cars sensed an emissions test was over, the engine’s gas mileage and responsiveness jumped up, and so did the amount of NOx it pumped out – as much as 40 times the legal limit.

But how bad is it, really?

We ran the actual numbers, looking at the cost of the excess pollution to society. On close inspection, it is less catastrophic than you might assume ― severe, to be sure, but short of the apocalypse portrayed by some. In fact, the long-term cost looks no worse than that of the climate-polluting carbon dioxide the cars pump out legally.

This doesn’t mean the fraud isn’t important. In fact, it will exact a measurable toll in human health. But measuring the real costs against the rhetoric is a reminder of just how broadly cars affect the world, and how much progress American air-quality laws have made in getting toxic emissions under control. (by Charles Komanoff, Politico)

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