The New York Times article was pretty damning. In 2014, three German automakers funded a laboratory experiment in the American state of New Mexico which sought to make it appear that diesel fumes weren’t harmful to human beings.
The “study” — made known only when the story came out — had people around the globe howling in indignant protest. Ten monkeys were made to sit in airtight rooms while they cluelessly inhaled emissions coming out of the tailpipe of a diesel Volkswagen Beetle.
The car companies that financed the “research” were BMW, Daimler (Mercedes-Benz) and Volkswagen. With a healthy slice of their respective product lines boasting diesel propulsion, they all had a lot to lose from the rapidly deteriorating reputation of vehicles with oil-burners under the hood. In June 2012, for instance, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer officially classified diesel exhaust as “carcinogenic to humans.” Meaning you could develop cancer from breathing air contaminated with diesel emissions.
What investigators found was that the Beetle used in the experiment had been rigged such that it would emit far less harmful particles in a laboratory setting than it would in the real world. Obviously, a serious wrongdoing here is the willful intent to cheat. You will recall that Volkswagen had already run afoul of US regulators after equipping its diesel vehicles with a device that tampered with emissions tests in their favor — an offense that ultimately resulted in a $14.7-billion fine.
But an equally crucial transgression is the use of animals to accomplish what appears to be a political goal — a desperate lobbying effort to demonstrate to regulators and consumers that inhaling toxic diesel fumes is perfectly okay. What the Golf were they thinking?
Installing an emissions-cheating mechanism on cars was bad enough; making defenseless monkeys inhale diesel exhaust all day was the height of soulless idiocy. Finding out your favorite car brand refused to play by the rules in emissions tests would cause you to doubt its trustworthiness. Discovering it harmed animals just to advance its agenda would make you doubt its humanity.
Last week, Volkswagen announced that it had already suspended its chief lobbyist in the wake of the New York Times story. “The boundaries of decent and moral conduct were clearly crossed,” a Volkswagen official was quoted by Reuters as saying. “It appears as if some at VW have lost their ethical and moral bearings.”
Here’s the elephant in the room: What about Volkswagen Philippines and its diesel products? Surely, the distributor’s diesel cars are sourced from the same factories that spawned the fraudulent units. But the reality is this: Using our emissions standards — we only recently switched to Euro4 even as Western countries had moved up to Euro6 as early as 2014 — every single brand-new diesel car from Germany would be many times cleaner and environment-friendlier compared to the old jeepneys and trucks we still allow to run on our roads.
Think about it: The world got furious when 10 monkeys were forced to breathe toxic gases. Millions of Filipinos have been inhaling pollutants far worse than what those simians sucked into their lungs. Not to sound overly dramatic, but that’s the message being sent across by our inept government agencies every time they renew the registration documents of dilapidated vehicles that wouldn’t even pass for junk in other Asian countries — that the lives of apes have more value than those of Metro Manila residents. Chew on that thought.
The UK is now proposing “unlimited fines” for car manufacturers that deliberately sidestep exhaust regulations, while Germany is looking into the activities of two Bosch employees for their possible role in Chrysler’s own diesel emissions case in the US. What these tell us is that other nations take the air they breathe seriously. To them, contributing to a cleaner environment isn’t an option — it’s a must. Do so or go out of business (or even go to jail).
It’s time our lawmakers paid attention to what’s happening around the world. While others are vigorously fighting for their right to breathe clean oxygen, here we are willingly puffing noxious gases from rickety vehicles and imported discards on a daily basis.
Otherwise, we’re all better off caged in a zoo. Maybe there we’ll have a better chance of respiring speckless air.