By on July 16, 2010

When I was a young copywriter, I wrote about a catalytic converter that was just newly introduced to Volkswagen. I proudly wrote that it “removes all harmful substances.” The copy came back. I was told to say that it “largely reduces the amount of “ a list of strangely named substances. I said I would never subject the poor Volkswagen customers to such nonsense. I then was called to Wolfsburg and had a meeting with a gruff engineer. He said: “Look, that thing lowers the amount of some bad stuff. But it lets stuff through, it may even create stuff that is much worse. It’s just that nobody is looking for it!”

I was reminded of that episode when I read that “Volvo has called for greater openness about all harmful emissions from cars,” as the BBC has it.

Consumers are told how much carbon dioxide CO2 a car emits. Volvo’s UK’s managing director Peter Rask told BBC News that buyers should get the whole story: “We think it is time to give consumers information about all emissions,” he said. “We would like to see a new environmental label that would highlight this in a simple way.”

In a simple way? If I recall correctly, it would be a rather large label. Or it will have a lot of small print with many strange sounding substances.

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34 Comments on “Volvo Calls For The Truth About Tailpipe Emissions...”


  • avatar
    Stingray

    I guess how many other manufacturers will agree.

    Of course CO2 isn’t the only gases a car emit: NOx, HC, H20, particulate/soot and a myriad others are also present. But CO2 is the “main culprit” of global warming and hence IMO that’s why it gets the most attention.

    Now you woke up my curiosity about the bad stuff that is created.

  • avatar
    1996MEdition

    You mean to tell me that ULEV’s, SULEV’s, PLEV’s, etc…emit more than unicorn farts?

    Looking to mitigate possible lawsuits by the “green” countries down the road?? Sounds like a bunch of lawyers have taken over Volvo.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      “Sounds like a bunch of lawyers have taken over Volvo.”

      Only highly educated Chinese Lawyers, to go along with the new Chinese owners. On a related note, I saw my first Saab commercial in years last night and it was actually interesting.

  • avatar
    210delray

    Seems to me the most reasonable thing to do is to list the traditional “noxious” pollutants — HCs, CO, and NOx — plus particulates, and CO2, which until much more recently was not considered a pollutant, but an unavoidable byproduct of fossil fuel combustion.

  • avatar
    vww12

    That’s just Volvo taking the fight to the kings of diesel, the French brands. Diesels emit a bunch of stuff that gasoline cars do not, or do to a lesser extent. Imagine if rube consumers were to see a diesel emissions label.

    LOL @ the people concerned only about CO2: reminds me of the Swedes.

    In 1981, the fashionable Swedes voted to prohibit any new nuclear development, because nukes were the scare of the day.
    In 2010, the fashionable Swedes opened up the country for new nuclear development, because CO2 is the scare of the day, and nukes are of course squeaky clean, CO2-free sources of abundant power.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    The thing is… nobody cares about tailpipe emission chemistry except those who wish to regulate (tax) it. Each item listed will provide a new source of revenue to the government.

    And CO2 isn’t a problem – it’s plant food.

    • 0 avatar
      slance66

      +1 gslippy

      Back when LA had dozens of smog warnings every year, and Denver and Phoenix were shrouded in smog, along with many European cities, emissions were worth worrying about.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      The thing is, smog warnings still happen, and are still a problem. Toronto sees several hospitalizations and not a few deaths per year from poor air quality, and I’m certain that LA does as well.

      Saying “it’s not a problem” is a cop-out. It’s less of a problem, but that doesn’t mean we should just stop.

      CO2 is a problem because we produce more of it than the biosphere can reabsorb. Heck, we’ll reducing the biosphere’s carrying capacity at the same time we’re increasing emissions. So yes, it is a problem. It’s not a problem like NOX is, granted, but that’s more a matter of time than anything else.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Nguyen Van Falk

      So is nitrogen and phosphorus. Are those not pollutants either? CO2 is plant food, but there’s a whole lot less plans than there used to be and a whole lot more CO2 than there used to be in the atmosphere. So the chemical composition of the atmosphere is changing because of what we’re doing and that’s irrefutable. Something as enormous and complex and vital as the atmosphere should probably be protected, and at least not intentionally screwed with as much as possible. Of course i’m speaking of relatively modern times, I know there are temperature and chemical fluctuations over the course of thousands, millions and billions of years. Lots of plant food in places where there aren’t a lot of plants is a bad thing.

      Resistance to cleaner car emissions is silly. With all the extremely efficient 200-300+hp engines out there, I don’t really get the fear of further progress. Hell, a Z06 can tickle upper 20mpgs at 75mph. They’re not trying to take your toys away. You’ve read the “…and I said nothing” quote a few too many times, dude.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      @psarjinian, Dr. Nguyen Van Falk:

      I am not against emissions standards. I am not in favor of smog, which is demonstrably bad, but has improved dramatically thanks to tighter emissions standards.

      And I don’t honestly think the government wants to take my car away, although some zealots may harbor such a desire.

      I used the word “chemistry” because that is what this article is about. My point is that the average consumer doesn’t care about a bunch of chemical names posted on a label, because they:

      1. Don’t know what the chemical actually is.
      2. Don’t understand the chemical’s impact on their lives.
      3. Don’t understand the relative impact of that chemical emission in terms of the ‘big picture’.

      It’s akin to reading ‘disodium guanylate’ as an ingredient on a bag of tortilla chips – quite meaningless to most people.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      Unfortunately precursors of photochemical smog like unburned hydrocarbons and oxides of nitrogen have been conflated with CO2 as pollutants. Reducing trace amounts of the precursors of photochemical smog appears to measurably reduce local ground level ozone that can cause measurable harm to human health. High levels of ozone make your eyes water and make it uncomfortable to breathe. Reducing large emissions of CO2, only possible by reducing fuel consumption, may or may not have a measurable health benefit. Easy to justify catalytic converters to meet smog related health goals of the Clean Air Act, but I call BS on stretching the law to cover CO2 regulation too.

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      “And CO2 isn’t a problem – it’s plant food.”

      So is cow manure. The issue with both is having too much of it.

  • avatar
    morbo

    The real issue here is that your puny, inferior human minds cannot handle basic science. Most humans couldn’t explain the differnce between elements and compounds. Explain catalytic byproducts of hydrocarbon combustion will reduce you humans to mindless eyePhone toting, American Idol voting, “They took our JERBS” immgrant hating, Global warming denying, Global Warming DeathHype believing, slobbering zombies.

    Or as Toyota, Apple, BP, and Citibank call them, customers.

  • avatar
    stationwagon

    I think too much of a brouhaha is made over CO2, I would much rather have a car that emits coal plant levels of CO2 and no SOx and no NOx and other noxious gases. The way people talk about CO2 would make you think it is some awful, unnatural substance which didn’t exist before the industrial revolution. I don’t think global warming is man-made, which decreases my support for carbon taxes and corporate CO2 regulations. I am an environmentalist, I hate dirty water and benzene and asbestos and radioactive waste and acid rain. I think it awful to see plastic and styrofoam on the ground, I hate seeing waste and I hate seeing trash. The point is CO2 is not a danger to anyone, and should be low on the government’s environmental agenda.

  • avatar
    sastexan

    I think we should all wear buttons detailing the amount of CO2 that comes out of our mouths every day.

    Really?

    How about the amount of methane that comes out of the cows that make up your McDonalds burger? And your glass of milk?

    The fact is, 98% of consumers could care less about the byproducts (think strip mining for nickel for those treasured Prius batteries) – they only care about what directly affects them – generally, that means cash (or status symbols). Hence we have a gas guzzler tax in the US. The gas tax really doesn’t count – it doesn’t even cover the cost of maintaining our infrastructure.

    If the federales want consumers to care about emissions, tax it.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Just a few points:

      The concern with carbon is specifically with previously-locked carbon sources. Anything that’s already part of the biosphere (eg, breathing) is a non-issue, really.

      Nickel mines don’t send most, or even much, of their output to batteries, and old-school strip-mines aren’t really that common anymore, at least in the developed world.

      I would think that warning labels and disclosure would be preferred, especially among free-marketeers, to legislation and taxation

    • 0 avatar
      Lumbergh21

      Do you mean fossil fuels? Those “previously locked carbon sources” that were previously living organisms consuming CO2 and growing in the case of plants or consuming plants and growing in the case of herbivores, which would then release the CO2 that plant had converted (along with other elements) into cellulose. Then other plants would use that CO2. It’s a cycle sort of thing, and it is still going. Now though, we have much less plant and animal life involved. Could it be possible that with the release of the locked carbon sources, we could see an increase in plant growth?

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      You might see more plant life. Eventually. The biosphere tends to try and balance itself. Eventually.

      The problem is, we don’t really know how long it will take to balance, what the balance will look like, or how chaotic the swings will be on the way. Personally, I’d rather not find out that the way to greening the arctic in a hundred years will turn the midwest into a dustbowl in fifty and acidify chunks of the Pacific ocean.

      The “it’s a cycle” argument always bothered me because it seems like people use it to abdicate responsibility for their lifestyle. You can spread feces on your lawn, too, and eventually it’ll get dealt with by the biosphere, but the interregnum is a bitch.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    This stuff is already listed, in a way, as part of the EPA or Euro emissions standards (eg, Tier 2, Bin 5, Euro IV, etc).

    I do agree this isn’t presented at all well. The Tier/Bin system isn’t helpful for consumers and tends to define the minimum, not relative, scores. On the other hand, scores for specific emissions are potentially too easy to game; I recall the CO2 “bands” being optimistic at best.

  • avatar
    don1967

    Good luck trying to shake us out of our one-variable slumber. We like our weight problems caused by carbs, our crimes caused by “society”, and our global warming apocalypses caused by automotive CO2 emissions. Don’t confuse us with facts.

  • avatar
    red60r

    I spent a year or so commuting (in my Volvo 122-S) into downtown Detroit on the Lodge Expressway back in the early ’70s. In the morning rush hour, there was enough crud poured into the air along the part of the trip that was in a deep cut below street level that I usually arrived at my office with a headache. The walk from the roof parking at Cobo Hall only partially cleared away the cobwebs. Stuck in the usual stop and go sections, I could see those little plumes of smoke rising from the crankcase vents under the engines of nearby cars. Fords, I recall, were among the worst offenders.

  • avatar

    Carbon and carbon sequestration are worries that take up entirely too much of people’s time.

    For one: CO2 may be a greenhouse gas, but human emissions are not the biggest contributor to CO2 levels… and automotive CO2 emissions are literally a puff in the wind compared to greenhouse emissions from cattle (I believe that bio-methane… if we could figure out a way to scale up production without giving over huge amounts of land to massive digester tanks… is a viable future source of power)…

    For another: those other pollutants are important and are the primary causes of smog.

    A CO2 mandate is a fuel economy mandate by another name. Makes more sense to simply have a fuel economy mandate because, surprise, surprise… the less you use, the less CO2 you emit. Even if your fuel is biological in origin and you’re simply returning it to the environment… by using less of that biofuel, you’re keeping more carbon sequestered… locked away in your corn-alcohol / veggie-oil fuel tank.

    And lastly, since climate change and climate science became politicized, there has been more focus on buzz-words (carbon tax, anthropogenic global warming, etcetera) and the political leverage to be gained from these than an actual comprehensive understanding of the mechanisms of climate change and how we should actually address it.

    It’s funny how pollution politics work out… those tons of sulfur we used to pour into the air before we legislated them away actually delayed global warming more than the CO2 emissions that went with them accelerated it.

    And then there’s the whole pesky solar activity thing… as solar activity has a demonstrable effect on climate… to the point that changes in solar activity have been linked to the “Little Ice Age” and the current slowing in the general warming trend.

    I do agree with curbing emissions. I do agree that finding alternatives is in our best interests. But the manner in which this is being done and presented ignores some facts in favor of others… and in the long run, we may be wasting energy (and emissions of CO2… and non-renewable energy resources) chasing unrealistic goals whose benefits are not worth the cost.

  • avatar
    AaronH

    Complete HC oxidation:
    N + O2 + HC -> H2O + CO2 + N

    Water is the major “greenhouse gas” since CO2 is only 0.035% of the entire atmosphere.

    How is starving plants of CO2 considered “Green”…Is that a public school thing?

    • 0 avatar
      srogers

      I guess that you missed the part where CO2 production is up while the planet is being deforested. The plants are not ‘starving’ for CO2.

      Maybe public school would have given you a clue.

    • 0 avatar
      Lumbergh21

      Maybe in an ideal world that is the totallity of the reaction; however, in the real world where that reaction is taking place at high temperature and pressure, the nitrogen reacts with some of the oxygen, producing NOX (NO2 and NO3), and not all of those hydrocarbons are burned as there is very little time allowed for the reaction to occur in an internal combustion engine. Other impurities in the air and fuel produce other byproducts. Quite frankly, it’s these other products that kill plant and animal life, not CO2.

  • avatar
    colin42

    The price of entry is compliance with the relevant emissions standard of the region which normally deal with NOx, CO, HC, PM etc. What’s the point of telling the public how much PM is produced? Yes gasoline produces PM as well – and should do this via a mass or particle count, so many choices, so much confusion, so little benefit

    CO2 on the other hand is directly linked to fuel consumption and in much of Europe vehicle tax so it’s a key factor in the operating cost of the car.

    On a side note a couple of years ago I had lots of fun confusing a salesman who was trying to tell me that the ULEV I was looking at didn’t produce emissions – He couldn’t understand that CO2 & Water & Heat etc are all emissions!

  • avatar
    AaronH

    “I guess that you missed the part where CO2 production is up while the planet is being deforested”

    Then CO2 production is a good thing then.

    Is that the kind of “clue” you get at your publik skool?

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      What he means is that there’s a limited amount of CO2 that plant life can sequester, and we’re making that limit lower through deforestation and desertification, all the while we’re releasing more CO2 into the atmosphere.

      You’ll note that, despite plant life and the carrying capacity of the ocean**, atmospheric CO2 is still increasing. Again, that’s because there’s only so much the biosphere can absorb.

      Let me put it to you this way: take a 90% full barrel of water. Add a cup every minute while removing only half a cup. Now, drop a fist-sized rock in it every minute as well. See what happens to the water level?

      ** which, by the way, is doing bad things to certain parts of the oceans’ ability to support life

    • 0 avatar
      stationwagon

      @psarhjinian
      Are you implying that the current loads of CO2 are higher than the planet can handle? Do you believe the current amounts of CO2 are going to lead to a global warming catastrophe? Because I see no reason to believe that the current amounts of CO2 poses a threat to anyone, the only way of thinking that says CO2 is a threat is CO2-man-made global warming. Which I used to believe in, hell I saw “Inconvenient Truth” and got scared. Now I don’t believe in man-made global warming, and I don’t believe it will flood the coast and desertify the inland and cause millions of people to die and be a human extinction event. The weather has always been harsh and unpredictable, if we care about Earth we should focus on pollution not CO2 emissions and global warming, never believe that global warming and true pollution are the same. Dumping Mercury into the ocean doesn’t increase the Earth’s temperature, but CO2 emitted by every animal on Earth supposedly does. I think it is time for people to get their priorities straight.

    • 0 avatar
      stationwagon

      @psarhjinian
      Are you implying that the current loads of CO2 are higher than the planet can handle? Do you believe the current amounts of CO2 are going to lead to a global warming catastrophe? Because I see no reason to believe that the current amounts of CO2 poses a threat to anyone, the only way of thinking that says CO2 is a threat is CO2-man-made global warming. Which I used to believe in, hell I saw “Inconvenient Truth” and got scared. Now I don’t believe in man-made global warming, and I don’t believe it will flood the coast and desertify the continent and cause millions of people to die and be a human extinction event. The weather has always been harsh and unpredictable, if we care about Earth we should focus on pollution not CO2 emissions and global warming, never believe that global warming and true pollution are the same. Dumping Mercury into the ocean doesn’t increase the Earth’s temperature, but CO2 emitted by every animal on Earth supposedly does. I think it is time for people to get their priorities straight.

      P.S I think atmospheric CO2 is the last thing a person concerned about the ocean should worry about. There is that huge patch of garbage in the Pacific; and agricultural run-off from the Mississippi River causing the “dead zones” in the Gulf Of Mexico which I think you are referring to, Plus the catastrophic oil spill.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Are you implying that the current loads of CO2 are higher than the planet can handle?

      To be clear, I said biosphere, not planet, but yes. That the amount of CO2 is going up is evidence of that. At some point, yes, it will rebalance, but we don’t know when or how that might happen.

      Do you believe the current amounts of CO2 are going to lead to a global warming catastrophe?

      Define “catastrophe”. Do I think we’ll be boiled alive? No. Do I think we might see changes in climate that could, in turn, drive social and economic changes we don’t like? Yes, and we’re seeing some if it now.

      Dumping Mercury into the ocean doesn’t increase the Earth’s temperature, but CO2 emitted by every animal on Earth supposedly does

      No, no, no. The CO2 in question isn’t that which is already part of the biosphere (breathing, rot, cow flatulence), it’s the stuff that’s been sequestered under the surface of the earth (or dissolved in the oceans) for millions of years that’s being released en masse.

      There is that huge patch of garbage in the Pacific; and agricultural run-off from the Mississippi River causing the “dead zones” in the Gulf Of Mexico which I think you are referring to

      No, what I’m talking about is ocean acidification due to an increase in atmospheric CO2. It has the potential to cause real problems for microscopic sea life, which in turn ripples right up the food chain.

      Most people don’t even think about ocean acidification as an effect of CO2 increase, and what it might mean for food stocks. That we don’t know what AGCC might cause is held up by skeptics as proof that the theory is flawed when what it really ought to do is cause some concern by way of unpredictability: we don’t know what could happen, and while in geological terms it’ll all pan out evnetually, in human terms it might be unpleasant.

      So why not try to avoid it happening so that we can keep things more or less as they are today?

      If this sounds “wishy-washy”, that’s the nature of science. The tune of the scientific establishment hasn’t really changed on this; the media, unfortunately, didn’t really “get” the nuances of the science and ran in entirely the wrong direction.

  • avatar
    shaker

    There will be no “iron-clad” proof of AGW before it’s too late to reverse the initial effects.
    The fact that conservatives have successfully framed the argument into another “redistribution of wealth” paradigm will have many flocking to the “science” of the opposition.

    Even a partial sacrifice of the comforts afforded to us by (artificially) low-priced energy is “Anti-American”, especially if that sacrifice would benefit poor people in the (seemingly far-off) future, in far-flung places.

    Many who deny AGW are merely afraid of any downgrade to their present lifestyle, and choose the easy answers, many of which (thanks to Exxon, et. al.) are in plentiful supply.

    A donation to the collection basket at church on Sunday should ease any lingering doubt of one’s charitable intents.

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