Two weeks after the news first broke, Volkswagen has finally addressed the enormous emissions scandal that its high-ranking personnel has perpetrated over the last half decade. The Canadian VW website has posted a brief open letter from Maria Stenström, the president and CEO of Volkswagen Canada, who first assures that VW auto dealers were not involved in the scandal and then apologizes on behalf of the company. There’s also a FAQ page with some very pertinent questions, though VW’s response to every one is essentially: “We don’t know.”
Full disclosure: I am currently leasing one of the affected cars, a 2013 Jetta TDI. Rather than voicing yet another consumer rant about how awful VW is (really, really awful), I’d like to address a core issue that is being largely overlooked: the huge environmental damage caused by these cars.
Most of the news reports have centred around the shockingly criminal level of fraud and corruption perpetrated by VW—and rightly so, for the magnitude of this transgression cannot be overstated. Other main focuses are economic and political: the damage to the German economy and reputation, or VW’s nosediving shares.
Very few sources are discussing the environmental damage that these 11 million cars have already caused, driving around the world belching out 10 to 40 times more pollution than advertised. When the environmental impact is mentioned, it’s usually framed around consumer anger that the fix—whatever and whenever that will be—will ruin the cars’ fuel economy.
Clean diesel has turned out to be every bit the oxymoron it sounded like when VW started marketing their cars as such. Automobiles are not clean. That a business as large as VW would choose fraud on an enormous scale over developing actual clean-emissions technology sends a very clear message: we haven’t solved the massive environmental and public health crises caused by vehicle emissions—not even close. It’s time to stop acting like we have.V