Thursday, 29 October 2015

Jeremy Clarkson

The recent VW exhaust emissions affair has been correctly identified by George Monbiot of The Guardian as an example of corporate crime. We’ve come to expect sleazy behaviour from bankers but it’s a disappointment when the engineers are at it too. In this case the damage has been to our health rather than our pension funds. Some of those VW diesel powered cars are emitting more than 4000 times the legally permitted limits. These emissions are nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide, substances known to cause emphysema, bronchitis and heart disease. They are also carcinogenic. So who would be balmy enough to defend such an act? Jeremy Clarkson that's who.

Now, in a belated attempt to explain their problem VW have borrowed a strategy from the financial sector by inventing a counterpart to the rogue trader – the rogue programmer.  In their public statements VW, rather than admitting a corporate responsibility, have attributed the creation of the software used to ‘game’ the emissions test to rogue programmers. This, if I may say as an engineer and one time programmer, is about as likely as someone adding an extra wheel to the car without anyone noticing.

The engine management unit, it is said, has a calibration mode which is invoked when the car is on the emissions test equipment. It’s not difficult to determine if a vehicle is likely to be on an emissions test stand – and then select the calibration mode. Seemingly by detecting when only the driven wheels are turning. Simple, yet such software still needs to be specified, designed, programmed and tested. And it will, somewhere, be documented.  It’s ludicrous to suggest that this would be done independently by a couple of software guys.  Of course, had VW really come up with a way to produce such power, fuel efficiency AND a clean exhaust without recourse to large scale use of exhaust additives this would have been huge news within the corporation, all senior executives would have been in the know.

Remarkable is the fact that VW believe that the public are gullible enough to swallow the rogue programmer story. Though I suspect that without the 'rogue programmer' trope VW would lay themselves open to conceding actual corporate responsibility. This would be tantamount to admitting that criminal negligence was part of their corporate culture.

The sad part is of course that the general public, in large percentage, are already swallowing large volumes of expensively generated misinformation produced in the interests of climate change denial. Useful idiots such as Jeremy Clarkson, who made a name for himself by portraying the stereotypical golf club racist bigot, has sprung to the defence of VW and has come out in support of their strategy of hiding the emissions of poisonous gasses.  

So, what does Clarkson say about Dieselgate?

Firstly that creating cheat software to defeat the emissions test was actually the right thing for VW management to do. (Clarkson either made his statement before the VW rogue programmer story was promoted or he didn't believe it either.) And for the following reasons:
a.      That this whole exhaust gas business is just a silly fuss dreamed up by woolly minded environmentalists and Eurocrats. (In the lexicon of professional climate change deniers such as Clarkson those with concern for the environment are always described as woolly minded.)

b.     Clarkson also states that  NOx occurs in great quantities naturally.  It's true that NOx can be produced naturally by lightning strikes but the quantities produced thus are trivially small. They cannot be compared to the NOx at ground level in a city centre produced by diesel vehicles.

c.      Then, in an apparent attempt to prove a double think among environmentalists, Clarkson goes on to claim that the use of diesel fuel was first promoted by environmentalists. In fact big claims were made for  clean diesel by the auto industry, (encouraged by a fuel industry eager to maintain market share). And it seems to be true that diesel engines  produce less CO2 than an equivalent petrol engine. (CO2 is a greenhouse gas that must be reduced in order to avoid further global warming.)  Mercedes Benz even seem to have a cleaner diesel engine. Their system requires a urea additive – a consumable that must be regularly replenished. This offers the possibility that diesels can be cleaned up. But VW didn't manage it.

d.      In a final orgasmic burst of doublethink Clarkson claims it is through the mass marketing of VW diesels the German economy has become strong enough to accept all those asylum seekers. That the doyen of the subtle racist slur should choose such an argument is certainly audacious.  And misses the point that had VW applied its considerable engineering resources to hybrid and electric vehicles the German economy would be just as strong and the atmosphere considerably cleaner.

Of course, it’s impossible to know whether Jeremy Clarkson actually believes anything that he says. He claims not to like electric cars and he’s had a legal tussle with Tesla over an electric car demonstration on Top Gear where the car supposedly ran out of power. Tesla knew from their on-board logging that the stunt was staged. There were similar complaints when Top Gear tested another electric car, the Nissan Leaf. This antipathy to new technology makes him seem like one of those guys who shouted out ‘get a horse’ at broken down Edwardian motorists. Top Gear on Electric cars

But one new technology Clarkson does have a good word for is hydrogen power. Commercial hydrogen production is mainly from fossil fuels by the petroleum industry.  And commercial hydrogen production using the steam reforming method generates huge quantities of CO2 commercial hydrogen_production So, shouldn't we be a little suspicious when the famous petrolhead finally does accept an alternative to petroleum and the new fuel that he raves about is manufactured by Exxon and Shell?

Now a BBC producer recently offended Clarkson by comparing him to Jimmy Savile. Now why would that be?

The BBC having been the means to facilitate a celebrities behaviour turned into a major embarrassment for the BBC when Jimmy Savile was finally outed. I think Clarkson got the push because the BBC didn't have the stomach for another scandal. The Top Gear Live show is sponsored by Shell Petroleum. So how much of Clarkson's predisposition to knock environmentalism and electric vehicles is there because Shell are stumping up the cash?

My guess is that the BBC have been looking for an opportunity to dump Clarkson for some time and big sighs of relief were breathed when he finally gave them one. Clarkson's gone, as you might say, toxic.

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