What We Can All Learn From the Volkswagen Emissions Scandal

| 10/14/2015 7:30:00 AM

Volkswagen already generates billions in profits every year, so many found it disturbing when news broke that the car manufacturer had flat-out cheated. The entire process was elaborately planned: Volkswagen used a software program that causes a vehicle's emissions to appear below the legal limit when monitoring equipment is hooked up, while also decreasing the exhaust's clean filtering system when the monitoring equipment is not attached. The result produced emissions approximately 10 to 40 times the legal limit.

Volkswagen's motive is predictably financial—since cars are generally less efficient when being filtered properly, Volkswagen used this software to tout impressive EPA fuel economy estimates and provide an additional incentive to consumers mulling the purchase of a diesel vehicle. This scandal is yet another in the wake of many corporate mishaps, from CEOs raising prescription drug costs for no reason other than profit to this recent event, which may end up costing Volkswagen up to $87 billion.

Volkswagen logo
Photo by Karen Roe.

While this scandal provokes plenty of ire about greed being the central component of capitalism, the most proactive response is to focus on what can be done by the individual or business who, unlike Volkswagen, sincerely aims to improve the environment.

Much of the anger directed toward this scandal is not just because it’s another company price-gouging or fudging numbers, but because the 10 to 40 times more harmful emissions can negatively impact us, our friends and families.

The Scandal’s Cost in Lives

“Scandal” is one word for this, but others can rightly refer to it as an environmental disaster—as it has certainly resulted in deaths. The New York Times estimates the death count since 2008 ranges from 106 to 146 due to the amount of additional tailpipe emissions, which are projected at 46 thousand tons. MIT professor Noelle Eckley Selin thinks there could be up to 40 more deaths than those numbers.