Remembering London’s morning diesel exhaust aroma…



As I digested my daily dose of economic, sports, and technology news earlier this month, one specific article caught my eye and immediately brought me back to my first days living in London circa 2004.  I remember distinctively those early days in London, every morning as I was leaving my apartment, the first thing my nose would notice is the strong and overpowering scent of diesel exhaust. Having relocated from Denver, Colorado, which is one of the greenest mid-tier cities in the world, the diesel exhaust in the London morning air was overpowering.

I still recall chatting with my new British co-workers and inquiring why there were so many cars and commercial delivery vans (usually in a bland white color) running on diesel in London, whereas in the U.S., I was mostly limited to encountering diesel vehicles that were either semi-trailers or large buses.  I was informed / educated that because diesel cars get better gas mileage than gas (petrol for the Brits) cars, they were preferred in many cases for both commercial and personal-use vehicles.  It took me a while to come around to the so-called advantages of diesel, but that didn’t stop me from covering my nose those first few months of waking up in London.

And with most things, after a few months, my nose acclimated to the smell, and for the remainder of my 5-year stint in London, I hardly even noticed the diesel fumes except on the few occasions when an out-of-tune bus, van, or car rolled by spewing large amounts of diesel exhaust.  That is until I stumbled onto this recent BBC article reporting that mayors of 4 major cities (Paris, Madrid, Mexico City, and Athens) committed to banning diesel vehicles from their cities.  This immediately caught my eye, and as I read more, it was all too clear that diesel exhaust actually has a significant negative impact to the air we breathe.

The further I read, the more validated I felt in peppering my London co-workers way back when on why so many vehicles were diesel and feeling that of course gas cars are superior when comparing just those two options.  Of course, with pure electric cars today, and the vast numbers of city-bike programs, there are even more ways to cut down the amount of exhaust fumes further and save that next expatriate moving to London from having to acclimate to diesel exhaust, and rather focus their attention on more important things, like coordinating colleagues to meet after work … at the pub  … on a Tuesday … at 4:30pm.

(top image courtesy of


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