Paris: a Permanent Solution to a Temporary Problem

Okay. Paris is steadily removing the internal combustion engine, particularly diesel power, the one that throws out those ultra fine particles that lodge far down in the lungs and are impossible to get rid of. Fine, it makes complete, contemporary sense.

The Daily Telegraph reported yesterday about the latest plans for further restrictions on cars and lorries within the Périphérique, click for more.

But before we take this seemingly sensible step – and it is we, the EU wants to ban fossil fuelled vehicles completely from cities by 2030, and all cars by 2050 – are we absolutely clear what we are about to throw away? Are we giving this apparent no-brainer decision the respect it deserves?

Personal, convenient, comfortable, efficient, flexible, affordable, on-demand, all-weather transport is one of humanity’s great achievements. Conversely, accepting that such a thing is no longer possible is by definition evidence that we’re on a downward slope.

It’s not the ranting of a fanatic to take some satisfaction in the amazing capability of the car. A machine, easily, democratically operated, able to drive around the entire planet probably without needing to change the oil or tyres, in comfort and style. Scott and Amundsen would be astounded.

But here’s the rub. Cars’ sophistication – and pace of development – largely depends on their economies of scale. But nearly 70% of EU citizens live in urban areas.

Ten people crammed into a lift is congestion, and possibly pollution too. The first traffic management scheme was allegedly introduced in Rome in 1300 for 200,000 pilgrims to the first Jubilee. We can safely say none of them were driving.

Getting rid of cars will not banish these twin evils from our world forever. At best it shifts the argument into another arena at an as yet unspecified date.

It’s also a conceit to image that what is bad for us now will also be bad for future generations. It’s perfectly possible that what currently looks chaotic will naturally settle down in time into a healthy, fully functioning system.

The car has only been around for a hundred years or so. Normal people have only been able to afford them for a third of that time. We are still getting to grips with them.

Already we’re told the young, urban generation is not showing as much interest in cars as their parents. People transport themselves via social media. Physical travel is no longer so important.

In this context it seems even more reasonable to curb the use of cars. Nobody wants them. But the next generation’s needs and desires is no guide to future generations’. We certainly shouldn’t be taking decisions that unthinkingly bind them. If anything it should make us more optimistic that the rebalancing we need is already occurring.

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