Crying into the "yellow vest"


Philippe Huguen / AFP

Twenty years ago, it was believed that all of us will be covered by the ozone hole, and the time is coming. For a long time we have not heard about it. Now other terms are in use, although they may mean approximately the same thing. The main focus is not to stop saving ourselves. The most important thing is the process.

In Europe, ecology is a matter of concern like nowhere else. One of the recent measures is the creation of «Low Emission Zones» for nitrogen dioxide and other harmful gases (ZFE — French acronym). There are now about three hundred such zones. The point is that all cars are classified into six Crit’Air categories — from 0 to 5. The zero category includes cars with electric and hydrogen engines. The fifth category includes diesel cars manufactured before 2001, i.e. veterans of the road.

It is up to the municipalities to determine who should be banned from the street. Diesel cars manufactured before 2011, for example, belong to the 2nd category, and gasoline cars of the same year — to the 1st category. It is clear that cars with Crit’Air 5 are the first to be hit. They are not allowed to enter the ZFE at all.

The European Court of Human Rights since 2019 periodically points out France’s lagging behind in the fight for clean air, monetizing the remarks with fines. On January 1, the French president decided to introduce «Zones» in four more major cities — Lyon, Grenoble, Strasbourg and Montpellier. This is in addition to the eleven already in place. And in one year, the number of ZFEs should increase fourfold and exceed four dozen.

«This measure in itself is not unreasonable», comments Richard Ardouin of the Association «France, Nature, Environment», «We are not against it. But the main thing is, who will be responsible for the consequences»?

The fact is that in the long term this measure will put millions of cars on eternal parking. This, in turn, means that a lot of people risk losing their jobs. In French suburbs and small towns, public transportation is a disaster. In Clermont-Ferrand, for example, there are only 150 thousand inhabitants, they work mainly in Lyon, but after the introduction of the ZFE, you can’t even get on the buses, and life became unbearable. And then they also introduced bike lanes, reducing those for automobiles….

People in the suburbs can’t afford new cars. It’s not a choice, it’s a necessity. The government, however, has introduced grants for the purchase of electric cars and some of them can help reduce the price by as much as 27 percent, but the amount must not exceed 5,000 euros. Even so, not everyone has that kind of spare cash.

Last year, one of the first cities to wake up was Rouen. There the demonstrations were held just like a TV series called «Rouen — a dead city». Marseille followed. Even the police do not go to its famous northern neighborhoods, and buses run until 21.00 — scary. To get out of there in the evening or to get there, you need a car. And these are, understandably, not the richest neighborhoods, and almost all the cars there are of the 4th and 5th categories. They’ve been banned since September 1 and are now preparing a decision on Crit’Air 3.

The protesters came to the conclusion that the law on the creation of ZFE is for the elite. And the elite in France, as you know, are historically disliked and were even once taken to the guillotine.

Now the revival of the «yellow vests» movement is quite likely to be on the agenda. Let us recall that it began precisely with the dissatisfaction of car owners with gasoline prices. At first, this was the only demand of the “vests”, but in six months the number of demands exceeded a hundred, and among them — «Macron to resign». The protest movement quickly turned into a political one.

It is very strange to risk the appearance of a movement of new «vests», which will not calm down in less than a year and a half or two years. And this is despite the fact that the problem is being solved only at the level of major European cities. In England, by the way, this phenomenon also exists, but public transportation is better there.

It’s like the ozone hole — it’s not hanging over Europe. Smoking European cars are nothing compared to, say, military conflicts. If we take the hostilities in Ukraine, Palestine, Sudan and Myanmar, their combined share of emissions is 5.5 percent of the world’s. That is, if we imagine the «global military» as a country, it would rank 4th in the world in terms of pollution, right behind India.

There is no methodology for calculating military damage. In principle, countries are obliged to report their calculations to the UN under the Framework Convention on Climate Change. But nations either don’t take the time to collect the data or they just blatantly lie. And at the recent COP28 climate summit in Dubai, the topic was not raised at all.

The military, accustomed, it would seem, to clear formulations, offers a very vague vision of the situation. Although this is understandable — the more figures you give, the easier it is to calculate what you are doing. NATO, for example, has developed its own methodology for calculating emissions, but it does not include… NATO countries. Well, it’s not like we’re at war, so there’s nothing to count. Exercises don’t count at all.

In 1971, gas deposits were discovered in the Karakums, but a rig fell through the sand by mistake. Since then, a crater 60 meters in diameter and 20 meters deep has been burning day and night for half a century. The only way to extinguish the Gates of Hell is with a nuclear blast. Well, it’s a good thing the people of Clermont-Ferrand don’t know about it.