GREENPEACE MAKES A WHALE OF AN APPEARANCE AT THE FRANKFURT CAR SHOW (AP Photo 12 Sept)
“The automotive industry makes money by destroying the environment,” Marion Tiemann, a transport expert at Greenpeace and one of the event’s organizers, said at the protest. “We’re in the midst of a climate crisis.”
There is some truth in the incendiary remarks being reported out of Frankfurt today. Yet, the real message is in the details. Chancellor Merkel confronted industry leaders with the cruel facts: unlike other areas of the economy, emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) from Germany’s transport sector have remained unchanged since 1990:
“Each time we got more efficient cars… traffic volume goes up” Merkel said.
Expect Germany’s robust auto industry to rise to the challenge, even as protesters at the show called for a ban on all SUVs.
“Our message to the automakers is: Stop selling sports utility vehicles… They’re climate killers.” The statement came from Juergen Resch, executive director of Deutsche Umwelthilfe, an environmental group suing German cities found in violation of legal caps for nitrous oxide pollution.
The obvious choice is to make SUVs electric and rein in polluting cities with a revenue-neutral cap-and-trade program.
Cooler minds must prevail if pollution is to end. A more prudent punishment for ‘dirty cities’ would be to impose a European Union-wide cap-and-trade system where polluting cities ‘buy credits’ from cities that perform below the legislated limits. This same system is now delivering cheques to Tesla and other renewable energy auto producers in the US.
A cap-and-trade system was implemented to desalinate the Rhine in the 1970s with varying levels of success. The Bonn Agreement was signed and ratified in 1976 by four of the five Rhine countries (Liechtenstein, Switzerland, West Germany, and the Netherlands). In Forty percent of the 50,000 tons of salt daily discharged today into the river comes from one source: the French government-owned potash mines in Alsace. France of course was not a signatory.
Germany’s robust automobile industry may be showing signs of making an about face on vehicle emitted GHGs. Volkswagen—the top international manufacturer of cars and ‘bad boy’ of the diesel scandal—is making as much hay as it can about opening an all-electric car manufacturing plant in former East Germany. Heading into her cabinet level summit Merkel already has some irons in the fire.
However, the German example may be a lesson to all western nations that government action will be required to get us to GHG-Zero. In the first months of 2019 Vancouver saw a spike of new Tesla 3s on the road as one-time provincial rebates for electric cars sold off in a matter of days. It can be logically argued that the health and political benefits of driving electric vehicles should be more robustly supported by all governments.
Then, we can tackle the likes of Greenpeace with the other obvious conclusion: cars emit about one third of all pollution in the west. Make them GHG-Zero and collect all the environmental, health and economic benefits from reaching the tipping point on pollution.
Thus, Merkle’s high-level meeting on Sept. 20 promises to be like fishing in a Beer Barrel. Germany’s reductions of GHGs are being reported as “only 30%.” One wishes the rest of the world could match those numbers! However, that stunning 30% reduction has been achieved with GHGs from the automobile sector remaining constant. Once all cars are electric, the reduction number can increase by another 30%. That would push Germany over the tipping point. Green Peacers are not thinking about what happens once territorial jurisdictions reach ‘critical mass’ in GHG reductions. Keep in mind that natural systems can be counted upon to clean some percentage of the air. Thus, moves like improving the carbon sink of the urban footprint with urban trees and gardens, are additional incremental steps whose effectiveness will be magnified as GHG reductions top 50% and head up to the 70s, 80s and 90s.
Clearly, the obvious solution is not to ban the SUVs, but rather to make them electric. Government and industry must come to terms with a framework for replacing the fleet at the most aggressive level sustainable. Green Peacers and climate change activists fail to grasp the power of a balanced system of decision making. The automobile sector is reported to be about 5% of Germany’s GDP—Germany is the 4th largest economy in the world. Going electric might make a real difference. Handled properly it will return economic and competitive advantages, along with environmental and social windfalls.
Calls for German government to ban all cars from city centers seem over the top. Especially, since Germany’s cities are among the most walkable, and transit served, urban footprints on the globe. Spending billions of euros on enhancing the rail network will also reach a practical limit as the densification necessary to support that mode of transit pushes land values beyond affordability. However, governments can partner with industry to plan the eventual exit from the internal combustion engine. That could follow on the traditions of Germany’s plans to end coal-fired power generation by 2038, and the aforementioned success in ending salt pollution in the Rhine.
With these political and cultural assets on the table 20 September 2019 might prove to be an epoch making date:
“We can’t beat about the bush — climate protection comes at a price,” Merkel said. “But I’m convinced if we don’t put this money in the right place, the price that we’ll pay later will be much higher.”