Faced with a pollution crisis of epic proportions, the mayor of Paris announced on Saturday that starting today, March 23, the number of cars allowed to drive in the City of Lights will be cut in half. This is in response to the spike in pollution Paris saw last week when its air quality briefly became the worst in the world according to ThinkProgress. Plume classified Paris’ air quality as near “critical” last Wednesday and again on Saturday.
For much of last week, the Eiffel Tower has been nothing but a hazy memory to Parisians. A similar situation occurred a year ago in March, which led Paris officials then to make all public transportation free during the emergency in order to coax people out of their cars and onto Le Metro.
Under the mayor’s plan, the only cars allowed to drive in the city are those with license plates ending in odd numbers, hybrid or electric vehicles and cars with more than three passengers. Public transportation will be free during the emergency period. Electric vehicle and bicycle sharing programs will also be free while the ban is in effect. The mayor has called on all commuters to join carpools.
Diesel vehicles have long been favored by French governmental policy. As a result, about 80% of all passenger cars in France are now powered by diesel engines. But the nation now views diesels as one of the major causes of air pollution, particularly those built prior to 2001 when pollution controls on diesel engines were rudimentary. France has begun a campaign to remove these pollution monsters from its roadways including a direct government payment of 10,000 Euros (about $12,000) to anyone who ditches an old diesel in favor of an electric car. “We’re already investing heavily in improving public transport and the most polluting cars [diesel cars made before 2001] will be banned starting in July,” a spokesperson for Paris’s transport commissioner says.
France has also enacted a new green roof law that requires all new buildings in commercial zones to cover their roofs at least partially with plants or solar panels. Green roofs act as natural filters to reduce air pollution. They also help to lower the amount of heat trapped by the roof which should reduce the “heat island” effect common to large cities.
The pollution problem is not limited to Paris. Smog levels in Britain spiked last week as well as winds swept dirty air from the Continent and spread it across the British Isles. “Winds bringing in pollution from the continent, combined with locally generated pollution and still weather conditions, have led to some high pollution measurements across the U.K.,” said a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokeswoman said on Thursday.
Paris is scheduled to host the United Nations climate summit this December. Environmental advocates hope that meeting will finally lead to a global accord on reducing dependence on fossil fuels, which are considered the major source of atmospheric pollution everywhere around the world. Paris is concerned that its unhealthy air will turn off visiting dignitaries. But it’s possible that seeing the Eiffel Tower enveloped in smog could convince delegates it’s time for action instead of further dithering.