Last Friday, Paris closed its doors on all cars built before 1997, in a bid to reduce pollution in the city. But this new law will be inefficient at best, and a real hassle for thousands of people. It is also a good summary of the total hypocrisy shown by France regarding emissions and an all-powerful diesel industry.

One thing that might surprise many of you from the US is that in France nearly 80% of all cars sold are diesel powered.

Why is that?

Well, after the 1973 oil crisis, French manufacturers invested heavily on diesel technology. But diesels engines are costly, and so widespread success wasn’t that prevalent in France, early on.

The manufacturers weren’t going to back down from those R&D costs, though. And so they lobbied the French government into lowering the (massive) oil taxes for diesel fuel, rendering it cheaper to buy than normal gas. Normally, the only advantage of diesel engines (besides torque) is the better mileage. In France, because of that intense lobbying, owning a diesel car provides a double advantage: lower consumption AND cheaper fuel.

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And so here we are, with 80% of French cars being sold with a diesel engine.

I already hear the US Jalops dreaming of diesel Citroen wagons creaming their pants at the idea. But I’m here to tell you that diesel can suck, too.

Diesel engines are for the most part loud, smelly, unrefined, heavy, smokey, and have no top-end power. More importantly (and this is finally relevant to my rant here), they do not only release CO2, but also NOx and fine particulate.

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Now, we all know the effects of CO2 on global warming, and it’s true that most diesels pollute less than gas engines on that regard.

But NOx and fine particulate adds to the global warming problem a more direct and visible problem, being linked to acid rains and around 20,000 cancer deaths a year in Europe.

This fact was brought up by different health organizations a couple of years ago, and the French government said “Yeah, sure, we see it now. Diesel sucks. We’re gonna do something about it! Maybe tomorrow though, today I’m bit busy. Let’s reschedule! But we’ll do it, sure!”

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There were talks of diesel gas being finally set back to a normally taxed price. Now, this would have been a decent first step, even funding further the government. But it never happened. French manufacturers and transportation companies probably saw to that. As a matter of fact, nothing happened on that front. You would have thought that after the Dieselgate, something would finally have been done to bring diesel sales down. But no.

Now, the recently elected mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, has pledged to reduce pollution in the city. Which is a grand idea, and I’m all for it. Let’s take a look at a breakdown of which kind of cars produce which kind of air pollution in Paris, courtesy of Le Monde:

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The right columns are the most important here. “particuliers” = privately owned; “essence” = gas; “utilitaires”= company operated vehicules (aka trucks of various sizes, from vans to semis). As you can see, private diesel cars produce 43% of NOx emissions in Paris, private gas cars 4%. Also note that NOx emissions have almost halved between 2000 and 2012.

The second chart is for particulate matters (PM) emissions. “Essence” (gas) cars aren’t on the chart, because they don’t really produce any.

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Now, is it only me or taxing more heavily diesel cars and trucks (or just on par with normal gas, really), and forking out incentive to switch from (old) diesel cars to gas, hybrid or even electric cars sounds like a very effective plan to reduce emissions?

Well, I guess it’s only me. Paris has decided to ban all cars from 1997 or before, effective last week. In a couple of years, I won’t be able to drive in the city with my 2000 Renault Clio, which has a 1.4L, 4-cylinders gas engine that gets better mileage than my parents’ Toyota Prius.

As a result, a maximum amount of people will be pissed, and experts are forecasting lowering of emissions by 10% tops in 2020. And still, nothing has been done to fix the diesel problem, which actually directly kills people.

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All in all, it just shows how France regards its transportation policies, especially regarding cars. They’ll just do whatever makes the industry happy, and costs the smallest amount of money, even if it doesn’t fix anything. The same thing works for speed limits and driving laws enforcement, but this rant is already pretty long, so maybe I’ll save that for later.

My main frustration with this is that it would have been so easy to clean up Paris’ air, and that for a while it actually seemed that the city understood what it had to do. But no, let’s just blindingly ban cars, what could possibly go wrong with that?

Vive la fucking France.