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Two European Cities and a Whole Country Join Movement to Outlaw Gas Guzzlers

Climate
Paris smog. Damián Bakarcic / Flickr

The movement to ban the internal combustion engine is growing.

The European cities of Paris, Oxford, as well as the whole of the Netherlands, have recently announced separate proposals to phase out cars powered by fossil fuels.


France and Britain already have plans to ban diesel- and gasoline-powered cars by 2040, but cities within the countries have speedier goals.

"Transport is one of the main greenhouse gas producers ... so we are planning an exit from combustion engine vehicles, or fossil-energy vehicles, by 2030," Christophe Najdovski, an official responsible for transport policy at the office of Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, said.

Air pollution is notoriously high in the French capital, which has been forced to issue bans on half the number of cars on the road in an effort to improve air quality.

The university city of Oxford, England has an even more aggressive goal than Paris. City officials announced a "Zero Emission Zone" that bans emitting vehicles from entering part of Oxford city center from 2020. This move could establish the world's first zero-emissions zone.

"Toxic and illegal air pollution in the city centre is damaging the health of Oxford's residents. A step change is urgently needed; the zero emissions zone is that step change," Councillor John Tanner of Oxford city council said.

"All of us who drive or use petrol or diesel vehicles through Oxford are contributing to the city's toxic air. Everyone needs to do their bit, from national government and local authorities, to businesses and residents, to end this public health emergency."

According to Reuters, starting in 2020, taxis, cars, light commercial vehicles and buses which are non zero-emission, will be banned from six streets in the city center. The zone will widen to include more streets and more vehicles until 2035 when all emitting vehicles will be blocked from entering the center.

Madrid, Mexico City and Athens also intend to ban diesel vehicles from their city centers. Earlier this week, Copenhagen's mayor proposed a ban on new diesel cars entering the city's environmental zone, a low-emission area that basically covers the whole of the capital, as early as 2019.

Finally, Electrek reported that the Dutch government presented a plan that all new cars in the Netherlands must be emission-free by 2030, basically phasing out gas-guzzlers in favor of battery-powered vehicles.

Electrek noted that the ban would only apply to brand new cars produced and sold after 2030.

It's not just Europe that's taking this leap. The Netherlands joins other countries such as India and China that are planning to ditch emitting cars. Over in the U.S., California Gov. Jerry Brown floated a similar idea.

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Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.

Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.

That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.

Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.

If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.

"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."

To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.


"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."

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