An ‘I Fly Bleifrei’ edition Citroën 2CV, once advertised as clean, now seen as an eco menace. Screenshot taken from the 1991 film Manta, Manta

I’ve been reading about automotive clean air regulations for nearly a decade now and I still don’t totally understand whether or not cars are punished too harshly for what they do.

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Cars are certainly a very large part of why we’re dealing with the shit that is climate change, but they’re only a piece of all of our environmental pollution. A 2014 EPA report put the transportation sector as responsible for about a quarter of our greenhouse emissions, and offered a variety of proposals for how we could cut down all the exhaust from planes, trains, automobiles, and the like.

Again, I’ve read more papers on all of this than I can recall, and I’ve sat through more electric car presentations than any human should ever have to endure, but I still can’t say with any authority whether or not any of these measures make sense when weighed against proposals to cut pollution from our industrial production or from our electricity production. I wish I could, but I can’t, and that’s why this conversation caught my eye today, while discussing Paris’ plans to rid their city streets of old, dirty cars.

Unsurprisingly for a discussion that involved French policy, things got somewhat complicated.

Indeed it is! And it might not be a terrible thing to do, when you think of it in terms of symbolic value. It might be worthwhile to destroy the grimy versions of our past and surround ourselves with beacons of a cleaner future. But it also might not be the cheapest way to keep pollution out of our atmosphere and our lungs, nor might it be the quickest or easiest way.

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What bothers me most is that I feel like there are answers to these questions, but that I don’t know them. Maybe they haven’t been well put together yet. Maybe they have and I just need to read more. Maybe you know better than I, and can point to some good research on the topic.