German diesel bans: where’s the consumer choice?

In a landmark ruling this week, the German Federal Administrative Court has decided that cities have the right to ban diesel cars. The federal states of Baden-Württemberg and Nordrhein-Westfalen had appealed against the decision of the states of Stuttgart and Düsseldorf to outlaw diesel cars on its roads.

While this doesn’t mean that a ban will be put in place automatically, it is to be expected that both cities will be implementing their bans in the coming weeks and months. As a visitor this would practically mean that you’d have to bypass these very large areas, and that law enforcement will start checking cars for the petrol that they use.

Diesel cars have come under fire in recent months, following the emissions scandal at Volkswagen. The German car manufacturer had intentionally manipulated its TDI (turbocharged direct injection) in order for it to pass the emissions standards test in the United States, when in reality the cars emitted above the limits set by the law. Far beyond Volkswagen’s practices, environmentalists have now taken aim at diesel in general. Their claim: tens of thousands of people die each year from its pollution.

Former President of the German Pneumology Society, Doctor Dieter Köhler, contradictsthese activists and sees only a minor health-endangering role in particulate matter and nitrogen oxides. Many studies would be misinterpreted findings, and the costs of outlawing diesel vehicles would stand in no proportionate relationship to health hazards.

However, it also counts as an odd way of conducting environmental policy. Volkswagen ended up admitting to its wrongdoings, so why wouldn’t we just apply the laws that are in place right now? It seems as if “public health advocates” opportunistically jump on the emissions scandal to further their political goals. And surely, the fact that one of the organisations that pushes this ban, “Deutsche Umwelthilfe” (“German Aid to the Environment”), has been sponsored by Toyota, which primarily sells gasoline and hybrid cars, for 20 years, had no effect on their determination.

A third of Germans drive diesel cars. Are they supposed to sell their vehicles within the coming months? Or worse, should they move out of these two cities? What sense does it make to have a major continental country become a Swiss cheese of diesel no-go zones, in which both residents and visitor will have to count in major bypasses when they travel through the country?

As soon as Stuttgart and Düsseldorf pass their bans, little will hold other major cities back on doing the same, and given the cooperative nature of environmental activists, even less prevents them from bringing it into other European countries. In fact, in July last year, the French government decided to ban all cars that run on petrol by 2040. Given that only 1.2 per cent of French cars are electric, only a harsh restriction of consumer choices and stringent sanctions can make that possible in the next 20 years.

In 2040, if we are still in need of cars running on fossil fuels, the ban would be disastrous and is unlikely to be implemented, or if we don’t need them anymore by that time the legislation would be obsolete. The pretense, however, that it is the role of government to choose winners and losers in the innovation of a free market, is ridiculous.

We have to realise that when environmentalist activists say “ban diesel”, their actual aim in the long-run is to ban all vehicles running on fossil fuels, regardless of the economic and social consequences that this has.

Consumers deserve the right to choose their own cars, running on the petrol of their choice.


This article was first published by Vocal Europe.

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About Bill Wirtz

My name is Bill, I'm from Luxembourg and I write about the virtues of a free society. I favour individual and economic freedom and I believe in the capabilities people can develop when they have to take their own responsibilities.

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