Paris, Lyon, Grenoble and most major cities have experienced the largest pollution episode in over 10 years
For several days, the concentration of fine particles in the air was over 80 microgram per cube meter in Paris and Lyon. For the people living in these urban areas, this is equivalent to smoking two packs a day! Every year, 50,000 deaths are due to pollution in France.
Traffic restriction, or a day off?
But cars and house heating are not the only sources of pollution. Industry too. In Lyon, for example, last Friday, the day of alternate traffic, one could see the great torch of the Feyzin refinery spitting out large black fumes, visible for miles around. What if, next time, rather than making the employees forced to take their car feel guilty, there was a public holiday?
By blaming individuals, especially the poorest, our political leaders evade the fact that nothing significant has been done for decades in terms of transport policy and modernization of heating systems.
Lack of investment and chaos
While alternating traffic has had little impact on air quality, it resulted in hellish days for public transit users.
In Paris, December 6 saw a total shutdown of the northern part of the Regional (RER) B trains because of a catenary pullout. The next day, when alternate traffic was set up, another catenary was pulled out at the Gare du Nord station, blocking nearly 1.4 million passengers across the network. .
At issue is the chronic lack of public investment to modernize rail networks. The second catenary was over 40 year old, and on the RER C line some electrical equipment is over one hundred year old. From the time of steam trains! Even the Court of Auditors, a temple to austerity, stated that €300 to €500 million in annual investment should have been added in the last 35 years for the simple maintenance of the Ile-de-France railway network. These €15-20 billion could never be found during three decades, but the current government unblocked €40 billion in “competitiveness” tax breaks to the bosses in four years… which created zero jobs! Not to mention the €53 billion in profits that CAC 40 companies raked in one year.
In Lyon, the city opposed free public transportation, even though the rates for a network of only four metro lines and five tramways are close to those of Paris. It chose to maintain controls to keep taxing the people living on the outskirts of the city, unable to pay exorbitant rents.
Their choices and ours
These policy choices severely penalize employees throughout the country. For more than thirty years, successive governments have shifted away from investments that improve public transport and community networks. High speed TGV lines at prohibitive prices were preferred to conventional TER lines. And now the night trains are abolished.
In the same way, the rail freight company Euro cargo rail just cut 300 jobs in France. Rail freight, which pollutes infinitely less than heavy goods vehicles, accounts for only 15% of the goods transported in France, compared to 75% in 1947. This shows how empty the government’s talk about ecology really is.
In fact, the pollution peak of this early winter has been a real eye-opener about the social violence imposed from above. The health and living conditions of the population are not among the priorities of political leaders dedicated to serving the bosses.
It is high time to make this capitalist system go up in smoke.