BREAKING: Plastic found to be useful

This from the BBC is a surprisingly balanced and informative article on plastic use:

Located in the south Atlantic, on the fringes of the Antarctic, it is nearly 1,000 miles (1,500km) from the nearest major human settlement. Yet even here Waluda, an ecologist with the British Antarctic Survey, is finding worrying signs of our throw-away attitude towards plastic. Regularly she finds seals entangled in this debris or albatross chicks coughing up bits of plastic film.

Of course, the BBC fails to acknowledge that almost all the plastic in the ocean comes from a handful of rivers in Africa and Asia: “our” throw-away attitude seems to belong to people quite different from me. But this aside, the BBC does a reasonable job of looking at the costs of foisting changes on western societies and highlights some of the issues the dim middle classes might have overlooked in their campaigns. For example:

While the cost of producing bottles can vary depending on the raw material and energy prices at the time, it is generally not that much more expensive to produce a glass bottle versus one made from PET – about $0.01 more, according to some analysis.

However, when manufacturers start transporting produce in glass bottles, costs start to rise. A 330ml plastic soft drink bottle contains around 18 grams of material while a glass bottle can weigh between 190g and 250g. Transporting drinks in the heavier containers requires 40% more energy, producing more polluting carbon dioxide as they do and increasing transport costs by up to five times per bottle.

“In many cases plastics are actually better for the environment than the alternatives,” explains Selke. “It is surprising until you look closely at it.”

There’s also the problem that glass breaks, meaning it needs extra protection.

A report by the American Chemistry Council and environmental accounting firm Trucost estimates that the environmental costs – which places a value on dealing with the pollution generated by a product – would be five times higher if the soft drinks industry used alternative packaging like glass, tin or aluminium instead of plastic. As governments seek to penalise polluting companies with carbon taxes and levies, these costs may be passed onto consumers.

“Food costs are going to increase – there can be no doubt about that,” says Dick Searle, chief executive of the British Packaging Federation, which represents the industry in the UK.

I shouldn’t imagine this worries the hand-wringing middle class evangelists in London one jot. As we saw with carrier bags, their disdainful dismissal of increased costs to the poorest in society would make a 17th century French courtier blush.

There are some, however, who warn that abandoning plastic after nearly 70 years of using it to package our food could have other far more costly, unintended consequences.

What may at first appear to be a wasteful plastic bag wrapped around your cucumber, for example, is actually a sophisticated tool for increasing the shelf-life of your food. Years of research have allowed plastics to push the time food lasts for from days to weeks.

“I think people underestimate the benefits of plastics in reducing food waste,” says Anthony Bull, professor of chemistry and director of The Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures at the University of Sheffield.

The claim that food and logisitics companies, whose margins are razor thin, waste money on unnecessary packaging was always ludicrous.

The shrink wrap used on cucumbers for instance, can more than double the length of time the vegetable can last, allowing it to be kept for up to 15 days in the fridge and cutting food waste in half. An unwrapped cucumber would last just two days at room temperature and 9 days if refrigerated.

Beef bought in polystyrene foam trays covered with plastic film will generally last between three and seven days. However if it is vacuum-packed in multilayer plastic, it can be kept for up to 45 days without spoiling. Environmental accounting firm Trucost estimate that vacuum-packing sirloin steak can cut food waste almost in half compared to conventional plastic.

Much of the food we now buy in supermarkets comes tightly wrapped in sealed plastic films and protective trays. This keeps fresh meat in an oxygen-free atmosphere, helping to prevent it from spoiling. Delicate fruit and vegetables are also kept safe from bumps that can degrade them, meaning they’re more likely to be sold. Putting grapes in their own individual plastic boxes has been found to cut food waste by 75%.

So packaging on food serves a purpose, eh? Who knew? Well, P.J. O’Rourke for  a  start: in one of his books he writes about how some researcher excavated landfills in both the USA and Mexico and found while Mexicans use about half as much packaging as Americans, they throw away twice as much food.

Plastic wrapping can also keep fruit and vegetables in their own little microclimates – known in the industry as modified atmosphere packaging – which can help to prevent them from ripening too quicky.

It’s almost as if the companies shipping fruit around the world know more about packaging than self-righteous housewives in Islington, isn’t it?

While some believe that single-use plastic packaging has actually led to an increase in the amount of food we throw away by encouraging a culture of disposability, many in the plastics industry argue that without plastic packaging, the cost of food waste could rise.

Who to believe? An industry which can demonstrate the utility of its products or new-age evangelists using woolly terms like “culture of disposability”?

In this light, it might not make sense to ban plastics altogether but instead make plastics better.

“Rather than going back, it is perhaps more useful to look at innovation,” says Eliot Whittington. “There are more and more companies that are reinventing plastics with additives that help them break down or making plastics that are biodegradable.”

Another bioplastics leader is Coca-Cola, which two years ago launched the PlantBottle, a PET partially made with Brazilian sugarcane.

A burger box made from sugarcane for instance, is almost twice as expensive as one made from polystyrene. A biodegradable takeaway fork made from plant starch costs 3.5 times more than a basic white plastic one.

So is tearing down thousands of square kilometres of Brazilian rainforest in order to grow this sugarcane better for the planet than simply sticking with plastic? Or don’t we worry where the stuff comes from, just how we dispose of it?

But Anthony Bull sees other problems with the widespread use of biodegradable packaging.

“It treats the symptoms, not the disease,” he says. “If the disease is our throw-away society, making packaging biodegradable only encourages people to throw more away.”

Instead, he suggests another solution: use more plastic.

Heh. Good lad.

And as many countries seek to introduce new laws that will put new levies on plastic bags and ban certain types of single use packaging, refillable and reusable options may become more attractive.

For Claire Waluda, whose team is monitoring the levels of plastic waste in South Georgia, the price of making these changes is one worth paying.

“We are seeing wandering albatross parents feeding plastic to their chicks,” she says. “Anything that can reduce the amount of plastic debris in the environment is a step in the right direction.”

And even if it doesn’t – and it won’t – you have signalled your virtue. Might I suggest you start attending church or, if you’re really concerned about plastic, have a word with the Africans and Asians who are chucking it into their rivers? Or does your religion not work that way?

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McStork Happy Meal and SIM Card Combo

This story is amusing, and so very African:

A Polish charity has received a huge phone bill after it lost a GPS tracker that it had placed on the back of a stork, it’s reported.

According to official broadcaster Radio Poland , the environmental EcoLogic Group placed a tracker on the back of a white stork last year to track the bird’s migratory habits.

It travelled some 3,700 miles (6,000kms), and was traced to the Blue Nile Valley in eastern Sudan before the charity lost contact.

EcoLogic told the Super Express newspaper that somebody found the tracker in Sudan, removed the sim card and put it in their own phone, where they then racked up 20 hours’ worth of phone calls.

Radio Poland says that the organisation has received a phone bill of over 10,000 Polish zloty ($2,700; £2,064), which it will have to pay.

I strongly suspect the stork was cooked and eaten, too.

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When Bureaucracies Empty Bins

Via Twitter I came across the graphics Edinburgh City Council issues to households to let them know on which day their bins should be put out for collection. Here’s an example below:

Only a modern government bureaucracy could come up with something like that for the once-simple task of emptying the bins. And as someone on Twitter asks, where is each household supposed to find the space for five separate bins?

This is what happens when state bodies become employment programs, entirely divorced from the customer when providing a service.

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Banned Chemicals

I don’t have any opinion on this story:

Member states will vote on Friday on an almost complete ban on the use of neonicotinoid insecticides across the EU.

Scientific studies have linked their use to the decline of honeybees, wild bees and other pollinators.

But I will say…

Another key element that has pushed the Commission to hold a vote has been the UK’s change of heart on the use of these insecticides. Environment Secretary Michael Gove announced last November that the UK would now support further restrictions.

“I think it has helped the dynamic,” Franziska Achterberg from Greenpeace told BBC News.

“It has helped sway Ireland definitely, and then lately, the Germans, the Austrians and the Dutch. I think the fact the UK had come around was a good signal for them as well, that they could not stay behind.”

“Several countries have said they want exemptions on sugar beet for example,” said Sandra Bell from Friends of the Earth (FOE).

“So far the Commission have been very strong on this, because they say the Efsa evidence backs the extension of the ban to sugar beet and therefore they are following the science and won’t put in an exemption for a compromise.”

…any EU initiative which has the support of Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth ought to be treated with extreme caution.

Many farmers are unhappy about the proposed increase in restrictions, saying they do not believe they are warranted on scientific grounds and that the existing partial ban has not delivered results.

So we have British farmers getting up at 5am every morning to labour in the fields; and we have wealthy middle-class do-gooders sitting in climate-controlled offices in European cities banning things they find useful. Even if this ban is necessary I don’t like the setup much, mainly because it is representative of how so much of the western world is governed these days.

Which brings me onto something else. I have heard from several disparate sources that EU regulations have slowly eradicated any sort of useful household chemical, from cleaning products, to garden pesticides and weedkillers, to wood preservers. Is this true? Anyone know? I assume school caretakers no longer mark the running track with creosote, which is a shame because I liked the smell of that stuff. My dad also used to slap it on saw blades to keep them from rusting. I have no idea where he got it from, presumably you could buy it somewhere. I bet you couldn’t just go into B&Q today and buy a litre of the stuff. Not being a user of chemicals I don’t know how things have changed, but I’d be curious to know if EU regulations have removed useful products from the shelves.

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A Lightbulb Moment

So today I go into France’s biggest DIY chain to buy a lightbulb. The type I’m after is one of the small, spiral-wound fluorescent bulbs which fits neatly into a ceiling lamp. Only they no longer sell fluorescent light bulbs: they’ve all been replaced by LED bulbs, which are better. But they’re not the same shape, having a more bulbous glass piece (similar to the old incandescent ones) for the same connection size, and it doesn’t fit the lamp.

No doubt I can buy the bulb elsewhere, but answer me this: which fucking dickhead persuaded governments worldwide to force hundreds of millions of people to switch to fluorescent bulbs when LED bulbs, which would make them obsolete, were just a few years over the horizon? Can we get hold of them and string them up by the balls please, followed by each and every politician who went along with this idiocy?

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King Conned

From The Telegraph:

German car-makers have “blood on their hands” due to rigging diesel exhaust tests which led to the deaths of thousands of Britons, the Government’s former chief scientist has said.

Professor Sir David King said it was “simply astonishing” that Volkswagen, BMW and Daimler had performed rigged experiments on monkeys and that such duplicity had caused the deaths of large numbers of people in the UK.

The Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser until 2007, Sir David described being duped into believing diesel capture technology was safe during a trip to a British testing lab in 2004, prompting a policy shift in favour of diesel cars.

I can see why David King is so angry. He used to get paraded around in the Blair years as some sort of high priest of science, his words clung to by the political establishment even when he came up with such idiocy as suggesting ExxonMobil should move Fawley refinery inland to avoid being flooded by rising sea levels. I expect he also subscribed to the same view as much of Britain’s political establishment that Germans, when it comes to industry, can do nothing wrong and we should stand in awe of their brilliance (have a look at how the Remainer press fawns over Merkel and every pronouncement on Brexit from German “business leaders”).

And it turns out he’s had the wool pulled over his eyes. Leaving aside the irony that a government appointee who was instrumental in pushing the climate change agenda should now complain of being misled, there’s a bigger issue here than King’s ego. Sweeping legislation such as that which encouraged millions of British people to buy diesel cars ought to be based on something a little more robust than an individual’s opinion after visiting a lab with seemingly no interest in ensuring what he was seeing was a legitimate test. I suspect King didn’t enquire further because the lab told him what he, and his political masters, wanted to hear; the lab knew in advance what King and wanted to hear, and so rigged the test; and VW simply wanted to flog more cars while keeping politicians happy.

The lesson here is that governments, even ones containing extremely clever folk like Professor Sir David King, are susceptible to being hoodwinked by people who understand the details a lot better than they do, causing them to bring about disastrous policies. The answer is to get rid of positions such as Chief Scientific Adviser and sack politicians who put their beak into places where it doesn’t belong bringing harm to the rest of us.

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Plastic in the Ocean

Ocean plastic a ‘planetary crisis’

booms the UN.

Life in the seas risks irreparable damage from a rising tide of plastic waste, the UN oceans chief has warned.

Lisa Svensson said governments, firms and individual people must act far more quickly to halt plastic pollution.

I saw Lisa Svensson on TV this morning and she’s a rather attractive blonde-haired Scandinavian. Imagine how surprised I was to find a wealthy, middle-class white woman complaining about environmental degradation in Africa and not, say, an African.

Ms Svensson had just been saddened by a Kenyan turtle hospital which treats animals that have ingested waste plastic.

She saw a juvenile turtle named Kai, brought in by fishermen a month ago because she was floating on the sea surface.

Plastic waste was immediately suspected, because if turtles have eaten too much plastic it bloats their bellies and they can’t control their buoyancy.

Kai was given laxatives for two weeks to clear out her system, and Ms Svensson witnessed an emotional moment as Kai was carried back to the sea to complete her recovery.

I’ve run out of handkerchiefs already. But enough about Kai the turtle and his laxatives: where’s all this plastic coming from?

“It’s a very happy moment,” she said. “But sadly we can’t be sure that Kai won’t be back again if she eats more plastic.

“It’s heart-breaking, but it’s reality. We just have to do much more to make sure the plastics don’t get into the sea in the first place.”

Fuck me, I said enough about Kai! Okay, here we go:

There’s waste from down the coast as far as Tanzania – but also from Madagascar, the Comoros Islands, Thailand, Indonesia and even a bottle from far-away Japan.

Those famously littering Japanese, eh? Has anyone actually done any concrete research into where the bulk of this plastic is actually coming from? Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of the reports on plastic in the ocean steer well clear of actually identifying the source, but this one tells us (page 7):

Less than 20 percent of leakage originates from ocean-based sources like fisheries and fishing vessels. This means over 80 percent of ocean plastic comes from land-based sources; once plastic is discarded, it is not well managed, and thus leaks into the ocean. Over half of land-based plastic-waste leakage originates in just five countries: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, referred to in this report as the five focus countries for action.

I’d also hazard a guess that most of the plastic littering the beaches in Africa and giving poor Kai indigestion was discarded locally, either from the land or ships anchored offshore. Here’s a photo I took on a beach in Lagos:

How much of that lot do you think bobbed over from Japan or started life as a carrier bag in a supermarket in Paris? But of course, it is the behaviour of westerners that is the problem:

Tisha Brown from Greenpeace told BBC News: “We welcome that they are looking at a stronger statement, but with billions of tonnes of plastic waste entering the oceans we need much more urgent action.

“We need manufacturers to take responsibility for their products – and we need to look at our consumption patterns that are driving all this.”

“Our” consumption patterns are causing Asians to chuck plastic into rivers. uh-huh.

Finally the article gets around to the underlying problem:

Indonesia – the world’s second biggest plastics polluter after China – has pledged to reduce plastic waste into the ocean 75% by 2025, but some observers doubt legal rules are strong enough to make this happen.

What do they propose as an alternative? Military intervention?

Plastic waste is also on the agenda for this month’s China Council – an influential high level dialogue in which world experts advise China’s leaders on environmental issues.

The Chinese being famously receptive to foreign “experts” telling them what to do.

Kenya itself has banned single-use plastic bags, along with Rwanda, Tanzania and – soon- Sri Lanka. Bangladesh has had controls for many years, especially to stop bags clogging up drains and causing floods.

Ah yes, I wrote about the Kenyan ban on plastic bags here.

But bags are just one part of the problem – there are so many other types of plastic flowing through waterways.

“The UN process is slow,” Ms Svensson admitted. “It could take 10 years to get a UN treaty agreed on plastic litter and a further two years to get it implemented.

“We have to progress through the UN because this is a truly global problem – but we can’t wait that long.

We have five Asian countries chucking plastic into the sea, but we have to go through the laborious, ten-year process of getting a UN treaty because it’s a global problem?

“We need to get much stronger actions from civil society, putting pressure on business to change – they can switch their supply chains very fast. And we need more individual governments to take urgent action too.”

What this means, of course, is making goods and services more expensive and more difficult to obtain for reasonably conscientious and responsible westerners while ignoring those who are actually chucking the plastic in the sea. Oh, and providing cushy 10-year assignments attending UN briefings for a handful of wealthy, middle-class people like Lisa Svensson.

Ms Svensson said the ocean was facing multiple assault from over-fishing; pollution from chemicals, sewage and agriculture; development in coastal areas; climate change; ocean acidification; and over-exploitation of coral reefs.

“This is a planetary emergency,” she said. “I sense there is a momentum now about the need to act. We just have to be much faster.”

As we left Watamu after Kai’s joyous release, I turned back for one last glance at the Indian Ocean. A small boy tossed a plastic bottle over his shoulder into the sparkling water.

I have a feeling this article was written in the wrong language, and published in the wrong place. I get that plastic in the ocean is a serious problem, but why are they always nagging us about it?

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Deepwater Fishing

Bayou Renaissance Man brings us this report:

BEIJING has discovered a major threat to its new aircraft carrier: swarms of deadly jellyfish. Now it’s racing to develop weapons of mass destruction to beat them.

Masses of the creatures can be sucked through the warship’s water intakes necessary for cooling the vessel’s engines.

Once in the cooling vents, they get mashed into a thick, sticky soup.

This blocks the cooling system, causing the engines to overheat and bringing the warship to a halt.

It then reportedly takes days to clear the pipes.

Thus the urgent need for countermeasures.

The new jellyfish shredder consists of a net, several hundred meters long and wide, which is towed by a tugboat ahead of the carrier.

This funnels whatever falls within towards an array of steel blades.

What comes out the other side is no larger than 3cm wide.

The effect is so brutal researchers report the waters the shredder passes through become murky as the jellyfish — and other marine life — corpses begin to decompose. It takes up to a week to clear.

Bayou Renaissance Man adds:

I’m afraid the deliberate destruction of marine life to accommodate the ship is characteristic of attitudes towards nature in, not just China, but most of Asia.  The prevailing attitude in many of the countries and cultures there seems to be that nature exists to serve human interests. If it doesn’t, it must be tamed, reshaped, or removed until it does.

There are some folks in my industry who concern themselves with the design of subsea equipment, basically kit that we stick on the seabed to aid in the extraction of oil and gas from the reservoir. In shallow waters, such as those in the North Sea, they have always had to design them such that trawler nets can pass over them without becoming snagged (I heard one story from decades back that a fishing vessel snagged its net on a pipeline, turned the winch on max, and promptly sunk sank itself). In deep water, which is anything over about 600m, this hasn’t been a concern as the nets don’t go down that far. However, I heard a couple of weeks ago that a Chinese fishing ship operating offshore Angola passed its nets over some equipment a mile down.

I get the impression we’ll soon be shown that Africa’s environment, like so much else in the world, is a concern only of wealthy, middle-class white folk who are chiefly troubled by the activities of other white folk. This would explain why you don’t hear much mention of Chinese fishing boats in David Attenborough’s Blue Planet series.

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Light Pollution

I confess, I’ve never quite seen what the complaint was here:

A study of pictures of Earth by night has revealed that artificial light is growing brighter and more extensive every year.

Between 2012 and 2016, the planet’s artificially lit outdoor area grew by more than 2% per year.

Scientists say a “loss of night” in many countries is having negative consequences for “flora, fauna, and human well-being”.

The only downside I can see about light pollution is that you can’t see the night sky, which is admittedly very pretty. If this is a cost of living in a big city, being able to see where you’re going, and avoiding being mugged or assaulted, then it’s a small one. If it means that much to you, or any other stargazer, you have options: go and live in mid-Wales, or drive to Scotland or Bodmin Moor. Or take a job on Sakhalin: the visibility of the night sky there was often spectacular, particularly when we went camping way out of town.

It showed that changes in brightness over time varied greatly by country. Some of the world’s “brightest nations”, such as the US and Spain, remained the same. Most nations in South America, Africa and Asia grew brighter.

Yes, they’re getting richer and people generally don’t like having to go to bed at sundown or remain indoors. Africa is still mostly in darkness, as is North Korea (famously). This is not generally considered a good thing.

The nocturnal satellite images – of glowing coastlines and spider-like city networks – look quite beautiful but artificial lighting has unintended consequences for human health and the environment.

Really?

In 2016, the American Medical Association officially recognised the “detrimental effects of poorly designed, high-intensity LED lighting”, saying it encouraged communities to “minimise and control blue-rich environmental lighting by using the lowest emission of blue light possible to reduce glare. The sleep-inducing hormone melatonin is particularly sensitive to blue light.

What’s this got to do with overall levels of outdoor lighting?

A recent study published in the journal Nature revealed that artificial light was a threat to crop pollination – reducing the pollinating activity of nocturnal insects.

That explains the reduced yields in inner-city wheat fields.

Research in the UK revealed that trees in more brightly lit areas burst their buds up to a week earlier than those in areas without artificial lighting.

Causing children to die of surprise.

A study published earlier this year found that urban light installations “dramatically altered” the behaviour of nocturnally migrating birds.

The BBC didn’t even bother linking to this one or naming the study. Which is a shame, because I was curious as to where these birds were ending up.

Prof Kevin Gaston from the University of Exeter told BBC News that humans were “imposing abnormal light regimes on ourselves”.

We’d much rather blunder around in the dark, we just don’t know it.

“You now struggle to find anywhere in Europe with a natural night sky – without that skyglow we’re all familiar with.”

Bollocks. Drive into the middle of France, or up into the Alps.

“For light, it’s just a case of directing it where we need it and not wasting it where we don’t.”

Presumably this chap thinks lighting is something just thrown up willy-nilly with barely any thought.

Dr Kyba said that we could make our urban areas much dimmer and not actually cause any problems for visibility.

“Human vision relies on contrast, not the amount of light,” he explained.

Something hithero unknown to those who make their living in the multi-billion dollar global lighting industry: they’ve been doing it wrong all these years.

If we’re reduced to complaining about light pollution, we’ve solved the big issues facing mankind, haven’t we?

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Paris according to a credulous journalist

One of the fun things about living in Paris is reading other people write about it and wondering if they’ve ever been here. Yesterday an article appeared in the Financial Times telling us why Paris will become the first car-free metropolis. Let’s take a look.

In Lima next Wednesday, the International Olympic Committee will rubber-stamp Paris as host of the 2024 Games.

Oh, lucky Parisians! Can I be the first to predict pictures emerging in 2028 of a derelict aquatic centre that cost €3bn to build, the pools full of weeds and covered in graffiti captioned with “This is the pool where Michael Flipperfeet won his 38 golds in 2024”.

By the time the Games begin, Paris will be transformed. “Vehicles with combustion engines driven by private individuals” could well be banned from the city by then, says Jean-Louis Missika, the deputy mayor, whose responsibilities include urban planning.

“Could well be”. Those words are going to be doing a lot of heavy lifting in this article, easily enough to win a gold medal in the snatch, clean, and jerk.

“Every inch of that road surface has to be maximised,” says Ross Douglas, who runs Autonomy, an annual urban-mobility conference in Paris. “The first thing the city will want to do is reduce the 150,000 cars parked on the street doing nothing. Why should you occupy 12 square metres to move yourself? Why should you use a big diesel engine to pollute me and my family?”

“Why should the workers have more than one pair of shoes?” said the Commissar. “Why should they eat meat which could be used to feed others?” 

Naturally, it doesn’t occur to such people that those 150,000 cars represent the residents of Paris deciding for themselves what their needs are and how they should spend their meagre salaries after careful consideration. Put it this way, nobody owns a car in Paris unless they really need it; a lot of my colleagues don’t have one, for example. Also, the French are not show-offs when it comes to cars and money, owning a car doesn’t imply status as it does elsewhere. In other words, anyone who owns a car in Paris and parks on the street has a pretty good reason for doing so. And no, they don’t have “big diesel engines”. The average car parked on a Paris street is a small compact with at least three dents in it. A big car won’t fit in the parking spaces.

By 2024, driverless taxis will be making ride after ride, almost never parking.

Firstly, anyone who says driverless taxis will be technologically possible in 7 years’ time is selling snake-oil. Secondly, I seem to recall Parisian taxi drivers rioting, tipping over cars, and burning tyres when Uber came to town, leading to the government caving in by lunchtime and banning the app in Paris. Presumably they’re going to take the introduction of driverless cabs without a murmur.

Paris’s parking spaces will become bike or scooter paths, café terraces or playgrounds.

Oh, so we’re going to replace cars with scooters, are we? There are already about a million of them in Paris as it is, and let me assure you they do not make for a silent utopia where children can frolic freely. Also, a lot of Paris’ car parks are underground. Will they become playgrounds or cafe terraces? Either sounds lovely.

The second reason Paris can change fast: France’s car industry has been steadily shedding jobs since the 1980s. It’s now too small to lobby hard against the future.

Okay, the reason Parisians own cars is not to keep people employed at Peugeot or Citroen. I think the author has spent rather too much time hanging out at the Sorbonne.

Third, France has a 39-year-old tech-savvy president.

You mean he owns an iPhone. What does he know about vehicles?

Whereas his predecessors spent their energy saving dying industries, Emmanuel Macron intends to grab pieces of new ones, such as driverless vehicles.

Oh yeah? Let’s see, shall we. He hasn’t experienced his first strike yet, and he’s already rapidly back-tracking on the promises he made when elected.

Fourth, Paris doesn’t need private cars because it already has the best public transport of any international city, according to the New York-based Institute of Transportation and Development Policy.

Then there’s no problem, is there? There’s nothing left to do if nobody needs a car. Only the very existence of those 150,000 cars mentioned earlier seems to contradict this statement somewhat. Like I said, nobody in Paris owns a car for fun, and most would much rather do without. But hey, what do they know? Surely a clever FT journalist knows better!

Visitors from clogged developing cities ride metro trains here goggling in amazement.

They do? Shit, even the French complain about it, and I know: I work in a building of 3,000 people, many of whom use it to get to work. I have spoken to people from KL, New York, Caracas, Moscow, Istanbul, and a dozen other cities all of whom complained about the Paris Metro. It’s usually two things: the lack of air conditioning in summer and (more importantly) that it’s extremely difficult to access with a pushchair. Most of them prefer the London Underground which has improved massively over the past 10-20 years, particularly in regards to disabled and pushchair access. The Paris Metro isn’t bad, particularly Line 1 which uses driverless trains, but let’s not pretend people ride it “goggling in amazement”. I’m wondering if the author has actually used it himself. You can be damned sure deputy-mayor Missika gets chauffeured around in a massive car, and will do so long after the plebs have their own cars confiscated.

Already, nearly two-thirds of the 2.2 million Parisians don’t own cars, says Missika.

Yeah, which implies the third who do actually need them.

True, the 10 million people in the suburban towns outside Paris rely more on cars. But, by 2024, most of them should have been weaned off.

Should?

Wander around almost any suburb now, and somewhere near the high street you will find a billboard saying: “We are preparing the metro site.” Grand Paris Express — Europe’s biggest public-transport project — is going to change lives. It will bring 68 new stations, and thousands of homes built on top of them.

Yes, they’re upgrading the Metro – but to the extent nobody in the far-flung suburbs will need a car while adding thousands more homes? This is rather fanciful.

The Olympics will help ensure it’s delivered on time.

Because nothing speeds up complex infrastructure projects in major, developed cities than adding a giant politically-driven infrastructure project which an inflexible completion date to the mix.

New electric bikes will allow suburban cyclists to cover two or three times current distances, making long commutes a doddle.

Should be fun in winter with two kids to take to school.

The Périphérique — Paris’s ring road, which now cuts off the city from the suburbs — will become obsolete, predicts Missika. He looks forward to it turning into an urban boulevard lined with trees and cafés.

Because Paris is short of urban boulevards lined with trees and cafes. And has he actually been along the Périphérique? It goes through some of the worst areas imaginable. Who’s gonna want to sit there drinking coffee?

By then Paris and the suburbs will have merged into a single “Grand Paris”. Missika points out that the Olympic stadium and athletes’ village in 2024 will be outside Paris proper, in Seine-Saint-Denis, one of France’s poorest departments — just five minutes from Paris by train, but currently a world away.

Would that be the same Saint-Denis that was supposed to be rejuvenated in 1998 by the FIFA World Cup and the building of the Stade de France? The one which nobody wants to go anywhere near unless there’s a game or concert on, and the modern office blocks built nearby remain mostly empty? So what will be different this time?

Missika says, “For me, the Games are above all the construction of a Grand-Parisian identity.”

That’s all the Olympic Games ever are, a manifestation of a politician’s ego, funded with taxpayer cash.

I asked Missika if he expected Brexit to benefit Paris. He replied that he considered London and Paris a single city, “the metropolis”. You can travel between them in less time than it takes to cross Shanghai. Anyway, he adds: “I have the impression Brexit won’t happen, since the English are pragmatic. The moment when they say, ‘We were wrong, we’ll take a step back’ will be a bit humiliating, but it will be better than doing Brexit.”

At least if all these grand plans go horribly awry we won’t be able to blame it on hubris, eh? Such down-to-earth people these French politicians, aren’t they? But we knew that already. The real question is, why is a British newspaper felching them so?

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