Where does the EPZ divide go?

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The debate on EPZs is still a debate among experts, but it is beginning to gain importance in the field of political politics. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as it is true that car and mobility issues cannot be reduced to purely technical debates when they relate to our "living together". However, when we look at the issue from this point of view, we have to admit that, although it cannot be reduced to the question of whether or not the "bobos" should impose their rules, the question does oppose two rather incompatible points of view.

Taking advantage of the publication of a note from the Terra Nova think tank signed by Thierry Pech (director general of the said think tank) and Mélanie Heard (head of its Health Unit), the editorialist Thomas Legrand signed an article in the daily Libération on Friday entitled: "The EPZs, too easy targets of demagogues".

The article is rather paradoxical since it includes on the surface a kind of call for dialogue and deeper knowledge that is effectively made by the authors of the Terra Nova note, but it also includes a sub-text that is quite clear from the title alone, which consists in classifying as "populist" or even extreme right-wing anyone who speaks out against the EPZs: since the RN has made this one of its anti-"bobo" battle horses and T. Legrand and Libération have made the defence of the bobo (or the denunciation of the sociological non-existence of this population) a major cause, so it is urgent to come to the rescue of the EPZs by instilling in the mind of anyone who doubts the validity of the measures taken a doubt about the political meaning of the remarks he is about to make.

T. Legrand writes the following:
"The delimitation of these zones, often located in the heart of cities, in commercial and rather well-to-do neighbourhoods, can create real or perceived inequalities. Theoretically, only electric vehicles, therefore expensive, only local residents, therefore well-to-do, only followers of soft mobilitý (bicycles, scooters), taxis and public transport can circulate in these 'carbon car free' neighbourhoods. Neighbourhoods that generally also concentrate many workers who cannot afford to live there. All the ingredients are there for the trial of a 'bobo law', of the stigmatisation of the suburbanite, obliged to put his car away."

This is a pretty good summary of the political message that is de facto sent by the creation of the EPZs and which hardly needs any interpretation by the RN or others to appear as such: Just as, on the international level, calls from developed countries to opt for frugal growth patterns are difficult to hear, demanding that households dependent on cars because they are forced to move away from cities behave like the inhabitants of hypercentres that they cannot be could look like a provocation or, at the very least, a political communication error.

Incidentally, we note that the editorialist does not bother with details and suggests that the problem that the implementation of EPZs seeks to solve is that of decarbonisation, which is not the case.

Indeed, as we know, if it was only a question of fighting against global warming, then the exclusion of diesel vehicles, which today poses a social problem for holders of Crit'Air 3, 4 and 5 vehicles (and tomorrow 2), would not be necessary.

It so happens that, because it was believed that this was a fairly good way of rapidly reducing CO2 emissions from the fleet, governments - after the Kyoto Protocol was adopted at COP 3 in 1997 - favoured diesel and led to the fact that the average 11-year-old fleet owned by households is now, and for a few years to come, highly dieselised.

It is also the case that when we look at air quality issues in dense areas and try to reduce not CO2 but NOx and particulate emissions, which are responsible for respiratory diseases for example, the picture is quite different and this is what justifies the EPZs.

T. Legrand puts the issue on the political terrain and slams the anti-FTA discourse by writing: "Opponents of the FEZs rename the concept as 'high exclusion zones'. The part of the right that plays on the 'urban-privileged-bobo' versus 'real-popular-rural-and-peri-urban-France' divide will have a field day."

He would be right to mock this opposition if we were talking about decarbonisation, because global warming concerns us all and the divide he mentions is artificial in this case. He is much less justified in doing so if it is a question of air pollution since, de facto - as the location and configuration of the EPZs confirm - the pollution in question is only a real problem in the very dense areas where the "bobos" reside, while rural and peri-urban areas are little affected: To say that diesel has become the enemy of the cities while it remains the friend of the fields is basically true and there is therefore a problem of political economy of the regulation of externalities which refers to the question of knowing the reduction of which emissions one wants to prioritise in relation to the interests of those who are either the most numerous or the most capable of putting forward their point of view.

The authors of the Terra Nova report have clearly understood what is at stake - and T. Legrand summons them on this precise point: we must hurry to find poor people in dense and very dense areas who, without knowing it, have the same interests as well-to-do inhabitants of dense areas worried about their children's health.

It must be shown that drastically limiting the circulation of vehicles that emit fine particles or nitrogen oxides by setting up EPZs will improve the health of populations that are not suspected of bobotism. Thus, in the note by T. Pech and M. Heard, in the section devoted to "health and climate issues", a paragraph deals with "air pollution and social inequalities".

It points out that the health consequences of ambient air pollution are also distributed along a "social gradient" and that a study by Unicef and the Climate Action Network found highly exposed working-class neighbourhoods in the Lille and Lyon conurbations. In fact, on the edge of the ring roads, low-income households that have not yet managed to escape to the more or less distant suburbs suffer from this pollution.

The authors write a little further on, citing a study by Airparif, which "recently showed that ultrafine particle emissions are much higher near roads outside the city centre than inside: 2.5 times higher near the eastern ring road and 5 times higher near the RN 20 at Montlhéry, about thirty kilometres from the capital. This, incidentally, underlines the fact that ambient air pollution is not exclusively a problem for the inhabitants of the city centres but also for the people living in the suburbs and, among them, in particular those, often modest, who live close to the main roads. CQFD

However, seeking to multiply the arguments going in the same direction, the authors cite another study showing "based on the analysis of nearly 80,000 deaths that occurred in Paris between 2004 and 2009, that the additional risk of death when NO2 levels rose by 10 μg/m³ was 3 to 4 times higher for people living in the least favoured neighbourhoods than for people living in the most favoured neighbourhoods."

Nevertheless, in all honesty, the authors add: "This is not so much due to the geographical distribution of the highest concentrations of pollution (in Paris intramuros, the most exposed neighbourhoods are rather the most favoured neighbourhoods, unlike Lille) as to the more global health situation of people and their 'micro-environments'. The poorest people are in fact generally in poorer health than the most well-off.

In other words, in the same way that to establish the danger of these pollutions one has to resort to a not very readable quantification in terms of "premature deaths", the imputation of these damages of air pollution according to the social gradient is not self-evident and the claim of the urban bobos to do good for those who are not is as necessary to thwart the political trap that is set before the EPZs as it is difficult to achieve "scientifically".

What is clear is that the problem of the EPZs, of those who live there and of those who, without living there, frequent them, is not so much that of the poor against the rich as that of the peri-urbanised middle classes forced to opt for residential strategies involving multi-motorisation rates and mileage travelled, which are opposed to the categories - which we can stop calling bobos - who have the means and the desire to live in the central cities or the inner suburbs.

It is indeed the former who are the greatest emitters of local pollutants and carbon. Insofar as they are going to live in the increasingly remote suburbs, which are the only ones that remain financially accessible, they are the first to benefit from the fact that owning and using a vehicle has become less and less expensive because buying an old vehicle and keeping it for a long time is less and less risky.

The requirement that the EPZ will (or would) place on them fundamentally attacks their residential choices which are also life choices. Implicitly, behind the EPZs and other elements that are emerging in urban and planning policies, such as the fight against soil artificialisation and the limitation of the possibilities of building new housing in the suburbs that would be associated with it, there is a battle that "puts suburbanisation and the car in the same bag".

Rational and not very embarrassing for the elites, this emergency battle would require that forms of land use that have been structured over decades be called into question in a few years.

Since it will not be possible to obtain significant changes in a short time that would more or less challenge the trends towards peri-urbanisation, it is by facilitating the transformation of the stock and/or the enrichment of the public transport offer or alternative forms of car use that reasonable and non-stigmatising solutions can be found.
It is therefore not wrong to say that EPZs are not tools made for the rich to protect themselves from the nuisances generated by the poorest. What is true, however, is that the model of the dense, pedestrianised city with a high level of public transport provision and multi-modal travel practices is a summary of the models successively adopted by the elites and to which neither the working classes nor the middle classes have subscribed.

Thus, although desirable and practicable by their members, these models only manage to seduce them, and the appeal of the pavilion, the barbecue, the vegetable garden, the greenery and the pure air continues to create a territory and mobilities that are difficult to green.

In order to decarbonise them, should we attack the root of the problem and ensure that urbanisation stops being peri-urbanisation? Or should we accept that space is occupied in this way and that this goes hand in hand with a very large fleet of vehicles on which households spend very little? These are the real political questions underlying the current debate and the yellow waistcoat movement.

Of course, as the authors of the Terra Nova report indicate, a more detailed knowledge of mobility practices is necessary in order to better target the content of the EPZ measures, the associated aid and/or the accepted exceptions, and will undoubtedly make it possible to realise that the constraints on households may be overestimated if we are content to gauge them on the basis of the fleet of vehicles that will not be able to enter the EPZs during the day in 2024 or 2025.

The fact remains that the debate on EPZs, even if it is not reduced to what T. Legrand calls a "crass binarity", will not be able to avoid the question of whether what T. Legrand has in mind when he calls the "new" EPZs "the new" EPZs "the new" EPZs. Legrand has in mind when he speaks of "creating a better living environment for everyone" will correspond tomorrow to the continuation of an urban sprawl movement that we will try to make less emissive or to the application of another model to the population against their will and for their own good.

12/12/2022

The weekly column by Bernard Jullien is also on www.autoactu.com.

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