Set at the foot of seven mountains, the city of Bergen has always attracted Norwegians who wanted to escape the hustle and bustle of Oslo. Bergen is known for its scenic beauty but it is also known for something less pleasant — smog. Like Los Angeles, temperature inversions often act like a lid over the city, trapping all emissions from the cars and buildings below.
Part of those emissions come from gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles and part come from fireplaces and wood stoves. It’s not always good to burn Norwegian wood. But with an increase in electric cars and recent bans on old wood furnaces, the air quality in Bergen is now the best it has been in the last 15 years.
Norway has gone all in on electric cars. Last month, more than 60% of new cars sold in the country were electric, thanks in large measure to aggressive incentives put in place by the government. Bergen has gone even further, offering free EV charging and preferential parking for EV drivers in the city’s center together with lower tolls and access to dedicated commuter lanes. As a result, Bergen was named the electric car capitol of Norway in 2018.
At the awards ceremony, Christina Bu, head of Elbil, the Norwegian Electric Vehicle Association, said “We want to emphasize the scope of action the municipalities have for facilitating electric cars and other zero emission vehicles. We want to inspire competition between cities to get the best of car parking with special emphasis on charging infrastructure. Bergen has excelled with the highest electric car share and it was ultimately the champion.”
All of Europe has been been in love with diesel-powered cars since the oil embargoes of the 1970s. That’s when national governments decided to provide incentives for people to buy diesel cars because diesels are more efficient than gasoline engines. Not only were taxes lowered on diesel cars, taxes on diesel fuel were also reduced.
Economics is considered a highly complex subject, but it is really quite simple. Lower prices win most of the time. Diesels became the vehicles of choice throughout Europe and continued their market dominance right up until September, 2015, when the Volkswagen diesel cheating scandal broke.
Diesels may get more miles per gallon than gasoline engines, but they also spew enormous quantities of nitrogen oxides and particulates into the air — both of which contribute to the photoreactive process that results in smog — not to mention what they do to lungs. The level of nitrogen oxides in the air over Bergen is now less than it was in 1990, according to Elbil.
As the proportion of electric cars in Bergen has gone up, the percentage of diesel cars on the roads in the area has gone down. Together with new rules banning old wood burning stoves and fireplaces — which also send clouds of particulates up the chimney — air quality in the city has increased proportionately.
In addition to promoting electric cars, Bergen is taking bold actions designed to reduce the total amount of traffic in and around the city, beginning with higher tolls during rush hour. The plan is to reduce vehicle emissions 70% by the year 2030. Congestion charging has resulted in more people deciding to carpool rather than drive into the city alone. The number of people using public transportation has also increased.
In the final analysis, its all about the quality of the air we breathe. Would you really want to suck in the stuff that comes out of the tailpipe of a gasoline- or diesel-powered car? In effect, that’s what we all do everyday. It’s madness and it needs to stop. It’s not about jobs or profits. It’s about not poisoning ourselves with our own detritus so we can all live longer, healthier lives. Isn’t that what any rational person would prefer?
Hat tip: Are Hansen