Despite Paris Agreement, Breathing in Paris Air Is Like Smoking Cigarettes


Ah, Paris. It’s the home to some of the world’s best cuisine, the Paris Agreement, and a population that still believes Peugeot can make something that can passably be described as a car.

America reaped a whirlwind of angry sentiment when they pulled out of the 2016 carbon emissions accord. We seem to be doing all right at containing pollution in the interim. So, how’s Paris doing?

Not quite as well.

“Spending a long weekend in Paris could be as bad for your health as smoking two cigarettes. But this is at least a lot less polluted than in Prague, where your mini-break could be the equivalent of smoking four cigarettes, or even worse in Beijing, where it could be same as puffing up to 16 cigarettes,” France 24 reported.

That’s at least the takeaway from a study by the European Transport & Environment association released on Friday. It revealed how bad the air is in some continental capitals — and the results weren’t terribly good.

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“You no longer need to sit next to a dedicated smoker to be a victim of passive smoking. Air pollution is such that you only have to walk around for a few days to breathe the toxic equivalent of several cigarettes,” the report claimed.

“This study obviously has serious implications for tourists, who typically spend their days wandering the streets visiting sites, but it also will cause concern for native cyclists and joggers striving for a healthier lifestyle but instead exposing themselves to toxins.”

The European Transport & Environment Association used models from Berkeley Earth to predict the pollution in major European cities.

“According to Berkeley Earth, the most harmful pollution consists of small particulate matter, 2.5 microns in size or less,” France 24 reported.

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“These particles are small enough to work their way deep into the lungs and into the bloodstream, where they trigger heart attacks, stroke, lung cancer and asthma. It shows that breathing 22 micrograms of fine particles has the same health effects as smoking a cigarette. In Paris, this is equal to 183 cigarettes every year.”

This is in spite of the fact that the French government brags it “cut its emissions by more than 10% between 1990 and 2013, far exceeding its target under the Kyoto Protocol, which was not to increase them.” (The Kyoto Protocol, for the uninitiated, was another climate change agreement, which also went forward without the United States as a participant.)

So, what’s the culprit? Well, the one thing mentioned in the article was the current European heat wave.

However, there’s another “green” technology that may actually be part of the problem.

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As the BBC reported in May, diesel fumes are one of the major causes of pollution in Paris. That’s because pump taxes in Europe are prohibitively high, making diesel engines — which get significantly better gas mileage — an attractive proposition.

In France, 52 percent of new passenger cars in 2016 had diesel engines. This was actually down significantly from 2013, where diesel made up 66 percent of new cars.

Especially if you’ve bought a Volkswagen, diesel tends to emit more pollutants than your average gas (or “petrol,” if you’re unlucky enough to live in France) engine. That’s part of the reason why Paris is so polluted.

The City of Lights is currently trying to bring down its emissions by outlawing diesel from entering the city center by 2024 and gas-engined cars by 2030. Whether this will do anything remains to be seen. However, for the moment, it seems the home of the Paris Agreement desperately needs to get itself together.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture