Take a deep breath, unless you’re by a road. An open letter signed by 107 German lung doctors said nitrogen dioxide is not as dangerous as authorities claim. They called the claims “populism,” and say they aren’t based on science.
That triggered a highly political debate. ADAC, a car club, then called for air pollution limits to be eased because they are being used by some municipalities to ban diesel vehicles on major thoroughfares. The air quality levels also feed into Dieselgate and VW’s manipulation of auto emissions.
The writer of the open letter – not a particularly scientific tool – is Dieter Köhler, a media darling who charges that the current legal limits are purely political, driven by ideology. He said rather than emissions, more attention should be paid to factors such as lifestyle, smoking and alcohol consumption when looking at sickness and deaths.
That flies in the face of WHO data. And Germany’s environment agency countered that Germans lose 50,000 life years to excessive pollution, which also causes thousands of deaths each year.
The transport minister here welcomed what he called a fact-driven approach to the debate. And the fur is flying as Germans diss one another as “lobster-eating social democrats” and “Porsche-driving shareholders.” For now, I’m steering clear of those doctors.
The whole brouhaha has robbed momentum from another fevered debate about cars. Saying “speed limit” to a German is like talking gun control in the United States. The Autobahns are treasured for the speeding freedom they allow drivers. Earlier this week, an expert commission suggested a blanket limit might reduce carbon emissions and save lives. But the car-loving Andreas Scheuer, the transport minister, postponed the committee’s next meeting, and promised he wouldn’t do anything to dampen drivers’ thrills. Come March, the government and parliament will mull the proposals; until then, Germany’s smog huffing lead-foots are roaring through the country, leaving common sense choking in the dust.
In case you’re wondering, conversations here occasionally stray from cars. Deutsche Bank continues to deliver a daily dose of scandal. Today brings a double dose. In Washington, two powerful House committee chairs want a joint investigation into Deutsche Bank, under scrutiny from US Democrats over its business dealings with President Donald Trump. And the Fed is apparently probing Deutsche Bank in connection with a money-laundering scheme at Danske Bank’s Estonian unit. Deutsche, tight-lipped, is complying but what happens next depends on how you define due diligence and whether Germany’s largest bank was obliged to know what its customers were up to. Deutsche Bank’s legal troubles are extensive and ongoing and yesterday, the economics minister kindly noted that the bank was on the road to recovery. It’s worrying that he needed to say anything at all.
Brighter words came out of Davos from Germany’s chancellor. Angela Merkel gave an impassioned speech in support of multilateralism. She called on other leaders to stand up to populism. And she talked of the challenges of being a woman and a leader in a lengthy interview with Die Zeit, our sister publication.
That same day, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, her heir-apparent, gave a wide-ranging interview to Handelsblatt, wholeheartedly supporting Manfred Weber as a potential EU commission president, and counting the cost of failing to make the switchover from diesel to electric mobility. Asked about Brexit, she called on the Brits to finally decide what they want.
If you want to receive the Daily Briefing in your inbox or subscribe to our other newsletters, please click here