15 million cars less!

Politicians and even parts of the environmental movement want to achieve the climate-friendly mobility of the future with more and more new cars. But the demand for fewer cars is crucial to the transportation transition.

Bicycles and cars

Anyone who reads the coalition agreement of the new government quickly realizes: the chapter on mobility disappoints across the board. The formulations are totally woolly, the traffic turnaround is not even mentioned.

It’s hard to expect the FDP-led ministry to take a serious course away from private motorized transport. Of all the sectors where there have been no CO2 savings at all since 1990, there is still far too little happening, and it’s also being done in the wrong places.

The only key figure in the section on car traffic is: at least 15 million electric cars in 2030. No word on how many internal combustion vehicles are to disappear from the roads for this purpose. There is no vision of if and how the number of cars can be reduced.

In an extreme case, the 15 million cars that are registered in Germany today could simply be added to the 48 million and the traffic light coalition would have achieved its expansion target in e-mobility – but certainly not the climate targets. In order to put 15 million e-cars on the road and at the same time significantly reduce the vehicle population, virtually no more combustion cars should be allowed to be registered with immediate effect.

A look at the reduction paths in the current climate protection law shows just how much would have to change in the transport sector. Compared to the pre-Corona level, we are talking about almost halving CO2 emissions by 2030 – and that would not even put us on the “1.5 degree path”, which would require even more rapid reductions.

Without significantly fewer cars on the roads, these goals cannot be achieved. Instead, the passenger car population has increased by another six million vehicles in the last ten years.

Who dares to demand fewer cars?

Although traffic turnaround initiatives have long pointed out the high social costs of car traffic, the demand for fewer cars is rarely given center stage by organizations and campaigns. The mobility turnaround will only succeed if many millions of people give up their own cars (or at least their second cars) on their doorsteps.

Mobility that meets the needs and climate of all instead of “free travel” at the expense of others at the expense of others, from which especially the wealthy benefit. Because in transport, too, the richer the car, the more it consumes – except that this increase in car ownership and use is also specifically promoted by the state.

Portrait of Martin Bauhof

Martin Bauhof

has been campaigning for climate justice for many years and has recently organized the IAA demonstration and the “Mobilitatswende Jetzt” action days co-organized. He lives in the Upper Bavarian province.

The new government is also sticking to this, whether with the company car privilege, the commuter allowance, or more recently the e-car subsidy. The focus on promoting e-cars as a supposed policy for a traffic turnaround will hardly lead to fewer cars.

Without a timely phase-out of the internal combustion engine, the trend toward second or third e-cars for the affluent will continue to intensify, giving the prevailing culture of automobility a green coat of paint at best.

Progressive mobility researchers and transport experts agree that the number of cars must be drastically reduced. Even the then Minister of Transport Andreas Scheuer told the daily newspaper last year Taz, that there should only be 30 to 35 million cars in Germany in 2030. Fridays for Future calls for two-thirds fewer cars in cities by 2035.

The arguments for this are obvious:

  • Less consumption of resources
  • less tire wear, thus less particulate matter and microplastics
  • Less energy consumed, including renewable energy, which is more urgently needed elsewhere
  • Less land sealing for new roads
  • decreasing space requirements for parked cars, especially in cities

It is countless cars that literally stand in the way of the traffic turnaround – usually 23 hours a day. But it is also the ideas of mobility in people’s heads that block alternatives, not infrequently combined with an emotional attachment to one’s own vehicle.

There is no human right to own a car

The move away from the status symbol “car” to the status symbol “no car” is far. This is precisely why it is important to pursue the political goal of “fewer cars” as a prerequisite for the mobility of the future. Therefore, in addition to the necessary demands for more and better public transportation, an immediate stop to road construction, and priority for pedestrian, bicycle, and public transportation, targeted measures are also needed to reduce the number of cars.

These measures must be implemented at various levels: The federal government needs clear targets for the number of cars that will still be registered in 2030. Instead of massive subsidies for new car purchases, there should be restrictions on registration and sales. A significantly increased tax on second and third cars would also be a conceivable measure here.

Portrait of Max Frauenlob

Max Frauenlob

has long been committed to the climate and transport revolution, among others at the Konzeptwerk Neue okonomie in Leipzig and at “Mobility Turnaround Now”. With family in the countryside, he tries to become less car-dependent.

Incentives for fewer cars need to be put in place at state and municipal level, for example making resident parking more expensive while at the same time introducing a premium for people who don’t own a car.

Progressive cities that aim to be carbon-neutral in as little as 10 to 15 years need to answer the question of how they can consistently cut down on car traffic. The social cost of automobility should no longer be passed on to the general public.

Ultimately, what is needed is a cultural change driven by consistent structural policies and attractive alternatives to car traffic. In order to drastically reduce the number of cars, you also need to take measures to make using your own car less attractive.

There is no human right to own a car, or even multiple cars, certainly not in the face of advancing climate catastrophe. If political action is not taken to reduce the number of cars, the next flood will take over – but it will also take our crops, homes and even our fellow human beings with it. And this will happen more and more often in the future.

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