Sunset over the Oslo Opera ©Eric Haidara

Norway's Dream of the Car-Free Capital

Bergen, Norway - Clearly, Norwegians know how to make right decisions. For example, last fall when the Oslo city council decided on establishing car-free zones in the city center until 2019. There are of course exceptions, like with all political affairs. Zero-emission Busses, Taxis and people with disabilities will still be able to drive through the city center.

But still, the home of 1000 people – the other 90.000 just work there in the daytime -  will not be any further stressed by private-car traffic. This is part of an ambitious plan cutting down the greenhouse gas emissions to 50% by 2020, as The Guardian states. The environmental project is believed to decrease the city’s traffic in general and thereby make public transport faster and more reliable. It is hard to imagine that someone would not appreciate those measures.

So is this Oslo-Plan an important step towards a new and ecofriendly self-perception of major cities or is it just western snobbery?

„When it comes to the cars-ruling in Oslo, I really like it. I think it's kind of funny how a lot of people probably just voted for the MDG […] to clear their conscience. And then when they personally feel the consequences, they get really pissed,” says Anna Matilda Kirsebom Lanto, a 20-year-old Oslo resident.
She continues: „We don't really like to move away from our comfortable bubble. […] And we like to think that we care about the environment, but when we have to leave OUR own car outside the city center, we get angry.”

In other countries people would probably react exactly the same, maybe even worse. And being honest, it is a normal human character trait. Everyone appreciates changes towards a more ecofriendly environment, but please, not in the own backyard or - in this case – in the own capital!

Alarming air pollution in the German capital Berlin forces the city council to recommend sports and running in the morning, otherwise serious health damage can occur due to fine particles. Because of less traffic, the deleterious fine particles in the 3.5 million city reduce during the night, which leads to fresher and less unhealthy air in the morning.

Taking a look at China’s Beijing, a city with three times as much inhabitants as Berlin, the extreme air pollution is even more an issue. However, implementing projects like the Norwegian one, would be nearly impossible for Beijing at the moment. Banning cars from a 21 million city would be like tying up somebody’s legs while he is trying to live through the day. Nonetheless, the urgency is proportional to the extreme pollution. All accusations of Norway being the hipster of all countries – i.e. to do something, before it is cool – aside, it is important to have a pioneer.

„I think it is good for Oslo as a city, and good for Norway as a country being a good role model for other nations. Other cities such as Munich, Freiburg, Gent and Florence have car free zones, and Oslo should take a leaf out of their books and see what works and what does not,” thinks Aleksander Nygard Tonheim, who lives in Bergen, Norway.

So instead of being judgmental and blame Norway for its obvious hypocrisy – flowing oil while still trying to cover itself in a green, modern dress of hydropower – it might be better to see the opportunities arising from such measures like the one in Oslo.

One of the most popular examples for green energy is Costa Rica. By 2021, on its 200th birthday, the Central American country plans to get fully CO2-neutral. Although the country uses hydropower for four fifths of its power requirements, allowing it to cover the power demand for impressive 280 days a year, its 2021 plan is based on buying pollution rights. So will this measurement bring a fundamental change? Well, on paper, yes. But the CO2 stays. Are such plans supposed to be a motivational push for countries like China or India to reduce their CO2-emissions?

So much for the state of things. While Norway is the cool and modern hipster, China is dead certain the old grumpy man living in the hut and being the last one to be convinced. He is most definitely not into all that new fancy Hippie-stuff like human rights or sustainability, but at the same time, his way of life works just as well as those of others, yet. And that is why this measurement IS a sign of wealth, but – and this is what we are all jealous about -  it’s the definition of a first-world problem at the same time. And a country taking care of it‘s first-world-problems, is a country that has already cared about that Hippie-stuff the old man still has to learn.

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