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The real air polluters

Low emission zones and diesel driving bans are locking more and more vehicles out of European cities. Ships and planes, which also contribute to air pollution, are mostly not regulated at all. In Hamburg, for example, ships on the Elbe cause pollution equivalent to an unfathomable 1.42 million diesel vehicles. What is the point of the diesel ban there?

There is a lot of criticism of the diesel driving bans in Hamburg, for example from the political opposition. The closure of Max-Brauer-Allee and Stresemannstraße to certain diesel vehicles is supposed to protect residents, but it also leads to vehicles taking a different route through the city and causing more air pollution there. The vehicles do not become cleaner by closing individual streets. The measure would only work if entire areas were closed to old diesels. However, the number of vehicles as a whole will not be reduced because old ones will simply be replaced by new ones.

Although one can argue about the measure, the direct residents are indeed protected if fewer old diesel vehicles are on the road in the immediate vicinity.

Nevertheless, diesel vehicles are not the real air polluters in Hamburg and many other cities. Countless ships carrying heavy fuel oil are on the Elbe and in the port of Hamburg. On average, they blow five tonnes of nitrogen oxide into the air every day. This corresponds to the emissions of 1.42 million VW Passat Variant diesel cars.  A single cruise ship produces up to 150 tonnes of nitrogen oxide per day! That would be 21.45 million VW Passat Variants just chugging around in the Bay of Hamburg and blowing their exhaust gases into the air.

In other port cities and those with large airports, too, the question is justified why the burden of reducing pollutants always falls on car drivers. Aircraft produce large amounts of ultra-fine dust, which is particularly dangerous because the small particles can travel far into the lungs and blood.

Neither ships nor aeroplanes are regulated. For one thing, because this would probably require an international agreement. On the other hand, because cruise ships and freighters are incredibly important for tourism and the economy and one would not want to do without them.

Nevertheless, the burden of climate change and the protection of public health must be borne by industry and business as much as by private individuals. Just because it is easier to regulate the entry of vehicles into cities than ships and planes from all over the world, the latter cannot be forgotten - especially given the enormous share they contribute to air pollution in our cities.

So it is time for politicians to take action and impose stricter emission limits on ships and planes as well, in order to protect citizens. After all, the next tightening of regulations and bans on vehicles are already on the horizon.