Sunday, March 16, 2014

Gasping for air in Paris

For the past week, air pollution in Paris has been at record-breaking levels, thanks to unusual weather conditions. The pollution has been off the scale several days in a row. Unseasonably warm, dry, calm weather has trapped fine particulates in the atmosphere beneath an inversion layer that refuses to go away, choking the entire metropolitan area in dense smog. It’s hard to even see the Eiffel Tower. I feel like I’m living in Shanghai. Although, to be honest, the pollution doesn’t seem to be any worse than what I endured in Los Angeles back in the day. This is very exceptional for Paris, but that doesn’t make it any more tolerable.

I don’t walk a lot these days, and so the severe restrictions on walking that the pollution might impose are not too much of a problem. Still, I have more headaches than usual, and my eyes and throat burn a bit.

A good rainstorm and the return of normal March weather would help a great deal. Nothing of the kind is currently in sight, however.

The government, in its well-nigh infinite wisdom, made public transportation free starting on Thursday, for the duration of the pollution alert. Unfortunately, since the politicians didn’t really think things through, this only made things worse. Most people who drive cars do not do so to save money over public transportation, and so making the latter free provides them with no incentive to abandon the cars. Furthermore, the prospect of other people taking public transportation makes them chary of using it themselves, and encourages them to assume that the streets will be less clogged with traffic as Someone Else gives up his motor vehicle for the M├ętro. But that’s not how it actually worked out, and traffic and pollution have been worse than ever.

Overall I’m not a big fan of warm weather at any time of year. It’s 20° F above normal right now, and of course people are cooing with pleasure for the most part, but I wonder what the weather will be like in July or August if it’s still 20° above normal. Heating is cheaper than air conditioning, and dressing for cold weather is much easier than dressing for warm weather.

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