While I often criticize manufacturers, I try to remain sympathetic to their collective plight. Despite being multinational corporations that typically lack accountability, they’re still businesses that need to turn a profit to maintain their existence and are constantly coping with fluid regulatory rules or social pressures. That’s one reason why green initiatives are often more about optics and money than achieving any tangible environmental goals.
But not adhering to cultural dogmas can have real ramifications, as BMW and Daimler recently found out. The companies are being sued in their native Germany for allegedly failing to meet carbon reduction targets and not setting an official date to abolish the internal combustion engine.
That probably sounds reasonable enough if you’re an eco-warrior or one of those Extinction Rebellion types who block roads (forcing vehicles to idle unproductively) as a way to protest air pollution. But if you’re sane, you might be wondering how a company can be sued for manufacturing products consumers continue to purchase and have been around for over a century.
Apparently, it’s all the rage in Europe.
Earlier this month, Greenpeace and the German environmental non-governmental organization (NGO) Deutsche Umwelthilfe (literally DUH) said they would be taking action against Volkswagen, BMW, Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler, and oil producer Wintershall Dea if they didn’t immediately strengthen their environmental commitments.
While this sounds exactly like extortion, a legal precedent was actually set in the Netherlands last year. A case was brought against Royal Dutch Shell, with regional courts ruling that the company had to reduce its greenhouse emissions by 45 percent by 2030 (vs 2019 levels). Shell claimed that its previous timetable of 2050 still adhered to the Paris Agreement. But the court was seemingly disinterested in the accord and ultimately sided with Friends of the Earth Netherlands, Greenpeace, Fossil Free Netherlands, and their co-plaintiffs.
NGOs have since decided to go against German automakers and oil concerns, with Greenpeace and DUH leading the charge this time. According to Reuters and Germany’s Handelsblatt, a formal suit was filed on Monday evening:
In letters to the firms in early September, the companies were given until September 20 to agree to the NGO’s demands, which also included limiting production of internal combustion engine (ICE) cars ahead of 2030.
Neither of the companies has so far set an end date for ICE car production.
BMW and Daimler confirmed to Reuters on Monday that they had not accepted the NGO’s demands.
You know, I think a lot of my controversial ire for electric vehicles stems from the fact that they’re being mandated rather than improved to a point where they make sense to buy over internal-combustion cars. We already have a regulatory environment that financially penalizes entities for not being sufficiently green. But there’s also this constant government involvement that cuts companies a break for selling EVs and allows manufacturers to get off with little more than a slap on the wrist when they really screw things up.
The whole thing borders on being farcical and it often seems like nobody is taking a serious, objective look into any of this. EVs are great for some people and totally impractical for others. Their swift adoption is also likely to have indirect consequences for a place like Germany, where the population remains heavily reliant on coal for energy production.
Something tells me an unrestrained push toward electrification may pan out like the EU’s former passion for diesel. Europe had been pushing diesel vehicles as the greener alternative to gasoline for decades, offering all kinds of incentives to ensure residents would buy them. Then it found out that they were flooding the atmosphere with nitrogen oxides and loading up cities with soot. The resulting backlash the regulators into a tizzy as they upgraded efficiency rules automakers couldn’t hope to adhere to. Now they’re ready to embrace electric vehicles with wild abandon while largely ignoring the perils of mining the materials necessary for battery production, the widespread job losses associated with EV manufacturing, and proper grid loading.
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