In Germany, horsepower-flush automobiles and the 7,200-mile autobahn highway system that accommodates them are integral components of national mythology.
Be that as it may, driving on the expressway, significant length of which renounce any speed limit whatsoever, can be a chilling encounter for the hesitant.
As a native of the United States, a nation that also mythologizes the open road, I am not a slow driver.
But when someone blows by me on the left while I’m going 75 miles per hour and then disappears over the horizon like I’m driving a lawnmower, it’s completely unsettling.
In precision-engineered automobiles manufactured by storied brands like Volkswagen, BMW, and Mercedes Benz, German drivers—mostly male—have savored this alleged benefit of limitless speed for decades.
The climate crisis is causing Germans to reevaluate their relationship with the autobahn, which was once regarded as the best highway system in the world. As is frequently stated, Adolf Hitler did not initiate the project; rather, he embellished it to propagandistic acclaim.)
Experts assert that cars and trucks account for the majority of Germany’s transportation sector’s carbon emissions, and the higher a vehicle’s speed, the more emissions it produces.
When new gas-and-diesel burners will, if the EU parliament has its way, be banned by 2035 anyway, what’s the point of four- or five-lane thoroughfares?
Naturally, electric vehicles (EVs) also require safe roads. However, on well-maintained roads, they require fewer superhighways and more charging stations due to their lower horsepower and top speeds. Even though the speed of an e-car is impressive, it pales in comparison to the motorheads I see driving at 140 mph on the autobahn.
Also, with limited resources, the most pressing question in Germany right now is whether the tens of billions of euros intended for a new and wider autobahn wouldn’t be better spent on improving high-speed, densely networked rail service or expanding cycling highways, as in the Netherlands.
In the end, when we are in a race against time to decarbonize our economies, the preferences of car zealots have no place.
The European Union is putting in a lot of effort to reduce emissions by at least 55% by 2030, and Germany wants to do even better by 10%. Additionally, we are engaged in an energy conflict with Russia under Vladimir Putin.
However, the Covid-19 pandemic has only temporarily slowed the steady rise in EU transportation emissions over the past few years. The situation is even worse in Germany: Between 1990 and 2022, transportation’s contribution to the national footprint nearly doubled. whereas emissions have decreased in almost every other sector, including industry.
With almost 49 million vehicles on the road, Germany has the most of any EU nation. Even though EV sales are on the rise, the government’s goal of 15 million registered battery-installed vehicles by 2030 is unlikely to materialize.
As a result, Germany and every other nation with a car culture are urged by the International Energy Agency, a global energy forum, to immediately launch a sustainable transportation revolution. By 2050, the EU’s Green Deal envisions Europe becoming the world’s first carbon neutral continent. In addition, this month, the EU Commission made a proposal to reduce emissions by 90% for new trucks by 2040 and achieve zero emissions for new city buses by 2030.
However, Germany is stalling because the obstinate automobile manufacturers and their powerful lobby are steadfastly supporting the fervent car enthusiasts.
The liberal Free Democrats, who make up the auto-friendly corner, talk about the advantages of electric bikes, trains, and transportation. However, it vigorously opposes cutting subsidies for long-distance automobile commuters and placing low-carbon investments ahead of a wider and faster autobahn.
New autobahn lengths are being planned or constructed in six locations throughout Germany, one of which is Berlin, practically right through the backyard of my family.
Along with Social Democrats and the Green Party, Germany’s ruling coalition’s Free Democrats make the bold claim that more autobahns would alleviate traffic congestion, which incites public outrage and leaves a significant carbon footprint.
Urs Maier, a mobility expert from the Berlin think tank Agora Verkehrswende, says, “Preposterous.” Experience and research concur that the greater the number of paved roads, the more traffic they will attract. At first, it makes driving easier and more appealing, but after a while, you’ll just have to deal with traffic jams on more lanes than before, he informed me.
Tree huggers, then again, demand that the way to managing versatility outflows is moving private and business traffic from the street to rails. ( The footprint of German long-distance trains is less than a quarter that of a car, and they are largely electrified.
However, Germany’s rail network, which was once a source of national pride, has been severely neglected over the years by governments led by Angela Merkel from 2005 to 2021. Train passengers are understandably upset by the rise in the number of delayed and scratched trains as a result of underinvestment. During my Christmas trip to the in-laws, I noticed that most of them tend to blame the current government for the problems.
The Greens, in particular, extol the virtues of environmentally friendly transportation and argue that the only way to solve the problem is to invest in a train system that is efficient and tightly connected to other transportation options.
The federal government issued a €9-a-month all-Germany ticket that could be used on all buses, metros, and regional trains from the Baltic Sea to the Alps during the pandemic summer of 2022. At least in terms of sales, the ticket was a huge hit: 52 million altogether.
However, despite the fact that a lot more individuals were going in (jam-pressed) trains, the restricted proposition didn’t imply that people who love their vehicles and the expressway were any less faithful to the objects of their fondness. Neither the autobahn nor road travel will be ruined by a widespread switch away from internal combustion engines.
Instead, it’s possible to rethink Germany’s highways: a smaller autobahn for electric cars, buses, and trucks that has regular high-speed charging stations, or electric roads in the future.
Germany hopes to quickly increase the number of electric vehicle charging stations to one million over the next ten years from the current 70,000.
The repetitive message that Kraftwerk, a German band, intended to evoke the monotony of traveling on the highway itself in their 1975 hit “Autobahn” is not at risk of becoming outdated anytime soon. On the Autobahn, we drive constantly. On the Autobahn, we drive constantly.