They've taken their tie-dyes and bell bottoms up to the attic, but a certain kind of liberal hasn't changed much since disco reigned over the jukebox. They dust off a failed policy from the past and present it as something fresh and new. Last week, the British government said it would cut the 70 miles per hour speed limit to 60, all to save the environment, beginning with a stretch of motorway near Nottingham.
This won't do anything more to cool the planet and or save the kudzu than the despised "double nickel" speed limit did to reduce oil consumption in America of 1973. Bureaucrats still think that ordering a sign up on the side of the road will reduce dependency on foreign oil, clear the air of soot and debris, save the children, reduce congestion, relieve indigestion and promote world peace. We who live in the real world understand that all that a widely ignored speed limit will do is give the sheriff of Nottingham an excuse to relieve travelers of their shillings.
Cars and trucks have moved on, too. "On-board computers" have fine-tuned internal-combustion engines to the point that little gasoline is wasted. Sunshine and daisies, not smog, flow out of 21st-century tailpipes. Even sports cars have little trouble meeting strict emissions standards.
This is of no interest to government dreamers, both here and over there, who get their kicks from telling others how to live their lives. The Ambient Air Quality and Cleaner Air for Europe Directive was handed down from Brussels, and Britons must comply, much like our own states are bullied by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Roger Helmer, a member of the European Parliament representing the U.K. Independence Party, says Britain must flee the European Union to escape the nanny. "Everyone knows that this will damage industry, especially small businesses, and add to costs," he says. "It is an example of obsessive environmental ideology and political posturing."
Once a fringe perspective, distrust of the centralized and remote bureaucracy is spreading to other European capitals. In Germany, the Christian Socialist Union (CSU) that backs Chancellor Angela Merkel sounded a euroskeptic rallying message last week: "We need a form of withdrawal therapy for commissioners intoxicated by regulation ... The CSU ... demands that the EU concentrate on what's important and doesn't bother citizens with petty matters."
The Eurocrats are increasingly worried about losing their grip on the Continent's throat. Later this month, the European Commission will reveal that it is retreating from a scheme to dictate the kind of power plants each country can employ to generate electricity. These are people who in the 1970s would be waving "No Nukes" banners at power plants that generate zero-carbon-dioxide emissions. Most of them have cut their hair and taken a bath, but now they're trying to impose windmills and solar panels as the only zero-carbon-dioxide option.
The mild gesture of leniency may be too little, too late. The London Daily Telegraph quotes an anonymous European Union official who thinks he hears a distant death knell. "We assume Britain's leaving the EU so we don't even bother thinking about British sensitivities at the moment." The news of "speed" limits and job-killing environmental rules aren't music in anybody's ears.