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What France’s ‘Yellow Vest’ Protests Can Teach California

A lesson from Paris: Policies that reduce climate emissions at the expense of the economically disadvantaged are unsustainable.
A "yellow vest" protester in Paris, where high gas taxes have contributed to a wave of unrest.
A "yellow vest" protester in Paris, where high gas taxes have contributed to a wave of unrest.Benoit Tessier/Reuters

As the “yellow vest” protests erupt in France, Californians should recognize that many of the policies provoking outrage across the Atlantic are also stoking divisions in our own cities and suburbs. French Prime Minister Edouard Phillipe has now suspended the unpopular fuel tax increase that first brought protesters to the streets, but residents in rural and exurban France still feel excluded from public transportation and other government services they believe wealthy urbanites are enjoying on their dime. When the French government increased the national gasoline tax, those living outside pricey urban areas, who often drive out of necessity rather than by choice, had the most to lose.

Here in California, the gas tax that ignited the French protests brings to mind the most contentious proposition on last month’s midterm election ballot: Proposition 6, which would have repealed a gas tax implemented in 2017. The gas tax is a polarizing issue in the state and cost an Orange County senator his job. Although Prop 6 failed, a substantial 43 percent of Californians—most of them living outside urbanized coastal regions—did vote to get rid of the added cost at the pump.