top of page

What can we learn from fireworks?

A Human Risk lesson from Germany where in the days leading up to New Year’s Eve, the normal ban on private firework 'displays' is lifted in the name of personal freedom, resulting in scenes like this from Schöneberg in Berlin last night.

Video © Twitter user @Trobbbyyy

This was filmed on New Year’s Eve Eve, so things will likely escalate tonight. Particularly as the ban wasn’t lifted during the past two years to avoid putting additional pressure on hospitals. As a result, those who oppose COVID restrictions — which still exist, for example, on most public transport here — may well see the right to set off fireworks as freedom they wish to fully exercise this year.

Interestingly from an ethical perspective, some retailers have chosen not to sell fireworks this year for environmental reasons and to avoid scaring animals. Since fireworks are relatively price-inelastic and high-margin goods, this isn’t without cost.

It is obviously hard to enforce a ban on people setting off fireworks, but since most people don't make their own — unlike guns, you can't 3D print them — banning them from sale is a very effective way of stopping them from being used.

My view is that while I understand and respect the ‘letting off steam’ and personal freedom arguments, fireworks in the hands of people with little or no expertise with them is a recipe for disaster. Notably at a time when people are likely to have been consuming alcohol. I think the environmental costs and impact on animals and other people mean I'm in favour of not lifting the ban.

As this quote from this Washington Post article ( highlights:

“Masuod Yousefzada, a doctor, practising near Berlin, said the sudden influx of patients in emergency rooms has reminded him of war casualties in places such as Afghanistan, where he grew up.

“Hand burns, face burns,” he said, adding that the stream of victims usually starts around 20 minutes after midnight. “Why are people okay with this happening?” he wonders.”

It’s a good question. I wish you all a happy and safe — as they say in Germany — 'Rutsch' (slide) into the New Year.

EDIT: I’ve just come across this excellent post by Nic Houghton that puts the rules into more context. Well worth a read:

Let me know what you think in the comments.

bottom of page