Cate Lawrence is an Australian tech journo living in Berlin. She focuses on all things mobility: ebikes, autonomous vehicles, VTOL, smart ci Cate Lawrence is an Australian tech journo living in Berlin. She focuses on all things mobility: ebikes, autonomous vehicles, VTOL, smart cities, and the future of alternative energy sources like electric batteries, solar, and hydrogen.
How far would you go to save the planet?
Well, there’s a movement of activists aiming to make it impossible to own a huge, polluting 4×4 SUV in the world’s urban areas. So, they are taking out SUVs and their owners, flattening one tire at a time.
I spoke to a representative via email, under the condition of anonymity because of “security risks.”
Meet The Tyre Extinguishers
Their method is simple: they deflate a car tire. They hope that this “will turn the minor inconvenience of a flat tire into a giant obstacle for driving massive killer vehicles around our streets.”
Every time they do so, the owner gets a leaflet titled “ATTENTION — your gas guzzler kills.”
And, there are hundreds of people involved across the UK, Europe, and the US.
Why are SUVs bad?
SUVs are a loose category of large-sized vehicles such as the Range Rover, Chevrolet Suburban, and Cadillac Esplanade. I’ve never understood their attraction for those who don’t need them for transport jobs.
Firstly, they’re awful for the environment in their gas-guzzling form. Research in 2019 found that SUVs were the second largest cause of the global rise in carbon dioxide emissions over the past decade — eclipsing even behemoths like aviation and trucks.
Even electric SUVs can be hard to manoeuvre, lack the agility of a small car, and the practicality of a minivan. They also loom large taking up a ridiculous amount of space, both on the road and when parking:
Worse, SUVs are dangerous. A 2020 research by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found they are more likely to kill pedestrians than other cars.
What has been the impact of the campaign?
I questioned the role of the Tyre Extinguishers in Germany, given I rarely see SUVs — at least in East Berlin — and received the suggestion, “if people wanted to edit the leaflet to hit luxury cars, we’d be happy with that too!” Controversial.
My contact sees their value as starting a global campaign and spreading the idea of their activism as a disincentive to SUV ownership.
An article in the UK newspaper The Telegraph in April suggested motorists opt for smaller cars to avoid being targeted by Tyre Extinguishers.
This is really the group’s ultimate aim, to stop people from buying fossil fuel-powered SUVs in the first place. The aim is fine, but I’m not so sure about the method.
The privilege of activism
I recognize that cars are a necessary evil for some people and some scenarios. I raised the question of the impact of the group’s activism for people who have a hidden disability. Or for those who may need their car to get to the hospital, a job interview, or something urgent?
My contact suggested that talks with disabled people found them insulted at the idea that ”they need an SUV to get around”. They also claimed that they only target cities with “lots of other ways to get around.”
These people’s right to drive around a massive tank in the city should not trump other people’s right to breathe clean air or live in a world with a safe climate.
Is extreme activism the only way to stimulate real change?
Look, environmental activism is nothing new, with recent groups like Extinction Rebellion and old hands like Greenpeace doing everything from turning off crude oil pipelines to blocking roads.
No one lacks the knowledge that gasoline-powered SUVs are bad. But that’s not enough to stop buying them altogether.
Is guerilla activism the way to prevent people from making such a purchase?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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