‘As a public disgrace’: Tire deflators target carbon-spewing SUVs | Automotive emissions

OOn a scorching night in New York, a group of activists wearing masks grabbing bags of lentils set out to stage the biggest blitzkrieg yet on a new target for climate activists in the United States: SUV tires.

The group – a mix of ages and genders – split up as midnight approached, heading through the streets of the Upper East Side, lined with some of the most expensive apartments in the world and a glittering parade of Premium SUVs parked. This type of vehicle is the second cause of the global increase in carbon dioxide emissions during the last decade.

Tire Squeezers, as they call themselves, stealthily distribute bags of lentils before their raid (the legumes are stuck in a tire valve to release its air slowly overnight) and scale their careers.

A hulking Land Rover, emblazoned with a parking permit for a Hamptons beach, is an obvious initial target, but a doorman loitering at a nearby apartment complex unnerves the group. They rush down the street, then turn back and get into an Audi.

One of the band members kneels down, unscrews the tire valve cap, sticks a lens in it, and puts the cap back on. The tire immediately lets out a frightened “pfft,” a flyer is stuck to the windshield, and the group fades into the night.

Since June, dozens of SUV and pickup truck owners in New York City, the San Francisco Bay Area and Chicago have discovered their vehicles with flat tires accompanied by a note on the windshield stating “Your gas guzzler kill”. The flyer, which comes with a Ghostbusters-style image of a crossed-out SUV, says the vast amounts of global warming emissions generated by vehicles are “nails in the coffin of our climate”, adding: “You be angry, but don’t take it personally. It’s not you, it’s your car.

America has embraced large SUVs like no other country, even in liberal, walkable areas like the Upper East Side, so activists face an uphill battle attaching stigma to the oversized cars that now dominate the streets Americans. But the fledgling US operation of Tire Extinguishers has been inundated with insults and even death threats. One post promised to “deflate your lungs” while another reviewer, in a nod to the campaign’s British roots, wrote “damn you, Redcoats!”

Last week, members of the Tire Extinguishers marched down a street on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Photography: Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet/The Guardian

Death threats are not a major concern, insisted Alex. “People have been emailing me ‘if you screw up my SUV, I’ll kill you,’ which amuses me, to be honest,” she said. “You’re not going to find me. It’s like, why are you so mad?”

Via a flurry of emails and text messages, Alex was cast along with a handful of other Tire Extinguisher volunteers – the group has a central point of contact on its website but is deliberately decentralized and masked in anonymity – for the latest salvo on the SUVs, which the Guardian observed.

Left: The shadow of a person at night.  Right: Hands deflating a BMW tire
Left: Shadow of a member of the Tire Extinguishers. Right: A tire extinguisher deflates a BMW tire. Photography: Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet/The Guardian

“The amount of damage from a flat tire is nothing compared to climate change,” one member of the group said as we drove away from the first deflation, Central Park looming in darkness. “Why do you need an SUV, especially in New York? It is vanity. You have freedom of choice, of course, but you are not immune to the consequences.

An army of SUV owners across the United States would likely disagree. Sedans have long reigned as the best-selling category in America, but SUVs surpassed them in 2015 and I haven’t looked back. When you include pickup trucks (like the big Ford F-150, which has been the best-selling vehicle in the United States since Ronald Reagan was president), large truck-like vehicles now constitute nearly three-quarters of all car sales in the United States.

Modern SUVs offer comfort with a veneer of adventure and ruggedness, even for city dwellers – some Toyota Sequoias, named after towering trees found in a mountain range 3,000 miles from New York today on the fire because of climate change, dotted the streets of the Upper East Side. Americans simply found the need or desire to drive huge cars. “We need a bigger vehicle because I have two sons who have special needs,” Explain Quanda Ellis-Walker, who had her tire deflated in California. “It was terrifying to know that someone would come and do this to you.”

Hands holding lentils
A member of the Tire Extinguishers holds a handful of lentils. Photography: Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet/The Guardian

However, because SUVs combine the weight of an adult rhino with the aerodynamics of a refrigerator, they require more energy to move than small cars and therefore emit more pollution. As their popularity has skyrocketed, so has their impact on the climate crisis.

Over the past decade, emissions from SUVs have eclipsed all shipping, aviation, heavy industry and even trucks, usually the only vehicles to pass them on the road. The world’s SUVs emit 700 megatons of CO2 per year, approximately the entire production of the United Kingdom and the Netherlands combined.

While many American cities lack decent public transit options, “it doesn’t follow logically that we should flood our streets with dangerous, oversized, glacier-melting SUVs while smaller, more efficient vehicles that could easily meet the needs of most motorists exist,” according to Doug Gordon, co-host of the popular The War on Cars podcast and New York cycling enthusiast. “If the tire extinguishers spark a conversation about the absurdity of driving a 6,000-pound Cadillac Escalade to pick up a 60-pound kid from football practice, good for them.”

View of legs walking on the crosswalk
Members of the Tire Extinguishers on a mission to the Upper East Side. Photography: Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet/The Guardian

As acts of minor sabotage multiplied last Wednesday, activists had to invoke some self-imposed rules. No SUVs with disabled stickers were targeted, or anything that appeared to be used for some work. One vehicle was chosen for deflation only for the group to notice it had a “surgeon” sign in the window – the lens was quickly removed before the tire was fully deflated. Conversely, an SUV deemed “so huge, so disgusting” had two of its tires collapse.

By the wee hours of the morning, 55 SUVs had been “disarmed”, as the group calls it. No one intervened, not even a group of rambunctious drunken youths who staggered in the face of ongoing deflation. The group was wary of security cameras, however, as the NYPD released grainy footage of a previous deflation event to try to identify the culprits.

Tampering with random people’s property because it’s harmful to the environment is a departure from standard climate protests, which typically involve mass marches with signs, school “strikes” or direct action against large entities, such as Exxon or a bank. Tire deflations are more like a sharp, personal judgment against a fellow citizen.

Left: Hands arranging flyers.  Right: close-up of a tire with an Audi logo
Left: A member of the Tire Extinguishers prepares materials to put on a car after deflating its tires. Right: A deflation device is placed on a tire. Photography: Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet/The Guardian

“It’s like public shaming,” said Dana Fisher, a sociologist at the University of Maryland who has studied environmental protests since the 1990s. cause of shame, then the question is what is it for? It’s an innovative and simple tactic to deflate someone’s tires, it’s not harmful, it’s just annoying. It’s like the training wheels to something conflicting.

Fisher said she has noticed climate activists becoming more confrontational, as frustration mounts over the slow pace of action to tackle the climate crisis. In the United States, a summer that has seen record heat waves, the Supreme Court opposing the federal government’s response to the crisis and the failure once again of Congress to pass climate legislation will only make probably just fueling impotent rage.

“There are a lot of people who care about the environment who are very disappointed and are looking for a protest tactic,” Fisher said. “You have people flying in private jets and driving SUVs, so there are many opportunities for bad feelings between people with different views on this. It wouldn’t surprise me if these actions were the start of something more confrontational and destructive. I can see it exploding at some point.

A person, covered with tree bark, puts a leaflet on the windshield of an SUV
A tire extinguisher puts a document on a car. Photography: Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet/The Guardian

It was a sweltering night, part of New York longest heat wave in a decade. By the time the group ended, the temperature was still close to 30°C (86°F), another hot day on a largely heating planet. apparently on fire.

Earlier in the day, Joe Biden donned his airmen and gave a speech calling the climate crisis a “clear and present danger” and announcing measures that came nowhere near to addressing it.

In the face of existential disaster, we still largely respond with warnings and token gestures, whether from the world’s most powerful man or a group of Gen Z activists teasing wealthy liberal hypocrisy. in Manhattan.

“These SUV owners might be annoyed, but I’m not going to wait for the rich to realize they’re doing something wrong,” one of the activists said before heading to the subway. “I’m not just going to wait and be nice. We’re not going to let them hide anymore.

About Marco C. Nichols

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