The Tyre Extinguishers war on SUVs

I came across this article that followed a group of activists, part of a global movement known as Tyre Extinguishers, who are going around deflating the tires of massive SUVs found in urban areas.

The Tyre Extinguishers movement started in the UK, spread to a clutch of other countries and has now landed in the US. Since June, dozens of SUV and pickup truck owners in New York, the San Francisco Bay Area and Chicago have discovered their vehicles with flat tires along with a note on the windshield declaring: “Your gas guzzler kills.”

The leaflet, complete with a Ghostbusters-style picture of a crossed-out SUV, states the vast amounts of planet-heating emissions generated by the vehicles are “nails in the coffin of our climate”, adding: “You’ll be angry, but don’t take it personally. It’s not you, it’s your car.”

As the acts of minor sabotage mounted last Wednesday, the activists had to invoke some self-imposed rules. No SUVs with disabled stickers were targeted, nor anything that appeared to be used for certain work. A vehicle was chosen for a deflation only for the group to notice it had a “surgeon” sign in the window – the lentil was swiftly removed before the tire fully deflated. Conversely, an SUV that was deemed “so huge, so gross” had two of its tires collapsed.

I had not realized how much of a negative impact these vehicles have on the environment.

[B]ecause SUVs combine the weight of an adult rhinoceros and the aerodynamics of a refrigerator, they require more energy to move around than smaller cars and therefore emit more pollution. As their popularity has soared, so has their impact upon the climate crisis.

Over the past decade, the emissions from SUVs eclipsed all shipping, aviation, heavy industry and even trucks, usually the only vehicles to outsize them on the road. The world’s SUVs belch out 700 megatonnes of CO2 a year, about the entire output of the UK and Netherlands combined.

This article provides more evidence of the harm they cause.

The Extinguishers chose to focus on the “massive, unnecessary” SUVS and 4X4s, a “disaster for our health, our public safety and our climate,” combining “the weight of an adult rhinoceros and the aerodynamics of a refrigerator.” Research shows SUVs constitute the second-greatest source of CO₂ emissions, more than shipping, planes, trucks or industry; if they were a country, they’d rank sixth in the world for its 900 million metric tons of CO₂. And, says the group, “Everyone hates them, apart from the people who drive them.” Their ultimate aim: Bans on SUVs in urban areas, pollution levies to tax them “out of existence,” investment in public transport. “Until politicians make this a reality, Tyre Extinguishers’ actions will continue.”

The Extinguishers were pleased by reports of actions in the U.S., Land of Excess, where monster gas-guzzlers make up almost three-quarters of all car sales.

Is this an effective tactic? It is not clear but the activists are going ahead anyway.

“It is like a public shaming,” said Dana Fisher, a sociologist at the University of Maryland who has researched environmental protests since the 1990s. “The target of public shaming is very unlikely to change their opinion from the shaming, so the question is, what’s the point? It’s an innovative, simple tactic to take the air out of someone’s tires, it’s not harmful, it’s just annoying. It’s like the training wheels to something confrontational.”

Fisher said she had noticed climate campaigners were becoming more confrontational, as frustration mounts over the dawdling pace of action to tackle the climate crisis. In the US, a summer that has seen record heatwaves, the supreme court boxing in the federal government’s response to the crisis and Congress yet again failing to deliver climate legislation will probably only fuel the impotent rage.

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

Faced with existential disaster, we are still largely responding with warnings and symbolic gestures, whether that’s from the most powerful man in the world or a gaggle of Gen Z activists poking at wealthy liberal hypocrisy in Manhattan.

“These SUV owners might be annoyed but I’m not going to wait around for the rich to realize they are doing something wrong,” said one of the activists before she headed to the subway. “I’m not just going to wait around and be nice. We aren’t going to let them hide any more.”

It astonished me that three-quarters of cars sales in the US are of these vehicles. Of course, not all of them are monsters. Some of them are the size of compact sedans. But many are huge. Apart from being gas guzzlers, they also tend to obscure the vision of others, most obviously so if you happen to be parked next to one and are trying to back out. Many of them also have dark tinted windows that make the visibility problem even worse.

Why do people buy them, especially since they are so expensive to purchase and to operate? Once when I had my car in for repairs, they gave me a loaner vehicle to use until it was ready. I was dismayed to find that it was a big GMC Yukon SUV. I asked for a smaller vehicle but that was all they had so I had to drive it for a day. It was awful. It was hard to get in and out of and felt big and awkward to drive, what I imagine it must be like to drive a garbage truck, not to mention that it was hard to park because of its length and I had to be extra careful not to sideswipe other vehicles because of its extra width. I just could not understand its appeal. There must be situations where they serve a useful purpose, especially if one lives in areas with rough terrain or need to regularly transport large amounts of cargo or haul trailers. But in urban areas where there is a lot of traffic and parking is limited, their negatives should surely outweigh any advantages.


  1. says

    Americans buy SUVs and pickups for the same reason and in the same way they buy automatic weapons. It’s an uncontrolled arms race at a time when their government should be regulating and restricting private ownership of these death machines.

    Type Extinguishers are a recent movement, but the Stop A Douchebag activist movement in Russia is about a decade old. They target vehicles driving and parking illegally and unsafely (e.g. using sidewalks, ignoring traffic lights, etc.). They place large stickers on the windshields of vehicles, the adhesive intentionally made to be VERY difficult to remove. They also sometimes target tires.

  2. Reginald Selkirk says

    1) Americans are fat. They like the high entry of these vehicles over squeezing themselves into compacts. Even my compact hatchback (Honda Fit) has a higher seating position than my previous vehicle, purchased 3 decades ago.
    2) Image. SUVs are “cool”. Station wagons, which are superior for cargo capacity and people capacity, are not cool. The high seating, huge bumpers, etc. give the image of control and safety, even if this is not a true reflection of reality. SUVs are more prone to rollovers than sedans and station wagons.
    3) Since it’s all about image, there have been new classes of “utility vehicles” introduced which are marketed as SUVs, but are actually stylized cars, not true off-road vehicles. Compact SUVs, crossovers.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    In the US, it’s a mathematical certainty that a Tyre Extinguisher will eventually encounter a Gun Owner. Hilarity will not ensue.

  4. says

    Didn’t the SUV craze start with some sort of tax break that made it almost irrational NOT to buy an SUV? Something about calling oneself a business and buying an SUV for “business” purposes?

  5. Jazzlet says

    I don’t know about the USA, but in the UK the decreases in petrol and diesel consumption from increases in in miles per gallon have been wiped out by the huge increase in the proportion of SUVs in the nation’s domestic vehicle fleet.

  6. Katydid says

    P.S. I’ve theorized that the human are equivalent to goldfish and SUVs and pickups are equivalent to goldfish bowls: the larger the bowl, the larger the fish. I’ve seen a number of circus-freak-sized humans emerge from ridiculously-oversized SUVs and pickups.

    And just like in the 1980s and the minivans, everyone’s got an excuse to have an oversized abomination. In the 1980s people who never left their neighborhood assured me their minivans were “for camping!”, and if you ask someone why they have a vehicle that’s bigger than some apartments, they always insist they “haul stuff” (yeah, they haul their oversized bodies to Walmart to load up on Funyons….)

  7. maggie says

    There was a rash of targeted SUVs a couple of weeks ago in Ontario, Canada. Tires were not damaged, just deflated. The Tyre Extinguishers were the responsible people. By the by, didn’t Ford stop producing sedans, other than the Mustang?

  8. planter says

    Part of the decision is is the size of all the other vehicles on the road. When it came time 2 years ago for our Prius to be retired, my wife insisted on a compact SUV. The upright sitting position gives much better visibility when most of the vehicles around you are pickups / large SUVs. All wheel drive and higher clearance is also very useful on Saskatchewan grid roads (gravel and occasionally plowed in winter).

  9. prl says

    Raging Bee:

    Didn’t the SUV craze start with some sort of tax break that made it almost irrational NOT to buy an SUV?

    My memory of it was that in the US, SUVs weren’t subject to the fuel consumption and/or emissions restrictions (and perceived consequential power limits) placed on normal passenger cars, but I could be misremembering it.

  10. mnb0 says

    “It astonished me that three-quarters of cars sales in the US are of these vehicles.”
    I don’t know about the USA, but in The Netherlands for many male drivers the answer is that their cars are extensions of their genitals.

  11. K says

    Large families prefer SUVs -- you want to stick a large family in a pick up truck with only two seatbelts? Are you nuts? That’s a recipe for a kid falling out of the back and getting a brain injury. Yes, you could choose a smaller normal car, but that’s not such a great choice for a camping trip.

    Anyway, I think gas is a bigger problem than the vehicle being large. Mandate electric, boom, SUVs much less problematic.

  12. lorn says

    A good number of people most passionately bitching about gas prices are owners of bloody huge vehicles. A friend with an Escalade complained about its 25 gallon tank. Over $100 to fill. His small family love the room.

    Many tradesmen I talk to love the older Ford Ranger. I get regular offers for my 95. The newer Ranger is as big as the old F-150 and it’s too tall to work off the side of the bed or even the tailgate. With my 95 I tossed on a cross-bed tool box behind the cab and I can get to everything and still carry plywood, lumber, and supplies in the bed. People are moving to foreign small trucks. They are handier, easier to park, and get around well on tight job sites.

    Ford, and all the rest, fell into the traditional American trap of going big. Rangers are what f-150s were and F-150s are as big as older F-250. And it goes on up.

    I do like a truck and the upright seating. I have a Buick and I feel far less aware of my surroundings. I like being able to be above a lot of the clutter and traffic. My Ranger does this well enough and I don’t need a ladder to get in. My 95 Ranger is getting long in the tooth and while it runs well I’d like to replace it before it gets sad. Maybe give it to a young buck just starting in the trade. I had it rebuilt so its good for another 50K at least.

    I looked at the new Ranger but it’s a disappointment. Way too big. Too tall. Salesman kept talking about its power, style, and comfort. My 95 had the smallest engine they made and I never lacked power. It’s a truck and I barely notice how it looks. As long as the AC works, Florida, and the seats are comfortable I’m good. So I just smile and nod. No sale.

    I like the small Toyota truck. It has, regrettably, become bloated also, but nowhere near as much. I’ll run mt Ranger another year. Maybe the manufacturers will see the light. Perhaps an electric truck. I do run mine almost exclusively for local jobs. The Buick is better for long highway drives.

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