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In the latest climate movement, activists are deflating SUV tires

In the latest climate movement, activists are deflating SUV tires

An industrial scene with three cooling towers and various chimneys lit up with yellow lights.

A new direct-action group calls itself The Tyre ExtinguishersRecently, hundreds upon hundreds of sport utility vehicles (SUVs), were sabotaged by activists in wealthy parts of London and other British towns. Under cover, activists removed the valve caps on tyres, then placed a bean, or other pulse, on the valve. Finally, the cap was returned. The tyres were then gently deflated.

Why activists are targeting SUVs right now can tell us just as much about climate policy failures in the UK and elsewhere than it can about environmental protests following Extinction Rebellion or Insulate Britain.

The “mung bean trick” for deflating tyres is tried and tested. According to the Oxford Mail, 32 SUVs were reported as being in use in July 2008. Sabotaged in a similar way during nocturnal actions in three areas of the city, with anonymous notes left on the cars’ windscreens.

2005 in Paris, activists used bicycle pumps. Inflate tyresThey left anonymous notes and went to sleep at night in affluent neighborhoods. In both cases, activists took care not to cause any physical harm. Now it’s the Tyre Extinguishers who are deflating SUV tyres.

In the early 2000s SUVs were still rare. However, by 2010, almost half of all cars sold in the US and one third of those sold in Europe were SUVs. SUVs.

In 2019, the International Energy Agency reported that rising SUV sales were the second-largest contributor to the increase in global CO₂ emissions between 2010 and 2018 after the power sector. If SUV drivers were a nation they would rank in the top ten. Seventh in the worldFor carbon emissions

At the same time, the Tyre Extinguishers’ DIY model of activismIt’s never been easier to spread the word. “Want to get involved? It’s simple – grab some leaflets, grab some lentils and off you go! Instructions on our website,” chirps the group’s Twitter feed.

Changing activist strategy

Though the actions led by the Tyre Extinguishers have numerous precedents, the group’s recent appearance in the UK’s climate movement does mark a change of strategy.

Extinction Rebellion (XR), Beginning in 2018, hoped that it would create an increasing wave of mobilisations to forcibly governments to introduce new laws. Processesfor democratically deciding on the course of climate action. XR attempted, at least initially, to circumvent existing protest networks by sending its message to those who are not part of XR’s target audience. They did not consider themselves activists.

Activists in Tyre Extinguishers are more similar to groups that emerged after XR, like Insulate Britain, whose members blockaded motorways in autumn 2021 to demand government action on the country’s energy inefficient housing. These are what we might refer to as pop-ups, which are designed to draw media attention to specific issues rather than develop broad-based, lasting campaigns.

After a winter spent planning, climate activists are likely not to stop making headlines through spring 2022. XR is a sister group to XR. Just stop using oilThreaten Disruptionto UK oil refineries, fuel depots, and petrol stations. Their demands are that the government cease all investments in fossil fuel extraction.

An industrial scene with three cooling towers and various chimneys lit up with yellow lights.
UK-based activists threatened to stop oil refineries in April 2022.

The Tyre Extinguishers specifically targeted a particular class of people they consider anti-social. Nevertheless, that the group’s action is covert and (so far at least) sporadic is itself telling.

In his book How to blow up a pipelineAndreas Malm, a professor of human ecology at Lund University, asked when climate activists will stop glorifying absolute non-violence to start campaigns of sabotage. Perhaps more important is the question that Malm doesn’t ask: at what point will the climate movement be strong enough to be able to carry out such a campaign, should it choose to do so?

The mode of action of the Tyre Extinguishers means that the answer to both questions is almost certainly no.

The moral economy and utility of SUVs

The Tyre Extinguishers are undoubtedly going to be maintained for the moment. Red meat headlinesThe right-wing press. It’s still probable, however, that the group will deflate almost as quickly as it popped up: this is, after all, what has happened with similar groups in the past.

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A forest with space among the trees.

This is a sign that climate policy has failed. The problem of SUV pollution would have been solved by relatively simple technical measures in the early 2000s. The introduction of stricter vehicle emissions regulations, congestion pricing, or weight and size limits would have stopped the SUV market from exploding.

SUVs are important because they offer so much more than just metal boxes. Matthew PatersonProfessor of International Politics at the University of Manchester, Dr. Jeremy argues that freedom and driving a vehicle has been an ideological component of capitalism for a long time.

Matthew Huber, professor geography at Syracuse University, USA, reminds his readers of his book LifebloodOil is more than an energy source. It generates ways of being which become culturally and politically embedded – such as encouraging individualism and materialism.

Making SUVs the focal point of climate activism advances arguments that material inequality is incompatible and individual freedoms unfettered are incompatible.

This is the heart of the conflict. The freedom to drive where and when they wish is a violation of the rights of the majority to use public space safely, enjoy clean air, and live in a sustainable world.

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