Guerrilla climate activists Tyre Extinguishers deflated tires of 55 SUVs in Ghent during the night from Monday to Tuesday. This was a coordinated action, as that same night activists also struck in cities in Germany, the Czech Republic, and Latvia – a first.
In total, the tires of more than 200 SUVs were deflated. The action by Tyre Extinguishers came about because new data shows that SUVs have a marked impact on efforts to battle climate change.
Active in 20 countries worldwide
Besides Ghent, Tyre Extinguishers also struck in Berlin-Zehlendorf, Durlach (a borough of Karlsruhe), Czech Brno, and Riga in Latvia, the 20th country with a TX group.
The modus operandi is always the same: first, under cover of darkness, they let the air out of the vehicle’s tires, then leave a note between the windshield wipers addressed to the cars’ owners. It is written that driving in urban areas in a huge vehicle has enormous negative consequences for others because SUVs cause more air pollution than smaller cars, and they are more likely than regular cars to have accidents that kill people.
CO2 emissions up in cities with more SUVs
The trigger this time for the coordinated actions is disturbing new data from climate charity Possible. It shows that the rise of SUVs in the UK means that average CO2 emissions per km from new internal combustion engines (ICE) are no longer falling nationally.
The analysis reveals that greenhouse gas emissions from fossil-fueled cars are rising in urban areas where large SUVs are most popular, such as Kensington and Chelsea.
Its analysis also found that the sales price of new ICE cars in the UK correlates closely with its greenhouse gas emissions – the more expensive the car, the higher its climate impact.
On average, an ICE car bought in 2013 will likely have lower CO2 emissions than a new one bought in 2023. This rise is partly due to industry-wide marketing drives to push sales of more profitable SUVs over smaller, less polluting models, says Possible.
According to their analysis of National Travel Survey data, the wealthiest fifth of households in England are 81% more likely to own a super-heavy emitting car than households in other income bands, although they can afford EVs but choose instead to buy high-emitting SUVs.
It is one of the reasons why Possible is calling for an end to advertising of the most polluting SUVs and for carbon emissions-based parking and road user charging to target the heaviest emitters. At the same time, they advocate for massive investment in accessible, comprehensive public transport.
More than 10 000 vehicles deflated
Late last year, the campaign’s coordinators of Tyre Extinguishers claimed supporters of the movement have deflated the tires on more than 10 000 vehicles in cities worldwide since the first campaign in March 2022.
The group has said it is also aware of about a hundred autonomous groups around the world, like The DundeeFlators (Scotland), ‘Reifenbande Wien’ (Vienna), Les Degonfleurs (France), SUVVersive (Italy), or a recent offshoot in Australia, sabotaging SUV and polluting 4×4 tires.
On their X account and especially their website, Tyre Extinguishers profiles itself as “people from all walks of life” and a leaderless, autonomous movement with one aim: to make it impossible to own a huge polluting 4X4 in the world’s urban areas.
“Deflating tires repeatedly and encouraging others to do the same will turn the minor inconvenience of a flat tire into a giant obstacle for driving massive killer vehicles around our streets.”
They are taking that action because, they say, governments and politicians have failed to protect us from these huge vehicles. “Everyone hates them, apart from the people who drive them.” On their website, you can also find a how-to guide plus the leaflet to download and leave on the car.
SUVs second most significant cause of the global rise in CO2
The climate activists also cite a study from 2019 by the International Energy Agency (IEA), which found that SUVs were the second largest cause of the global rise in carbon dioxide emissions over the past decade. Or, as they sum it up, If SUV drivers were a country, they would be the sixth largest polluting country in the world.
IEA also noted that if SUV demand continued at rates of the time of the report – in 2018, more than 40% of all cars sold in the world were SUVs – they would add nearly two million barrels to global daily oil demand by 2040, “offsetting the savings from nearly 150 million electric cars.”
Last year, SUVs accounted for around 46% of global car sales, with noticeable growth in the United States, India, and Europe. Even with an increasing number of electric SUVs, accounting for around 16% of total SUV sales in 2022, this was not enough to prevent CO2 emissions from SUVs worldwide from reaching almost 1 billion tons last year. Plus, fine particle pollution from their tires is often far higher than exhaust.
Modern-day Robin Hoods or Eco-terrorists?
But are Tyre Extinguishers now modern-day Robin Hoods or Eco-terrorists? The latter if Australian terror expert Allan Orr is to be believed. “Non-violence is a gateway to violence in these borderline acts where they are pacifistically aggressive,” he said to 9news.com.au.
He also thinks that the group can be capable of more extreme acts. For example, a recent TX mission in the UK involved power drills to pierce the tires of more than 60 4×4 vehicles at a car dealership.
“This movement will probably grow as they get notoriety through these acts, and they will achieve some level of success.” Mr. Orr also thinks that over time, leadership can splinter, and more radicalized offshoots can form. “That’s when you can start to see acts of violence that threaten people physically.”
Whether it will come this far is another question, but the recent series of actions in the Netherlands by Extinction Rebellion, whereby stretches of highway were blocked, or the media stunt actions of Just Stop Oil activists, where famous paintings in museums around the world were ‘daubed’, are proof that the climate movement is alive and well and that they are not going to give up their battles to save the planet.