What Environmentalists Don't Report
by Mark Liberator (e-mail: [Updated August 22nd, 2003]

The type of car a person drives says a lot about that person. Doesn’t it?

Motorcyclists conjure up images of tattoo-wearing, chain-laden, foul-speaking evildoers that rather hit people over the head for a pocketbook than work an honest day. There are those minivan drivers. They cart there ill-mannered kids around from soccer game to school and back home again. Sportscar drivers are absolutely the worst. These people, with their lead feet, lose more rubber to pavement than Jimmy the Greek loses friends at a racial tolerance convention. Then there are those dirty SUV owners. They clog up our air so that future generations may have to wear government monitored breathing apparatus in order to walk from one environmentally cleansed air-dome to another.

Do these stereotypes sound familiar? Just like high school students like to classify people into categories, most people look at drivers with the same blinders. Yet, these stereotypes do little to accurately characterize people.

There are motorcyclists who often donate their time to ride in fundraisers to help the needy. Plus, the cost of motorcycles are through the roof! They no longer offer themselves to the once carefree rebels in society. It has become common for professionals to own motorcycles, to the chagrin of a few hard-core riders of yesteryear.

Mothers and fathers who transport kids in minivans provide a public service. They practice a form of public transportation, on a smaller scale. They also spend more time getting to know who their children choose as friends.

Sportscar enthusiasts are an interesting bunch too, even though it’s a bit harder coming up with some morally responsible reason for them liking fast cars. Except, these people put a great deal of time in maintaining their autos so that they are pleasing to the eye, even for those of us who cannot fully appreciate the inherent beauty of a high torque, ram air, chromed out V8 equipped with multiple racer-friendly gauges along with Corinthian Leather seats. Ricardo Montalban, eat your heart out. Nevertheless, it’s still better than looking at junks that liter certain streets and contribute to sight pollution.

Most important, the perpetuation of gas-guzzling SUVs and the wasteful people who own them is ongoing. Despite the fact that environmentalists have branded SUV-owners as thoughtless polluters, SUVs are great vehicles and their owners need not hang their heads in shame.

When misguided environmentalists inform us of SUV rollover rates and statistics that they claim prove SUVs are dangerous vehicles, their main goal is to use public ridicule to make our world a better place. The goal is a good one but they are completely wrong in their tactic.

It is an error to generalize that SUV ownership is a bad thing. It is as completely wrong as thinking that motorcyclists or those over-paying foreign car owners are bad people. SUVs are superb vehicles for many types of people or people who need multi-purpose vehicles.

Environmentalists need to qualify their statements when attacking SUVs, SUV owners and when they address vehicle pollution in general, because there are reasons why SUVs are good vehicles to use.

  • SUVs can haul a number of people, which is the ultimate form of pollution reduction -- group transportation.
  • SUVs can be used to carry materials for personal business or possibly home-improvement.
  • SUVs can move boats, campers and other trailer items for either business or entertainment purposes.

Unless environmentalists are against group transportation, small businesses, improving our neighborhoods or outdoor recreation, they should form constructive arguments that do not fall victim to broad brushstroke generalism. Maybe the issue of safety should be handled.

If public safety is a concern, SUVs should not be targeted. Most vehicle-related deaths can be attributed to alcohol consumption (41% of fatalities in 2002) and lack of seatbelt use (59% of fatalities in 2002). It would seem that educating the public on safe driving standards as opposed to focusing on vehicle choice is a more productive means to make our roads more safe.

After safety on the environmentalist’s agenda is air quality. They believe that attacking SUV owners is the best way of handling the clean air issue to make the world a better place now and for future generations. That technique is flawed because public ridicule is the least effective strategy considering there are better battles to fight that will lead to much more substantial changes they are actually looking to achieve. Consider the following directions for true environmentalists:

  • Make public transportation more convenient and acceptable by researching areas of highest need/use.
  • Encourage people to carpool through public service ads or lobby for special highway carpool lanes.
  • Research alternative forms of automobiles so that they use eco-friendly fuels.
  • Write government representatives to legislate better vehicle emission standards possibly obtained through frequent inspections.
  • Persuade auto manufacturers to design SUVs that are more fuel efficient by making them lighter, possibly with the use of alloys or high tech engines.

Blanket knee-jerk attacks on SUV owners is unproductive and serves no cause except to alienate owners of large vehicles and point fuel economy and air quality debates in a degenerative direction. Most people already know that the Middle East has a chokehold on our economy because of America’s dependence on oil; so, attacking large vehicle owners under that premise is a waste of time.

“Most vehicle-related deaths can be attributed to alcohol consumption (41% of fatalities in 2002) and lack of seatbelt use (59% of fatalities in 2002).”

A positive approach would be to suggest that these owners own different types of vehicles within a single family so that larger vehicles are used for appropriate situations, allowing high mileage travelers in the family to use the more fuel efficient autos.

The type of argument one develops when handling air quality and road safety says more about the person than does that person’s vehicle choice. If one were to fall victim to a ‘vehiclist’ mentality -- he who determines character based on a person’s vehicle -- one might irrationally claim those who attack SUV owners suffer from size envy.

If Environmentalists plan on driving away their audiences using silly attacks they will never make fundamental changes in our society that impact future generations, which is their intended destination. To assume that the population is suddenly going to find compact cars and other low-pollution producing vehicles appealing (not to mention life-fitting) is absurd and may as well not enter into the realm of immediate possibilities.

While Americans rightfully rebel against nearly a facist desire from environmentalists to drive on highways filled with tiny subcompacts by instead choosing cars that fit lifestyles, there is always going to be a few misguided people who rather complain using hasty, incorrect generalizations. What else is new?


  • Insurance Journal: 2002 USDOT Results Reportedly Show Need for Crash Prevention
  • CNN: Report: SUVs pose danger to cars
  • Fuel Economy (U.S. Department of Energy): 2003 Most and Least Fuel Efficient Trucks, Vans and SUVs
  • Carolina Transportation Program (Department of City and Regional Planning): Are SUVs "Supremely Unsafe Vehicles"?: Analysis of Rollovers and Injuries [PDF]
  • Washington Times: Senate GOP defeats tough fuel efficiency
  • ABC News: Sport Utility Vehicles May Have High Risk of Rollovers
  • Macomb Daily: Rollover safety likely to head up NHTSA's vigorous agenda

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