EV drivers now face an eco-backlash

EV drivers now face an eco-backlash

Call me naïve but an ongoing story in the national press has left me feeling not so pumped. An offshoot of Extinction Rebellion has been lurking in the suburbs of many UK cities and has been, largely after dark, busy making mischief. Ah, you guess, not more use of Superglue as the maker never intended, or innovative application of bike clamps and bamboo scaffolding? No, this is, you might say, a different tack: they’re letting down people’s tyres.


With an ironic nod to stereotypes, the execution all comes down to a trusty lentil. Tyre Extinguishers (TE) has a website in which you can explore the method to this madness. Or world-saving genius, depending on how tight you wear your political scarf. Here is how you do it – and remember, lentil owners, don’t try this at home. First unscrew the dust cap on your target tyre. Next, drop a lentil inside said cap. My own trial of this stage suggests a red lentil is too puny: Waitrose do a nice line in organic Puy lentils which are fatter and more substantive for the task in hand. Lentil loaded, you replace the cap and begin to screw it back on. Keep screwing until the assassin lentil exerts sufficient pressure on the valve’s pin to force air to escape the tyre. The advantage of this method is that it’s quick, near silent and can be left to finish the job with, technically, no damage to the tyre. A downloadable explainer leaflet, which the operative is advised to leave on the driver’s windscreen, alerts to your ‘intervention’. and apologises for the inconvenience.

You may already have picked up on coverage of this, given full-volume coverage in such crowd-rousing titles as the Daily Mail, Sun and Express. Tyre Extinguishers insists that this action brings all sorts of people together, unifying them on a collective mission to airbrush Audi Q7s and their ilk from civilised society. They want to “make it impossible to own a huge polluting 4x4 in the world’s urban areas,” adding that they are “defending ourselves against climate change, air pollution and unsafe drivers.”

If not at least for the sake of investigative journalism, I consider signing up. After all, it’s very much the ethos of DrivesToday to promote economy motoring through low and zero emission technology, so what’s not to hate about gas guzzling Leviathans that give automobilia a bad name and are sledgehammers to crack the walnut of reasonable driving needs?

But before you petition for my P45, certain concerns held me back. Not least the question of what, in 2022, is an SUV? Or what isn’t? If you set out to target and sabotage 4x4s and SUVs, where do you draw the line? Given the trickle-down design of SUV templates onto the drawing boards for just about every new model we now see, how does a well-meaning SUV saboteur deflate the tyres of cars that might be viewed as smokers, while leaving the saints perfectly inflated?

And that’s where this report takes on something of a dark twist. Having approached Tyre Extinguishers with these questions, I asked the group what it might think about the car I have been driving for the last ten months: Vauxhall’s modestly sized but blatantly SUV-styled compact crossover. Oh, and not to mention, 100% powered by electricity?

No, I’m told, it’s “fair game”. For the sake of fairness and accuracy, this is what TE told me:

“We consider hybrids and electric SUVs to be fair game. We cannot electrify our way out of the climate crisis – there are not enough rare earth metals to replace everyone’s car and the mining of these metals causes suffering. Plus, the danger to other road users still stands, as does the air pollution (PM 2.5 pollution is still produced from tyres and brake pads).”

The spokesperson added: “A fully electric SUV is still a huge danger to pedestrians, and people will still drive them unsafely. What we want to see is cities where we don't need cars at all. Probably worth saying we also instruct our people: «Avoid: Cars clearly used for people with disabilities, traders’ cars (even if they’re large), minibuses and normal-sized cars”.”

I did not engage in further debate. I didn’t point out that OECD research indicates sub-PM 2.5 pollution is 11 to 13% lower in equivalent-size EVs than ICE vehicles, or their zero emissions in everyday use. The future of vehicle pollution, for sure, will emanate from tyres and brakes (to 53% of transport pollution by 2030, says the OECD), but technology initiatives are already afoot to curb this. And in Formula E, we are already seeing the pioneering of sustainable and re-usable minerals for battery manufacture.

But such debate is endless and, at the risk of auditioning for the Daily Mail, there is the fundamental (and fundamentalist) element to TE’s stance here that – as the tabloids are already voicing – puts this particular branch of eco-activism in the moral doghouse.

Tyre Extinguishers clearly wants to disrupt car ownership and use to the point that we take all cars off the road. And, to me, and I confidently assume most of us, that looks as likely as the Taliban banning music. By deflating electric car users, the only thing these activists are stopping, however honourable or not their intention is judged to be, is their own goals. Ultimately, if you alienate the very people who are trying to make a difference, any mission for change will surely backfire?

And like that pancaked Jeep tyre, that’s the opposite of a pressure group.

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