Deflating the notion that our car choice doesn’t impact the planet

Knowing all that we know about the climate crisis, buying a large SUV that uses more energy than a regular sized car seems like a crazy disregard for our planet and our future, says Kathriona Devereux
Deflating the notion that our car choice doesn’t impact the planet

SUVs emit 25% more carbon dioxide emissions than a medium sized car. Picture: Stock

“Attention - your gas guzzler kills. We have deflated one or more of your tyres. You’ll be angry but don’t take it personally. It’s not you it’s your car.”

How would you feel if you discovered that note on your windscreen some morning? Enraged, frustrated, powerless would be legitimate emotional responses. There might even be grounds for a few expletives. Paradoxically the very same emotions are spurring climate activists with the organisation ‘Tyre Extinguishers’ to deflate the tyres of SUVs in urban areas and leave notes on the windscreens of the owners. Examples of this type of direct action climate protest are mainly in the UK and US for now but the dislike of SUVs extend beyond the fact that SUVs emit 25% more carbon dioxide emissions than a medium sized car. SUVs are also more likely to kill a pedestrian in the event of a collision and their size is intimidating to other road users, thereby creating a sort of car arms race to have a bigger car and therefore a better position on the road.

Regular readers will know that I have no meas in cars. Alloy wheels, blind spot monitors, heated seats and sunroofs are all meaningless “features” to me. I actually had to Google “top car features’’ in order to write the last sentence! If a contraption can get me to my destination safely, in a reasonable timeframe without getting wet I’m happy.

However I am aware that there are people in the world who have a lot of grá for cars. I know this because I see people drive around in new models all the time and I wonder at the deep pleasure they must get from these new cars. They must experience immense joy because the price tags of some new cars are truly eye watering.

I appreciate that for some people their car is an outward statement of how they are doing in life but after all we’ve been through the last two years with the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, the climate crisis, the housing crisis and all the other world’s problems surely we’ve gained enough wisdom to know that a bigger car will not make us happy! If people really like having nice things, and I completely understand that, there are plenty of expensive, luxurious cars that are normally sized and aren’t enormous enviro crushers.

In the next few weeks 222 car registration numbers will start appearing, chances are they’ll be on the back of an SUV because despite the climate emergency SUVs are the most popular car type being bought in Ireland today. And it’s not just Ireland, across the world consumers are splashing out on heavier and bulkier cars. It’s a huge problem for the environment with the immediate need to halve carbon emissions by 2030, which frighteningly is just seven years and six months away.

Buying a SUV is not congruent with wanting to save the planet. The International Energy Agency highlighted the worrying global trend of SUV ownership showing that in 2021 the number of SUVs on the world’s roads increased by more than 35 million in 12 months, driving up annual CO2 emissions by 120 million tonnes. If SUV owners were a single nation, it would rank as the seventh largest emitter in the world.

SUV owners argue that their car is as fuel efficient as a family estate, or that it is electric, or a hybrid so therefore is not bad for the environment but you can’t argue with science. Driving a car that is 20% or 50% heavier than a regular sized car requires more energy to move it.

Any fuel efficiencies from modern engines are outweighed, literally, by the bulky and heavy design of SUVs.

Simple physics tells us it takes more energy to move a heavy thing than a lighter thing. Pushing an elephant down the road in a trolley will take more energy than pushing a pig down the road on a trolley. And if you give them both an equal push the pig will go faster! Newton had a much more refined way of putting it in his Second Law of Motion - Force = Mass x Acceleration.

The energy to move a car has to come from somewhere. At the moment it comes from fossil fuels and we all know by now the consequences for our planet. Even if it is an electric SUV then approx 40% of the electricity charging it comes from renewables, the other 60% of the electricity is generated by fossil fuels.

Yes there are plans to electrify our transport system so making your new car purchase an electric one is sensible, however buying an unnecessarily large car that uses more energy, even if it is electrical energy, is not sensible. All these arguments are unpopular and not meant to cause offence; truth be told, everyone just wants to live their lives, buy what they like and not think about the consequences but we can’t live like that anymore if we want to have a liveable future. Knowing all that we know about the climate crisis, buying a large SUV that uses more energy than a regular sized car seems like a crazy disregard for our planet and our future.

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