Just 10 days before Earth Day, the EPA released a long-awaited report on air quality, finding that half the U.S. population lives in areas that fall below government air-quality standards. California had the worst rating, with 36 counties mandated by the EPA to clean up or face federal sanctions.
California’s world famous governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, claims he’s committed to clean air. During his campaign, he promised to cut air pollution in half, reduce energy use by 20% in 5-8 years, and remove polluting vehicles from the state’s roads. He claimed that all we needed to protect the environment was “strong leadership.”
But the Governor would be a much more credible spokesperson for the environment if he renounced his own “fuelish ways” by getting rid of his personal fleet of gas-guzzling Hummers. Switching from a 10-mile-a-gallon behemoth to 50-mile-a-gallon hybrid would send a message to Californians—indeed all Americans—that “real men” are gentle to Mother Earth.
Arnold Schwarzenegger stands in front of a Hummer H2 in this Aug. 8, 2002, file photo. Schwarzenegger announced during his campaign last year that he planned to retrofit one of his Hummers to run on eco-friendly hydrogen power but hasn't done it as of Earth Day 2004. (AP Photo/Joe Raymond)
The governor should take responsibility not only for owning seven Hummers, but for converting the Hummer from a military vehicle to a family car. Legend has it that while in Oregon shooting the movie Kindergarten Cop, he saw a convoy of Army Humvees driving along Interstate 5 and decided he wanted one. The vehicles, built by AM General, were only for military use but Schwarzenegger convinced the company to develop a civilian version. The first one was delivered to the actor in July 1992. Schwarzenegger extolled the Hummer’s virtues by telling reporters: "Look at those deltoids! Look at those calves!" Hummers are now distributed by General Motors, which sells about 30,000 a year.
What’s so bad about the Hummer? Everything. Its dreadful gas mileage of 10 miles per gallon is less than half the mileage of the Model T Ford some 80 years ago! Hummers emit over 3 times more carbon dioxide than average cars, hastening global warming, and they give off substantially more smog-producing pollutants and dangerous particulates. But because they are categorized as light trucks, they are actually exempt from meeting emission or fuel-efficiency standards.
Schwarzenegger promised on the campaign trail to convert one of his Hummers into a hydrogen-powered vehicle. But the hulking 8,400-pound H2 or the monstrous 10,000+-pound H1 would still not be clean, green or safe. They’re a massive waste of metal and their height, their weight and the stiffness of their frames make them killers on the road. If you’re in an accident with a Hummer, you’re 3-4 times more likely to be killed than if you were hit by another car.
Hummer owners (an elite class in itself as the H1 starts at $100,000, the H2 at $50,000) take unfair advantage of a tax benefit originally meant to help farmers purchase tractors. Using this tax loophole for vehicles over 6,000 pounds, Hummer owners can get up to a $100,000 tax break! (Compare this to $2,000 for the Toyota Prius hybrid, which gets over 50 miles per gallon). Taxpayers for Common Sense estimates that this outrageous subsidy for Hummers and heavy SUVs robs the US Treasury of $800 million a year.
To the great dismay of peace activists, Hummers represent an increasing militarization of our society and the glorification of war. They blur the lines between reality and fiction, especially when promoted by an action hero like Schwarzenegger. At the LA auto show last month, protesters draped the Hummer in a banner that read “Real soldiers are dying in their Hummers so you can play soldier in yours.” Kelly Dougherty, recently returned from a year of fighting in Iraq, agrees. She bristles when she sees a Hummer go by. “Driving a vehicle that wastes an incredible amount of gas while our troops die in oil wars is completely irresponsible and not my idea of patriotism,” says Kelly.
The polluting, gas-guzzling, menacing Hummer is the quintessential symbol of human arrogance against mother nature. That’s why, on Earth Day, environmentalists and peace activists have teamed up to call on the Governor to give up his Hummers and encourage people to make responsible decisions in their transportation choices. Since millions of people look up to the governor as a role model, this small gesture could go a long way to educate and inspire the public. Seeing the Governator slip into something more sustainable, like a Toyota Hybrid, would indeed be a breath of fresh air.
Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CodePink and Global Exchange, two groups that have launched a campaign against Hummers and have been pushing the auto industry to produce more fuel-efficient cars. See www.globalexchange.org and www.codepinkalert.org.