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Tyre Extinguisher at work in Johannesburg, South Africa. Photo from the Tyre Extinguishers.

Bless the Lentils: Get These Menaces Off Our Streets, and Deflate, Deflate, Deflate

Abby Zimet

America's ambitious if deeply imperfect new climate bill is a modest step toward confronting a climate emergency that "has been declared over and over by Nature and by human suffering" - 2,000 dead of heat in Spain and Portugal, temperatures "unlivable for humans" in Pakistan, dying coral reefs in Australia and billions of dead Pacific sea creatures and catastrophic grain crop failures almost everywhere. Still, many say it is past time for "business as usual to halt." Armed with righteous rage, bags of lentils and the vow to ensure the world's richest countries "cannot ignore the crisis," enter an anonymous collective of activists proclaiming, "We are the Tyre Extinguishers." Arguing that years of reasonable actions and polite protests have failed, they've taken to their still-polluted streets with acts of minor, pesky sabotage against gas-guzzling SUVs - startlingly, the 2nd-largest cause of soaring global carbon dioxide emissions - by deflating their tires under cover of night. Since March, they've "disarmed" nearly 6,500 SUVs in Austria, Canada, Germany, Sweden, France, the U.K., and now the U.S. Their goal: "To show that the welfare of the planet comes before individual freedom. We have to try everything."

Descendants of Sweden's "Indians of the Concrete Jungle," who in 2007 disarmed over 1,000 SUVS, the Extinguishers formed a year ago in the U.K - hence "tyre." Today they provide "inspiration" to about 50 groups worldwide, building on the tactics of Extinction Rebellion (XR) - scientists chaining themselves to the doors of fossil-fuel behemoth Chase, activists glueing themselves to works of art, protesters breaching the Formula 1 British Grand Prix and the Tour de France bike race. The Extinguishers chose to focus on the "massive, unnecessary" SUVS and 4X4s, a "disaster for our health, our public safety and our climate," combining "the weight of an adult rhinoceros and the aerodynamics of a refrigerator." Research shows SUVs constitute the second-greatest source of CO₂ emissions, more than shipping, planes, trucks or industry; if they were a country, they'd rank sixth in the world for its 900 million metric tons of CO₂. And, says the group, "Everyone hates them, apart from the people who drive them." Their ultimate aim: Bans on SUVs in urban areas, pollution levies to tax them "out of existence," investment in public transport. "Until politicians make this a reality, Tyre Extinguishers' actions will continue."

Toward that end, their website, complete with Ghostbusters-style crossed-out SUV, provides helpful tips: How to spot an SUV, how to deflate a tire, general cheerleading - "It's quick, easy and anyone can take part!" - and step-by-step directions. Find an SUV: "Target posh areas." Unscrew cap on tire valve: "Righty-tighty, lefty-loosey." Get air out of tire by pushing down on pin in valve: "Drop a small bean (we like green lentils, but you can try couscous, bits of gravel, etc) inside valve cap. Screw cap back on till air hisses out." Put leaflet, available in 10 languages, on windshield: "Attention - your gas guzzler kills. We have deflated one or more of your tires. You'll be angry, but don't take it personally. It's not you, it's your car..." Hybrids and electric cars are "fair game" - there aren't enough rare metals to replace all cars/ mining causes suffering - and cars of people with disabilities or doctors aren't. They document actions: "Tyres deflated on hundreds of SUVS in 13+ UK locations... Gothenberg, Sweden hit again with 56 SUVS disarmed...60 in Zurich, first action in France, Berlin struck again and again, first action in Canada, helped "56 motorists in Johannesburg be less bloated." They report PR successes like consumer warnings: "If I buy an SUV will it be vandalized by climate protesters? Yes. Yes it will." They post stories of kids hurt in SUV accidents: "Get these menaces off our streets. Deflate, deflate, deflate."

The Extinguishers were pleased by reports of actions in the U.S., Land of Excess, where monster gas-guzzlers make up almost three-quarters of all car sales. They first came in Colorado, then Chicago, San Francisco, New York. The Guardian recently went along on a foray into New York's ritzy Upper East Side, with its "gleaming parade" of high-end SUVs. They describe lentils passed, doormen avoided, the startled "pfft" of air hissing out, leaflets slapped down, figures melting into the night; by morning, 55 SUVs are "disarmed." "The damage from a flat tire is nothing compared to climate change,” said one activist, blasting anyone driving a "6,000-pound, glacier-melting" rig to pick up a kid from soccer practice as "a vanity thing." "You have freedom of choice, but you don’t have freedom from consequences.” "Owners might be annoyed," said another, "but I'm not going to wait around for the rich to realize they're doing something wrong." And while some see such unruliness as alienating, like "the training wheels to something confrontational,” historically, it works. "The ruling classes will not be talked into action," says Andreas Malm, author of "How to Blow Up a Pipeline," who notes peaceful protests alone rarely bring major social change. His message to climate activists: “Damage and destroy new CO₂-emitting devices. Put them out of commission, pick them apart, demolish them, burn them...Let the capitalists who keep investing in the fire know their properties will be trashed.”

Abby Zimet

Abby Zimet

Abby Zimet has written CD's Further column since 2008. A longtime, award-winning journalist, she moved to the Maine woods in the early 70s, where she spent a dozen years building a house, hauling water and writing before moving to Portland. Having come of political age during the Vietnam War, she has long been involved in women's, labor, anti-war, social justice and refugee rights issues. Email:

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