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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 May, 2005, 10:25 GMT 11:25 UK
Hot air?
By Brendan O'Neill

Graphic of 4x4s in the city
Amid conflicting evidence about the environmental benefits of disposable nappies and wind farms, some campaigners think the real bad guys are drivers of four-wheel-drive vehicles. Is that fair?

The eco-debate has never been more blurred than it is today.

First the news that cloth nappies may be as damaging to the environment as disposable ones. Then the Sustainable Development Commission claims the UK should put to use the best wind resources in Europe, despite concerns from people trying to protect the landscape.

But amid the confusion, there's one certainty for many environmentalists, and the campaign to drive "gas-guzzling, climate-wrecking" 4x4s off our roads was stepped up a gear this week.

Thirty-five Greenpeace activists managed to stop production at the Range Rover factory in Solihull in the West Midlands, labelling it a "climate crime scene". Stephen Tindale, executive director of Greenpeace, said the aim was to highlight the fact that these big cars "threaten our environment with catastrophic climate change".

Anti-4x4 fever is on the rise across Europe and in the USA, where 4x4s are more commonly referred to as SUVs - Sports Utility Vehicles.

When you see these vehicles, it contributes to a general feeling that the streets aren't safe, that our cities are not welcoming places
Sian Berry
Alliance Against Urban 4x4s
Campaigners claim that 4x4s - big box-shaped vehicles that have four-wheel drive and look like a cross between a car and a minibus - produce more environment-degrading carbon emissions than the average family saloon.

And they argue that while 4x4s might come in handy in the countryside, where rural drivers have to negotiate messy, muddy, hilly terrain, they have no place in cities where they pose a potential threat to pedestrians, cyclists and drivers of smaller and humbler automobiles.

The UK-based campaign group Alliance Against Urban 4x4s wants to make driving them as socially unacceptable as drink-driving, and holds protests outside schools.

It is campaigning for higher road taxes and an increased congestion charge in London for what it calls the "bad guys" who drive 4x4s, and for a ban on 4x4 advertising in the mainstream media.

Even London Mayor Ken Livingstone has described parents who drive these big, bad cars - also known as Chelsea Tractors - to the school gates as "complete idiots". And they damage community spirit by making cities unwelcoming, says Sian Berry of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s.

Satan's run-arounds

In the US, an anti-4x4 group called The Detroit Project even blames terrorism on 4x4 drivers because, it says, they increase US dependency on oil belonging to Middle East states with alleged links to terrorist groups.

The New Economics Foundation think-tank calls them "Satan's little run-arounds" and some Christian groups have started to preach against them. The anti-SUV American website What Would Jesus Drive? warns that: "Pollution from vehicles has a major impact on human health and the rest of God's creation."

Can one kind of car really be the cause of so much destruction and mayhem? And do campaigners seriously believe that fewer 4x4s on the roads will make the world a safer, healthier and even holier place?

Four-wheel-drive and a washing machine
Which is the bad guy?
The 4x4s might choke out more CO2 than other cars, but this needs to be put in perspective.

According to a report in the Daily Telegraph this week, household appliances produce more carbon emissions than a 4x4. One cycle of a kitchen dishwasher reportedly releases around 756g of CO2, more than double that produced by a short spin in a Range Rover Turbo Diesel, which releases 299g per kilometre.

An hour's use of a petrol lawnmower releases more than 1,000g of CO2, while a holiday for a family of four to Disneyworld in Florida, with all the travelling and consumption involved, releases a whopping 2,415,000g of CO2.

London buses, which are bigger than any jeep, release around 1406g of CO2 per kilometre, four times the amount released by a 4x4. Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson tried to draw attention to this when he chained himself to a bus in west London this week.

I don't see any empirical proof that [4x4s] are either decimating pedestrians or polluting on such a massive scale
Quentin Wilson
Motoring journalist
Ms Berry says the problem with 4x4s is not only their CO2 emissions, but their danger to others.

There is certainly a compelling argument for making 4x4s, through design and construction, more aerodynamic and thus safer. Research published in the journal, Accident Analysis and Prevention, found that a pedestrian hit by a large SUV, with its tall and blunt geometry, is twice as likely to die as one hit by a saloon car travelling at the same speed.

Yet it is worth remembering that death and serious injury by road accident have been falling in the West over the past 30 years. Speaking about Britain, motoring journalist Quentin Wilson says: "I don't see any empirical proof that [4x4s] are either decimating pedestrians or polluting on such a massive scale."

As for social alienation and international terrorism, surely such phenomena deserve a better explanation than pinning the blame on 4x4 drivers?


So why has this vehicle more than any other, and more than dishwashers, lawnmowers and buses, become a focus for anti-pollution campaigning?

Austin Williams, a writer on motoring matters, says some people dislike 4x4s simply because they are an expression of conspicuous consumption. "The crusade to make everyone drive smaller cars is premised on high moral contempt for what is deemed to be 'unnecessary' and 'irresponsible' consumption," he says.

But Ms Berry says: "We are not saying that those who drive 4x4s are bad people, or that 4x4s cause all the problems in the world. We simply want to raise awareness about environmental and safety issues. We want our roads to be safe and secure - and what's wrong with that?"

The debate is now closed. Thanks for your emails.

My Land Rover Discovery TD5 is no larger than a Renault Espace and has the same number of seats. The C02 emissions from the 2.5 TD5 Diesel engine are very similar to those of the Espace V6. So why is my Discovery any worse simply because it is a 4x4 ? Yes, I take my kids to school in it but I also take two of my neighbours children too, thus removing two other cars from the road in the morning. Do I need it? well you try towing a 6m boat trailer with anything else in safety. Then try reversing it down a slip way or hauling it up a beach. Enough said I think !
Karl Burkes, UK

My family use a 7-seater Landrover for amongst other things, taking the kids to school. Why? With 4 kids, there aren't so many choices of vehicle anyway, and we certainly don't want our kids exposed to danger in estate cars with rear-facing seats in the back. As concerned parents, we're not prepared to compromise on our kids safety. When it comes to leisure travel, we all use two wheels and pedals, and here in Belgium, it is significantly safer to do that than the UK which provides almost no safety areas for real green transportation.
Gren, Belgium

I drive a pick-up truck purely because I need it to tow my horse to shows. It is practical and I feel safer in it than I would in a little car. When I had smaller vehicles male drivers caused me hell and I had various stupid accidents. Now I get respect on the road for once! I DO NOT HAVE A DISHWASHER - the only dishwasher in the house is me. I could never afford to pay more road tax than I do already, just because I am a horse owner does not mean I'm rich! Quite the opposite in fact! It's time campaigns were fought against things that really matter instead of this blame culture that exists nowadays, it's pathetic. Lighten up people!
Alexia Bennett, UK

I've never understood why people feel the need to have such enormous vehicles to transport one 6 year old child to school. What's really frightening are that a lot of female drivers can hardly see over the dashboard and weave all over the road while talking to their kids in the back or chatting on their mobiles. Even when parked legally they create an obstacle on most of the UK's narrow roads - they should definitely be taxed heavily or banned in urban areas - there's just no need for them.
Matt Munro, Bristol UK

I drive a 4x4 and don't really care about what people think, I have better things to do.

If we had more nuclear power stations then the amount of CO2 produced with a fast spin, high dry cycle with your washer would be negligible. How about an electric 4x4? I'm sure it will be possible in years to come. If it's powered by energy from a Nuclear power station... well you work out the remainder.
Mike Dawson, UK

This is a deeply misleading article. Over a year, the Range Rover produces 15 times as much CO2 as the dishwasher! (Assuming average mileage of 9000 miles a year, and using the dishwasher every day.) How can you have an informed debate when the information you provide is so flawed?
Peter, UK

4x4 drivers make me sick. They're jumped up little show-offs shouting "look at me, look at me, look how rich and successful I am" who don't give a damn about everybody else. Only an idiot like Clarkson could compare a bus, which can carry many passengers, with a car, which most likely won't be carrying more than 3.
john, uk

Why not pick on sports cars - they have lousy fuel consumption figures and are far less practical (though useful for speeding). Or transit vans - they are big and unaerodynamic and pedestrian-unfriendly. Sad fact is that envious people want something to protest about and aren't going to let a bit of logic or some facts get in their way.
Chris Rayden, UK

Anything that makes social engineers sick to their stomachs has got to be okay by me.
Mike Fox, UK

As bad as the CO2 issue, is the "bull-bars" bolted on the front of most urban 4x4s. There are NO bulls in London or any other British city, yet these bars are extremely dangerous in collisions (particularly with pedestrians and especially children) as they don't have the same "give" as normal car bumpers. The bull-bars seem to be an add-on for purely cosmetic purposes, but they're enormously selfish and dangerous -- and they don't even look good!
Doug, UK

Actually, my 4x4 has only a 1600 cc engine and does about 34mpg. Slightly better in efficiency terms than my old Ford Cortina which I had 20 years ago and with the same size engine. Yes its pretty dumb to use one to drive the kids half a mile to school but then its pretty dumb to use any sort of vehicle for that distance. It's a lot more fuel efficient than a 3 litre BMW and that's only got 2 wheel drive. It's the engine that uses the fuel and produces the pollution, not the number of driven wheels.
Rod, Newhaven UK

A bus might put out 4 times as much CO2 as a 4x4, but it should also carry far more than 4 times the number of people. 4x4's are fine in the country, where they are a useful tool for farmers, but in a crowded city street they're just far too big.
Tom Marshall, UK

My neighbours have a 4x4, which they use to drive their kid to school (in the same village), and then to work (also in the same village, about 500yds from their house), before reversing the "journey" later in the day. Pretty intelligent, huh?

Yes, I drive a Range Rover, as does my daughter. Living in an area where there is snow and cold (and hazardous driving conditions) 7 months out of the year I don't feel the need to listen to Urban Man when it comes to my own safety or the safety of my family. As both of the aforementioned Range Rovers are well over 10 years old (mine is 15 and has 250K miles on it) these trucks are doing far less damage to the environment than the disposable drive-it-two-years-then-throw-it-away commuter toys for sale now. Proper care and maintenance is the name of the game - not disposable junk foisted on consumers in the name of eco-friendliness.
Alan Richer, Massachusetts, USA

Saying buses produce more CO2 than 4x4s and claiming this is a bad thing fails to take into account that buses can and frequently do carry many more passengers than 4x4s, and are generally considered to be better for the environment. If you look at the amount taken per person per kilometre you start to get a clearer picture. Not that I'd be unhappy if bus emissions were able to be reduced of course - cuts anywhere will help the situation.
Matt, United Kingdom

4X4s are not, as this article shows, the bad guys of Co2 emissions. However, the reason people have such an issue with these things, rather than their washing machine, is that fact that they are seen as so unnecessary (by non-4x4 drivers like myself). People in this country enjoy free choice when it comes to buying a car, which I support, but it seems most of us do not understand the choice made by the urban 4x4 driver.
Jon, Notts, UK.

It is all very well to point out that a bus produces 4 times more emissions than a 4x4 - however there are usually more than 4 times the number of people in a bus than a 4x4. As an example, if the average number of people in a 4x4 is 3 and on a bus is 30 (figures selected at random, but are probably not too far off the mark), the bus is shown to be a much more efficient and less harmful (to the environment anyway) way to transport the same number of people. Having said that, I think more emphasis should be placed on trying to get ALL motorists to take a look at how much they use their car and to try and reduce emissions across the board, rather than picking on individual groups.
Clare Fowler, Scotland

If dishwashers are actually that bad - then tax them heavily. As for the bus, it may generate 4.5 time more CO2, but it also carries 12 x more passengers. Seems pretty efficient on that basis. And that assumes the 4 x 4 is actually carrying more than one person!
Andrew Taylor, UK

A "short spin in a Range Rover turbo"? Try walking instead.
David, Scotland

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