The activists who took “climate action” against sports utility vehicles by flattening their tyres in the last two weeks have been receiving solidarity and calls for information from around the world.
Tyre Extinguishers provides instructions on how to deflate SUV tyres, offers guidance on who to target and collates reports of actions across the country. They have gauged the campaign’s reach by angry emails from SUV owners.
The group registered a website and started a Twitter account in July 2021. The first reports of actions came at the beginning of March. But in just the past week, activists have “disarmed” SUVs in Chiswick, Maida Vale, Wood Green and Muswell Hill in London, Brighton and Hove and Manchester.
Acting autonomously and, usually, under the cover of darkness, the activists have used lentils to deflate tyres by placing one inside the tyre valve, holding it open and slowly bleeding air until the tyre is flat. The group calculates they’ve deflated the tyres on at least a thousand vehicles in two weeks.
The response from the public has been much more welcoming than they expected. “We are getting loads of emails from SUV drivers in parts of the country where nobody has actually told us they are doing the action, so there’s probably a lot going on we don’t know about,” the group told the Guardian in an email.
“For example, the Tyre Extinguishers apparently struck somewhere in northern Colorado last weekend and we only found out about that through an SUV driver who found our website via the flyer, not through anyone who took the action.”
They’ve also received messages from activists in Italy, France and Germany asking for the leaflet to be translated into their languages.
SUVs were the second largest contributor to the increase in global carbon emissions from 2010 to 2018. Each year, SUVs belch out 700 megatonnes of CO2, about the entire output of the UK and Netherlands combined. If all SUV drivers banded together to form their own country, it would rank as the seventh largest emitter in the world.
The lentil tactic has been around for a while. In an article in the Conversation, Graeme Hayes and Oscar Berglund, two academics who study protest movements, trace reports of the “mung bean trick” for deflating tyres at least as far back as 2008.
It is hard to estimate the numbers involved in the latest campaign, the Tyre Extinguishers said, adding: “Of course, that’s part of the strength of the action. Not even those of us at the centre of this know the numbers of people involved, or even who they are.”
They said actions had all gone smoothly so far, with no arrests or near misses yet reported. “If anything, it’s easier than we thought it would be to do this and not get caught. Which is good news for anyone reading this and considering taking the action.”