Tyres on over 1000 SUVs deflated in Sweden

by Tracy Stokes on October 8, 2007

in Activism, Climate Change, Responsible Transport

You may recall a post here a while ago about a group in Sweden who call themselves The Indians of the Concrete Jungle. Their campaign involves deflating tyres on 4-wheel drive vehicles and is spreading across Sweden like wildfire, stirring up a national debate and bringing out the worst in 4×4 drivers.

Here is a message from The Indians of the Concrete Jungle to the rest of the world:

Everyone knows it: action on climate change is a matter of utter urgency. Nonetheless, carbon emissions continue to accelerate, powered by the uncontrollable machines of the world economy. One eminent sign of this rush to disaster is the trend of SUVs, clogging the streets in our Western cities, emitting up to three times more carbon than cars of average size on the market. SUVs have become a symbol of the irrational destruction of the most basic conditions of life. Attached to no human need whatsoever – only to the conspicuous consumption of an affluent class, feeling the "need" to flaunt monster vehicles – they constitute perhaps the most insane source of unnecessary carbon emissions. Everyone should know it: if we can’t deal with SUVs swiftly, we can’t deal with any other emissions either. And nothing less than our survival is at stake.

Armed with this analysis, and with mung beans or grains of gravel, a group called The Indians of the Concrete Jungle has struck against hundreds of SUVs in Sweden in recent months. The first action occured in the poshest part of innercity Stockholm in June. Tyres on 60 SUVs in Östermalm were deflated. A weblog was posted on the internet, and since then, the campaign for disarmament of SUVs in Sweden has spread like wildfire. To this date, approximately 1000 SUVs have been temporarily disarmed in at least nine Swedish cities, including the three largest (Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö) as well as several smaller cities; new tribes are popping up by the week. The Indians of the Concrete Jungle have appeared in virtually every major media outlet in the country – from a prime time debate on national television, to a very sympathetic report in the company of Indians in action published in the biggest morning newspaper, to an op-ed piece in the biggest evening paper and countless news reports in local media. Thus, in a matter of months, the issue of unnecessary carbon emissions in general and SUVs in particular have risen to the top of the agenda in Sweden – something that never happened before – and ownership of the vehicle has become all the less convenient.

Sweden is unique in Europe in its addiction to SUVs. Carbon emissions from new cars on Swedish roads are some 20 percent above the European average; no males in the EU emit as much by driving cars as Swedish males do. This is largely due to the success of Volvo’s SUV model XC90, as well as other cars from the consistently climate destructive company. The Indians of the Concrete Jungle have decided to change this situation.

The action performed by the Indians is simple. The cap of the tyre’s valve is unscrewed, a bean or a grain of gravel is inserted, and the valve is screwed back on the tyre. The little thing will push down the peg in the middle of the valve, making sure the air is gently released. The whole manoeuvre takes about 10 seconds, after which follows the long sound of the air petering out. A letter to the owner is left on the widescreen, wherein the action is explained. Instructions and the letter are available on the weblog, for all like-minded activists to use and spread lavishly. The Indians refrain from targeting SUVs used by handicapped drivers, health care institutions and company workers.

Though the response has, in general, been positive among the public, considerable fury and aggression have arisen among SUV-owners. A counterforce calling itself "The Cowboys of the Concrete Jungle" has appeared, threatening to deflate the lungs of the Indians, presumably with knifes. On various internet communities run by motorists and soldiers, plans are made to guard SUVs and beat or even kill Indians; public supporters of the cause have been subject to threats of attacks on their homes. Undaunted, the Indians of the Concrete Jungle have continued and escalated the campaign, and so far, no one has been hurt. Only one Indian has been nabbed by Swedish police, though it has not even decided what kind of criminal offense deflating tyres actually constitutes – if indeed it is a crime at all.

The conflict surrounding the actions is considered a success in itself. There are real, social contradictions in the field of climate change between those who emit carbon relentlessly and those who suffer the heaviest losses, and bringing these to light is crucial for any progress. Not everyone will fight climate change. Not everyone will give up their lethal privileges voluntarily.

The Indians of the Concrete Jungle are determined to continue their campaign of disarmament. If it is done repeatedly and on a massive scale, deflating tyres will develop from a slight annoyance in the eyes of the owners into a real obstacle for driving SUVs. Imagine waking up to a car without air in the tyres every morning, or even once a week! The campaign is poised to spread further in Sweden, and now the Indians are looking forward to tribes taking up the cause in other countries as well. In the pursuit of spreading the word, all declarations of recent actions will hereafter be posted in English as well as Swedish.

If you’d like to read more, or are considering starting your own tribe, visit the official website of The Indians of the Concrete Jungle.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael October 8, 2007 at 2:51 pm

In the US the indians would be swiftly accused of terrorism and disappeared into some federal dungeon, probably without a trial. Anything that smacks of anticorporatism, environmentalism or civil disobedience is grounds for prosecution in our burgeoning police state.

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TimeTraveller October 8, 2007 at 2:51 pm

I can’t wait till these modern day do-gooders get some assets of their own so i can go mess them up…maybe I’ll spray paint their hemp shirts because I think the fumes are causing brain cancer in urban sparrows..

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Mel Rimmer October 8, 2007 at 6:59 pm

This story made me smile at first but I can’t really condone it. Fellow blogger Stonehead (stonehead.wordpress.com) is getting stick for owning a 4×4 – he lives on a croft in the Scottish highlands. A Prius wouldn’t make it up the lane. I know some people who require huge made-to-measure wheelchairs and have large cars to accomodate the chair.

I’m not against 4x4s. For many people they serve a purpose that no other vehicle can serve. For sure, a lot of people who have them could fill their needs completely with a much smaller car, and only own a big car for ego reasons. On the other hand some people who have small cars could fill their needs with a bicycle and public tranport, but they don’t get their property damaged because of their unsustainable choices.

Do these people also attack Bentleys and Daimlers and other huge gas guzzling cars that usually carry only one person? How about VW Camper Vans used as town runabouts with one occupant? Or is it just 4x4s that are an eco-crime?

I’d love to see people make wiser transport choices, but I really don’t want to see gangs of eco-vigilantes judging other people solely on what type of car they own, and carrying out mob-style retribution on those judged to be guilty.

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Abe Lincoln October 8, 2007 at 8:20 pm

Tire blows out, vehicle flips, child passenger dies… pebble found under cap of tyre. Good work eco-vandalists.

You know you get worse gas mileage with under-inflated tyres? Militant activism will only undermine their cause.

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Andy Cunningham October 8, 2007 at 8:20 pm

This is just criminal damage. Unjustifiable criminal damage.

If I catch someone letting the tyres down on my car, it will be reported as vandalism. This is not funny. This is silly and dangerous, and the perpetrators need to be treated as the vandals and criminals they are.

4x4s do not damage the environment. Deal with it.

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Tracy October 8, 2007 at 8:49 pm

Something that is not covered in this blog post, but which is also relevant to the dangers that 4x4s pose to us is that a pedestrians are at a much larger risk of dying if they are hit by one of these vehicles. The risks are outlined in this BBC article.

I don’t have anything against 4×4 vehicles being used for valid reasons, but on the school run? It’s outrageous.

On the point of vandalism raised above, letting air out of tyres isn’t vandalism, it’s just an inconvenience.

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Roger October 9, 2007 at 1:51 pm

Tracy’s comment is very important. We (society) get quickly critical about *immediate* consequences of behaviour but rarely the more far-reaching. This “eco-vandalism” is immediately quite rude and inconvenient to the SUV drivers and in the hypothetical situation involving flipping of a car could be immediately dangerous (although I think that was a bit ridiculous). However every time any of us choose to drive rather than walk we are choosing occupy public space with a dangerous vehicle. The consequences are huge – even obesity is linked, inter alia, to the fact that parents think that the streets are too dangerous for children to walk to school.
I don’t know whether I support the “Indians” because generally provocative action creates division and I reckon in the longer term I believe a softer Gandhi-esque approach pays dividends. I have to admit to being quite impressed though.

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Jazz October 9, 2007 at 3:02 pm

So, it’s the SUVs that are the problem? To me, the problem is more than just SUVs. Letting the air out of tires is making the situation worse, because gas mileage (and emissions) are worse, with under-inflated tires. The problem comes down to the “I want EVERYTHING” mentality of modern life. And if we can’t have Everything, then we want the biggest, showiest whatever we can afford. The real problem with SUVs comes from the fact that in America, the CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards set in place by the government only count cars. SUVs are classed as Trucks and thus are exempt. So we’ve got cars getting smaller and lighter, to meet fuel economy standards (then being driven by idiots, who do things to ruin the fuel economy) and frankly, someone with a 6’2 frame isn’t going to fit in a Mini. So, to get a vehicle that accomodates their height (or more commonly in America – their girth/weight) they get an SUV. Well, then the media points out that cars don’t fare so well in collisions with SUVs, so yuppie parents want their darling children to be safe, so they buy an SUV to be at “collision-survival” parity, so their precious offspring will survive. So everyone drives SUVs, environmentalists whine to the Government, and the government tightens down fuel standards even further, while still leaving the loophole in place for Trucks (SUVs). And then we throw in the testosterone factor. Men decide that they need to drive something “Big and Manly” (apparently because they’re afraid that in their undies, they’re not very big, or manly!)

The real solution to the SUV problem is to (1) bring Trucks & SUVs under the CAFE standards, and back the CAFE standards off enough that vehicles can be made safe enough to withstand a collision with an SUV.

Once that happens, then the growing trend towards everyone driving a SUV, even if they never need to go off-road, will start to reverse.

Vandalizing other people’s property doesn’t point out the real problem, irritates people, and frankly, is potentially endangering peoples lives.

Not the smartest way to win friends and influence people, now, is it?

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Stonehead October 16, 2007 at 8:18 am

Having found my name being mentioned here, I thought I’d drop in a few comments.

While, as Mel rightly points out, we do have a 4×4 on our working croft, I actually meet most of my transport needs with a trike and do about 50 miles a week in hilly terrain transporting children, groceries and materials for the croft.

The Land Rover is our sole car and gets my wife to and from work (no public transport, 20 miles to cover) as well as being used to tow a livestock trailer, move straw, animal feed, fencing, water and boulders, tow a harrow and various other jobs.

But thanks to the misguided spoutings of some eco-activists, people think it’s quite acceptable to spit on me and the car, to abuse me in petrol stations (baby-killer is the least of the insults I’ve had), and even to throw things at me.

Roger, 4x4s are not the only dangerous vehicle on the road. All cars can be dangerous – we had a VW Golf ram into our cottage last week at 50mph. If that had hit the boys and I on our trike, the consequences would have been just as deadly as being hit by a small 4×4.

Tracy, using a 4×4 on the school run can be appropriate. My wife is a teacher for a start and so uses the Land Rover to get to work. What else is she supposed to do – buy a second car so we can join the suburban masses who think two small cars are fine, but one ageing 4×4 is not?

Or what about someone who lives well out of town, in a country area and has to bring their children in during winter. A 4×4 may well be tbe best and safest way of doing that. The school bus that collects our boys can’t get through more than a dusting of snow or a bit of light ice, so it’s the 4×4 then.

The other thing you have to remember about 4x4s is that they span the spectrum from the small Fiat Panda 4×4 up to bug Porsche Cayennes and Range Rovers. There are also numerous medium cars from the likes of Skoda, Subaru and Audi that have 4×4 drive systems, but are most definitely not big off-roaders.

If you ban or target 4x4s, then you how do you discriminate between the intended targets (big 4x4s on the school run) and everyone else.

And talking about school runs, what’s more dangerous? A careful driver Subaru Legacy 4×4 or a distracted Mum driving her vast Ford Galaxy or Renault Grand Espace? Our LR Defender is often dwarfed by some of the vast MPVs that many families use – cars that often have 2.5-litre V6 engines.

Or what about white van man? There’s a lot less vision from one of those than from many 4x4s.

No, targeting 4x4s is a misguided and irrational hitting out at an easy target so as to avoid looking too closely at your own transport choices. There’s also a very large amount of jealousy at the perceived wealth and status of the 4×4 owner – which in our case is most certainly not true.

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Andrew February 4, 2008 at 2:34 pm

I am visiting Stockholm at the moment and this morning found the tyre on my car had been punctures with a blade as did at least 8 other cars the same evening. I do not own a 4×4 and even if I did I am not sure I deserve to have my tyres punctured! Thanks….

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Uncle B April 27, 2008 at 1:58 am

Vandalism does nothing for the cause – the environment, or the people in it, the environmentalists.
Write SUV owners letters, shame them in the press, use the net to raise awareness, promote environmentalism wherever and whenever possible, but keep it clean, intelligent and above board. We are right and we speak for the wellbeing of all when we speak out for the environment. We do not have to stoop to petty vandalism to get our point across. Organize in ‘green’ groups and use this energy to speak at PTA, boyscout or church meetings, hold rallies, help community events, form associations, lobby local governments, support other green organizations, orphanages,cancer walks,gay parades,march of dimes, dollars for Darfur, etc., but for the environment’s sake, keep it clean!

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