Invasion of the Giant Automobiles |

Invasion of the Giant Automobiles

No, sports utility vehicles in Lake Tahoe do not provide as ludicrous a spectacle as some mid-driff bearing, high-heel wearing 16-year-old daintily disembarking from a Ford Excursion on the streets of Los Angeles. But the facts that Lake Tahoe’s roads are snowy in winter and outdoor enthusiasts have lots of gear to carry do not excuse the invasion of obscenely large, gas guzzling behemoths proven to be as dangerous as they are environmentally destructive.

Those behind the wheels of Lincoln Navigators, GMC Yukons, Chevy Tahoes and countless other vehicular monstrosities would no doubt say they need the space to tote kids, dogs, sports equipment and suitcases. But is it really impossible to fit all the vacation amenities in some ancient SUV like a Nissan Pathfinder (which at least gets nearly 19 miles per gallon instead of the Excursion’s 12)? Perhaps future models will not only boast flip-down DVD players, but also hot tubs, Play Stations and mini-bars for you and your children’s amusement as you cruise cross country in air-conditioned bliss.

Wake up, adherents to America’s “bigger is better” market dogma. Don’t be fooled by commercials that play on Americans’ affinity for ruggedness and even conquest, depicting SUVs rolling through lush forests and across rushing rivers.

Carbon dioxide emissions from U.S. cars and light trucks exceed those of all sources in India and Germany, which rank fifth and sixth among the world’s countries in terms of global warming emissions, according to New York-based advocacy group Environmental Defense. The Union of Concerned Scientists reports that due to lower fuel-economy requirements and relaxed pollution standards, today’s average light truck emits 47 percent more smog-forming pollutants and 43 percent more global warming emissions than the average car. The only way to decrease those emissions is by burning less gasoline.

But SUVs do not (the average gets under 20 miles per gallon), and together with light trucks they account for nearly half of new passenger vehicles sold in the U.S. each year. So while the Bush Administration continues to roll back environmental standards to appease the oil barons and automakers, who can now anticipate coveted Iraqi oil made available by an American invasion, consumers will have to assume the environmental and social responsibility shirked by corporations and the politicians they finance.

Gov. Gray Davis signed a landmark bill in July requiring cost-effective regulations to reduce global warming emissions from passenger vehicles.

Would it be the end of the world to buy something such as a Subaru, getting more than 30 miles to the gallon without having to give up four-wheel drive or space for the fam? People come to Lake Tahoe because it’s beautiful, but we can’t expect to preserve that beauty for future generations while shamelessly driving around the lake spouting noxious fumes.

Megan Felman is a reporter at the Tahoe World in Tahoe City.

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