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SUVs you right

An online war with the gas guzzlers.

It all started for me one day recently with a column by the muckraking Medea of the media, Arianna Huffington. She made a little Honda Insight-size suggestion that we fire up a citizens’ ad campaign aimed at persuading people to stop driving SUVs and all those other bigmongous vehicles that mainline refined petrochemical products like they were the purest crack cocaine.

As she pointed out with the you-are-so-over attitude of The Founding Fathers declaring their independence to King George, SUVs belch “30 percent more carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons and 75 percent more nitrogen oxides than passenger cars. How about this for a bumper sticker: ‘Honk if you hate the ozone layer!'” Huffington’s inspiration morphed into the juggernaut of the SUV Ad Fund/A Band Apart, with Lawrence Bender, producer of “Pulp Fiction” and “Good Will Hunting,” and director Scott Burns, co-creator of the “Got Milk?” ad campaign, agreeing to help produce ads for the cause.

As Huffington got all, like, huffy about SUVs, Rev. Dan Smith, an associate Congregational minister at Hancock United Church of Christ in Lexington, Mass., was already behind the wheel with his What Would Jesus Drive? effort. Helped along by the California power crunch and gas prices higher than Timothy Leary in the 1960s, the grass roots movement’s Web site offers a chance to Take the Pledge (e.g., “If I need to purchase a vehicle, I will choose the most fuel-efficient and least polluting vehicle available that truly fits my needs.”), fact sheets (“Forty-five percent of the rise in global warming pollution from personal vehicles in the 1990s was due to the increase of vehicles in the ‘light trucks’ category [SUVs, vans, and pickups]”), and more, including bumper stickers.

Smith is just one cylinder in the motor of this movement: A search for “What Would Jesus Drive?” pulls in almost 2,300 results. Evangelicals for Social Action, founded in 1973 with the Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern, partners with WWJD’s parent organization, the Evangelical Environmental Network, whose site states boldly, “Many ‘environmental’ problems are fundamentally spiritual problems.”

Yeah, like the age-old problem of money, root, evil. In 2001 the House voted 269 to 160 to slap down a proposal that would have forced SUVs and other “light trucks” to get an average of 27.5 miles per gallon. Currently they’re required to average 20.7 mpg. The major auto manufacturers spend a lot of money on lobbying and campaign contributions to slow down improved-fuel economy requirements. Check OpenSecrets.org database and you’ll see that in the 2000 election cycle, Ford forked over $790,540 in contributions over this requirement, and General Motors sent $700,488.

Maybe WWJD is putting the brakes to these behemoths. SUV sales have started to droop around the world. So as of this writing, the world’s largest car maker, GM, is now increasing cash-back rebates on some 2003 SUVs, and offering zero-percent financing for its Explorer SUV for up to five years.

The automakers’ reluctance to wake up and smell the emissions may be why Tom and Ray Magliozzi, the hosts of “Car Talk,” have begun an anti-SUV campaign of their own, “Live Larger, Drive Smaller!”, and Bill McKibben, who wrote “The End of Nature,” organized his own anti-SUV event.

You can help take back the road by enlisting in those offensives and by checking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Fuel Economy Site, where you can compare fuel economy for cars and trucks.

I personally can’t speak for what Jesus would drive, but I’d like to be there when the DMV tries to make Him take a number and wait in line.

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