Climate change activists claim responsibility for deflating the tires to ‘over 11,000 SUVs’

Young man exchanging the car tires. (Getty Images)
Young man exchanging the car tires. (Getty Images)

A group of climate change activists who deflated the tires of 43 gas guzzling SUVs in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood last Wednesday night told Yahoo News that they think their aggressive action is necessary to draw attention to carbon emissions.

“We’ve generated media coverage in the 17 countries we've been active in, as well as other countries we haven't been active in yet,” a spokesperson for the Tyre Extinguishers, a grassroots organization operating in several countries, told Yahoo News in an email. “We've been featured in newspapers, radio, TV — we have generated quite a lot more media attention than quite a lot of formal climate groups.”

Tyre Extinguishers claimed responsibility for the vandalism in a Thursday post published on its website; it explained that the group was motivated by concern for the outsize greenhouse gas emissions of SUVs. The larger class of vehicles have been increasing in popularity and size in recent years, which, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. is blocking progress in reducing planet-warming pollution from cars and trucks.

An SUV tows a boat on the heavily traveled 405 Freeway in Los Angeles
An SUV tows a boat on the heavily traveled 405 Freeway in Los Angeles. (Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

“The group took this action to render the large greenhouse gas emitting vehicles unusable, directly preventing the outpouring of emission from the vehicles into our atmosphere which further contribute to climate change and air pollution,” Tyre Extinguishers wrote in a statement. The group was founded in the U.K. in March 2022 and is active in the U.S., Canada, New Zealand and several European countries.

The activists believe that taking such forceful measures generates more attention than holding traditional rallies and marches and therefore has a greater effect on public opinion.

Some climate change experts have questioned the effectiveness of this approach. A survey conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania last November found that disruptive protests for climate action tend to make the public less supportive of the cause.

Following on a spate of incidents in which activists in Europe defaced the plastic cases of famous paintings in museums and blocked roads to stop traffic, the survey asked more than 1,000 Americans what they think of those tactics. The result? Forty-six percent said the activism reduced their support for measures to address climate change, while only 13% reported increasing support and 40% said it had no effect on their views.

Michael Mann, one of the world’s leading climate change experts and the Penn professor who oversaw the research project, told Yahoo News in an email that this likely means the public reaction to deflating tires would be similar.

The deflated tires of SUVs in Boston.
Climate protesters claimed responsibility for deflating the tires of SUVs in Boston. (Pat Greenhouse/Boston Globe via Getty Images)

“Based on our study, I would speculate that this particular disruptive action is damaging to support for climate action,” Mann said. “Just as with the actions that we considered (defacing or appearing to deface rare art, disrupting the morning commute) the target, rather than the bad actors e.g. fossil fuel interests, who are behind the problem, is the very people — ordinary citizens operating within a still largely fossil fuel-driven world — that we are trying to win over.”

In an email interview, a spokesperson for the Tyre Extinguishers, who declined to give any details about their identity, said that other evidence suggests that disruptive protests are a more powerful motivator for climate action. They pointed to a series of London-area protests in 2019 by Extinction Rebellion, a grassroots climate group that used civil disobedience tactics such as blocking streets and occupying monuments and an oil tanker. News coverage mentioning climate change spiked as a result.

The Tyre Extinguishers noted that polls showed a subsequent surge of concern about climate change among the British public. However, the polls did not ask about what motivated respondents and pollsters said it’s possible that the shift occurred for other reasons.

“Attention-grabbing protests actually increase support for climate action,” the Tyre Extinguishers spokesperson wrote. “The same was true of Extinction Rebellion’s protests in 2019 — it increased climate change concern to its highest level ever, despite lots of moaning from the political right.”

Ironically, Extinction Rebellion declared earlier this year that it would no longer engage in disruptive protests, while other groups responsible for the attacks on paintings such as Just Stop Oil have recommitted themselves to it.

Extinction Rebellion demonstrators
Extinction Rebellion demonstrators in Whitehall, London on Monday. (Jordan Pettitt/PA Images via Getty Images)

One segment of the public is certainly unlikely to look on climate activism more favorably due to tires being deflated: the owners of the SUVs. “You know, I’m all for taking action to save the environment, but I just don’t know that destroying people’s personal property or damaging people’s personal property is the way to go about doing it,” the daughter of one couple whose tires were deflated told a local Boston TV news channel.

The Tyre Extinguishers, however, puts the blame squarely on the consumers who have bought those vehicles.

“Ultimately, politely asking and protesting for these things has failed. It’s time for action, so there is little point in calming down SUV owners,” the spokesperson added. “They cannot be reasoned with. They know the climate science, yet they continue to own SUVs. The only thing that we can do is make it impossible or extremely inconvenient to own one.”

The Tyre Extinguishers hope that the threat of more eco-vandalism will deter people from buying SUVs.

“So far, we have deflated over 11,000 SUVs,” their spokesperson wrote. “This is likely to be an underestimate as people don’t always tell us when they’ve taken action, and we only find out because we get angry emails from a particular city or area!”