Deirdre Kennedy reports from San Francisco on one man's unusual campaign against gas-guzzling SUVs.
CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood with an encore edition of Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: Many environmental activists work with lobbying and political groups, but some prefer a more direct approach. Consider Robert Lind. Mr. Lind is a one-man campaign to make people who drive sport utility vehicles in the San Francisco area feel guilty about their gasoline consumption. His targets find a bumper sticker on their SUVs that reads, "I'm Changing the Climate. Ask Me How." Deirdre Kennedy caught up with the mad tagger on an expedition in the San Francisco suburb of Corte Madera.
KENNEDY: On any weekend of the year you can find Robert Lind stalking luxury sport utility vehicles on the streets of San Francisco. On this particular Saturday he's staked out a spot in the parking lot of an upscale shopping center in Marin County, armed with a backpack full of "Changing the Climate" bumper stickers.
LIND: The first thing is peel. (Peels, crumples) You can get the bumper sticker all ready to go. I stalk my prey. Here we have a large V8 land cruiser. And very simply, stoop [peels] and tag.
KENNEDY: Although he aggressively pounces on land rovers, land cruisers, and pickup trucks camouflaged as family vehicles, Lind leaves the small fry alone. No Jeeps or RAV4s. In fact, he's kept himself to a fairly narrow diet.
LIND: I don't tag commercial vehicles. I only tag the largest SUVs. I call them the super-predators. The big Expeditions, Excursions. I don't do Explorers or anything with a V-6. I don't re-tag. If I know that an SUV has been tagged, I don't tag it a second time. You know, I want to be somewhat civilized about this.
KENNEDY: Surprisingly, Lind doesn't consider himself to be an environmentalist. In fact, he's been a car buff since childhood. And he himself drives a 1988 BMW 320-I. He objects to what he sees as SUV drivers' ignorance that they're polluting more than other cars.
LIND: When they passed the Clean Air Act, they exempted pickups and commercial-type vehicles. They had much lower standards to meet. Because there weren't that many of them on the road and they figured, well, we'll help business out a little bit by not having them have to equip the cars with the latest technology. But now that the SUVs have come along, half of the cars fall in this category and are exempt from normal emissions and fuel economy standards. So, that is the problem. If the SUVs got good mileage and didn't pollute, I don't care if they drive them.
KENNEDY: Lind and a friend came up with the bumper sticker idea when they noticed that more and more SUVs were turning up on the streets.
LIND: When we were thinking of slogans to put on the bumper sticker, we were thinking at first "Screw the Environment" or, you know, something kind of very obvious. But we decided on, "I'm Changing the Climate." You know, there is a little bit of humor in there, which I think makes people scratch their head and chuckle.
KENNEDY: But SUV owners don't usually appreciate the humor in Lind's message. While we were in the parking lot, a driver and his father returned to their Toyota Land Cruiser to find one of Lind's stickers securely fastened to the bumper.
MAN 1: I consider it vandalism.
MAN 2: Yes.
MAN 1: Absolutely. This is private property. I was not asked whether I wanted that on my car or not, and clearly I don't. So, I mean, I choose to drive this. I made that choice. And someone shouldn't be messing with my private property.
KENNEDY: Does it make you think about gasoline consumption?
MAN 1: No, not really.
MAN 2: No.
MAN 1: It makes me think about people who --
MAN 2: Makes me angry.
MAN 1: Makes me angry is what it makes me.
MAN 2: Why would you worry about gasoline consumption? It's not changing the environment.
KENNEDY: You don't think so?
MAN 2: Not at all. There's plenty of evidence to show that it's not. Just look at the figures on Greenland in the year 845, and then later on in 1350. The changes in the climate at that time. I don't think we were burning much coal or oil then, were we?
KENNEDY: Lind has never been cited or arrested for his tagging activities, though he says he'd like to be, to draw attention to his cause. And he invites his victims to contact him directly.
LIND: I have the website on the bumper sticker. So when a person gets tagged they can e-mail me in person and complain about the fact that I defaced their private property. [Kennedy laughs] And I will tell them, "You've defaced the public air supply, so there, we're even."
KENNEDY: The entire time we're talking, he's peeling and sticking tags on vehicles with all the confidence and authority of a parking enforcement official. Inside of about a half an hour, he's tagged more than 20 cars.
LIND: Ah, here's an Insight hybrid by Honda. He is changing the climate, but he's doing it in a positive way. So I'm leaving a bumper sticker under his windshield wiper. Hopefully he'll enjoy that.
KENNEDY: So far, Lind has been spending his free hours trying to change the minds of individual drivers. But I asked him, why doesn't he go after the really big game, the car manufacturers?
LIND: I'll wait till they contact me. When things get so painful and their profits are plummeting because my campaign has reduced SUV purchases by 80 percent, they'll be crawling out to me, begging. Yeah, maybe.
KENNEDY: For Living on Earth, I'm Deirdre Kennedy in San Francisco.
LIND: There's a black one, a black Suburban. The Darth Vader of GM products.
(Music up and under: John Williams "Imperial Death March" STAR WARS)
Living on Earth wants to hear from you!
P.O. Box 990007
Boston, MA, USA 02199
Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.
Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.
Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion
The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.
Energy Foundation: Serving the public interest by helping to build a strong, clean energy economy.
Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary wildlife photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.
Buy a signed copy of Mark Seth Lender's book Smeagull the Seagull & support Living on Earth