Why cars like the Hummer are in for a climate-friendly makeover

The Guardian's Oliver Milman has a cheeky take on why Hummers could be good for the environment.

When the Hummer, that macho symbol of militarised excess, ceased production in 2010 most environmentalists were happy to say good riddance. It felt strange last week, then, to test drive a new version of the vehicle that is being touted as having a positive influence on the climate crisis.

The electric Hummer emits no carbon dioxide, is startlingly fast and can crunch over rocky off-road terrain like it is a field of daisies. It is also ludicrously, unnecessarily large – about the weight of an adult elephant.

In many ways, the Hummer – along with the blossoming electrification of a broad range of different car models beyond the sober Leafs and Priuses of this world – highlights a fault line in the climate world. Should we electrify the entire car fleet as quickly as possible, or should we try to move away from cars altogether?

Certainly, the growing popularity of larger, SUV-type vehicles has energised proponents of the latter. Activists in UK cities including London, Manchester and Edinburgh deflated the tires of thousands of SUVs in March, claiming the vehicles were “killers” because of their carbon pollution, but also because their sheer size makes them dangerous to pedestrians and cyclists.

Urbanists in the US, too, are pushing for an end to car-centric policies that funnel endless cash into highway expansions, sprawling suburbia and, as has happened in the wake of the Ukraine war, subsidies for drivers who face rising gasoline costs. Dense, walkable neighbourhoods with good public transport links are safer, quieter and more socially connected, as well as being better for the climate.

But as the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report reminded us – if we needed any further reminders – the world is running out of time to avert climate disaster. If global emissions are indeed to peak in 2025, as the report states must happen to avoid catastrophe, all sorts of things will have to happen at an unprecedented pace, including ditching internal combustion engines in cars.

The quickest way to do this – several transport experts argue – is to make familiar cars that people want to buy, but make them electric. Making cities far less car-focused is also a priority, they argue, but transforming built urban environments takes time while buying habits can shift more quickly. And time is of the essence.

It is one of the paradoxes of the climate crisis that while over-consumption has led us into this mess, it will take an enormous amount of constructing, buying and consuming to extricate ourselves from it, too. The world requires a gargantuan frenzy of activity in building out solar panels and wind turbines and heat pumps and, yes, electric cars if we are to reorientate ourselves to a livable future.

The Hummer may be crass. But it at least hints at the technological effort required to face the climate emergency.

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