Hummer and Hummerer

I cannot understand how anyone who has felt the sting of high gas prices, idled on crowded interstates and watched news reports about global warming, oil shortages and rising asthma levels can drive anything but a fuel-efficient, low-emission vehicle.

Recently I was at a traffic light in my 2004 hybrid Prius, and for a moment was surrounded—in front, to the side and behind—by two Hummers and another monstrous SUV. None were carrying passengers and, through the tinted glass of one of the Hummers I could see that the driver was on her drivie-talkie. It was a bit scary being boxed in like this, feeling like an ant in a blindfolded elephant stampede. I wanted to yell out my window: “Hey! Next time, how about driving your car instead of your house?” And to the gal on her cell: “Shut up and drive!”

In a recent exchange of letters in our local newspaper, a reader reacted to an earlier complaint that Hummers can’t fit in normal parking spaces. He claimed he could park his two Hummers anywhere he wants because he “works hard,” is “successful” and has “earned the right.” (Two Hummers! Jeez! If he named them, like pets, he could call them, well, see title above.)

So, let me get this straight: You work hard, unlike the rest of us, and therefore you can hog space intended to be shared, spew in-ordinate amounts of pollutants that seri-ously harm people’s health, and crush others beyond rec-ognition in the case of an accident, even though you may be at fault.

Why do so many Americans seem to have this sense of entitlement, this notion that we can do whatever we want as long as we can personally afford it, without regard to our impact on the larger, global village? Perhaps it is due in part to the personal power and control—and the alienation from others—that comes from so often sitting in private vehicles instead of in community on a bus or a train where we might feel more empathy for others.

Yes, I’m a hypocrite because I drive a car at all. But most of us face the same dilemma—how to get places without much of an infrastructure in place to enable walking, biking or taking public transit. Those are issues we need to solve collectively. But buying a gas guzzling, soot-spewing, bone-crushing vehicle at a time when environmental problems are as plain as the smirk on George Bush’s pre-midterm elections face is the moral and practical equivalent of leaving the faucet running during a drought.

So, those of you planning to buy a new vehicle: Do your part and choose a hybrid or comparable fuel-efficient option. Jim Motavalli’s cover story this issue is a good rundown of what’s in showrooms now and what’s coming. Hummer sales were up (believe it or not!) 12 percent last year. But the good news is that the Prius and other green vehicles are outselling it. In buying more eco-conscious cars, we”ll keep that smirk in check and eventually drive those road elephants into extinction.