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Hammer the Hummers

Paul Andersen

Ten years ago a provocative advertisement appeared in the Aspen Times: “The Best Hummer I Ever Had in Aspen.” This was no erotic revelation, but rather the promotion for a new model of SUV – the bigger, better model. The Hummer phenomenon has since become a marketing pandemic that has inspired other manufacturers into supersizing their SUV fleets. Aspen, despite its supposedly green culture, quickly emulated this trend. Never mind the irony that American boys were dying in Hummers in Iraq so that American consumers could blissfully drive Hummers at home. Never mind the irony that Hummers contribute loads to global warming, which may one day eradicate skiing from our local economy. Conspicuous consumption in the pursuit of status knows no bounds in America, and especially in Aspen. Then came Hummer-dinger tax breaks Bush and the Republican Congress ushered in. This legislation, while intended to spur equipment purchases for people who actually need small trucks and large vans for their businesses, opened loopholes for others.Anybody who could rationalize the purchase of a 6,000-pound behemoth for their livelihoods could write off tens of thousands of dollars from their taxes – all for the privilege of driving a gas-guzzling monstrosity. Soon, American consumers mobilized a fleet of quasimilitary machines that can be seen today idling at curbs in the Roaring Fork Valley. The Hummer has become a symbol of America’s irrational faith in vanishing oil reserves, and proof of our willingness to kill and die for that resource. The ultimate display of nationalistic hubris is the fully loaded Hummer sporting twin American flags fluttering Patton-like from the front fenders, while a dwarfed driver, often a suburban mom, peers from behind tinted windows as if in a passing parade. Now there is a hue and cry to end the SUV tax breaks and challenge the fossil fool gluttony that has prompted Republicans to go the distance and suggest the incredibly stupid idea of giving every American driver a $100 rebate to ease the pain at the pump. Thinking globally and acting locally, we might as well hand out gas money for tourists to drive to Aspen this summer. Ooops … sorry … that’s already been thought of. That’s right, tourists will be driving to Aspen this summer looking for a rebate with which to fill the gas tanks of their SUVs. But perhaps the tide is turning after all. Last week, 10 states, including California and New York, agreed to file suit to force the Bush administration to toughen mileage regulations for SUVs. The suit charges that the Bush administration did not adequately weigh the environmental benefits of fuel efficiency for SUVs, pickups and minivans, and that the government failed to consider the impact of gas consumption on climate change.The attorney general of Massachusetts was quoted as saying, “At a time when we are all facing a gas crisis, the Bush administration is pushing for fuel economy standards that appear to be authored by the oil and auto industries.” It is apparent that leadership on fuel economy is not going to come from Washington, but rather from individual states. Apparently, it will take more than war and global climate change to mandate a national consensus for real change in the American vehicle fleet. If it’s up to localities to intervene on this pressing global issue, then Aspen is well poised with its Canary Initiative. Our local governments should explore a legislative deterrent to the proliferation of gas-hogging SUVs rather than relying on the growing scorn and ridicule they already attract. Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays.


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