Why isn’t it the 21st century’s spray-on deodorant?

Let me explain, and meet me after the jump.

When the first scientific evidence came out about the damage CFCs were doing to the ozone layer, one product to die a more-or-less quick death in North America was the spray-can deodorant. Environmentalists successfully convinced the public that ending all life on Earth as we know it was maybe a steep price to pay for avoiding roll-ons.

There was no real attempt to find a replacement for spray-on deodorants, though replacements for other aerosol CFCs were quick in coming. Overall CFC use continued to rise, though much slower than it had before.

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Eventually — after a painfully slow wait — the governments of the world finally got together and put in a tough international measure to restrict the emission of CFCs, which is finally showing results, albeit slower than we had all hoped.

But the spray-can deodorant was probably the first “win” by the environmental movement to characterize consumer choices as a sign of needless waste and destruction.

What does this have to do with SUVs? Very simple, actually. These vehicles are hugely destructive. They are one of the primary reasons why American average fuel efficiency has stagnated, and they cause more than their share of deaths. (One gruesome statistic: if you drive an SUV, you are far more likely to kill your own children accidentally.) Yet in a breathtakingly cynical maneuver, the automobile industry has marketed these rolling coffins as “safer” for family driving. There are a number of reasons for this, but the two biggest are probably a) their higher profitability for Detroit versus small cars, and b) the “light truck” category was protected for years by a steep tariff that kept foreign competitors out of the SUV business.

There is, to put it simply, no compelling reason why the “light truck” category of vehicles deserves any special treatment by government or society at large. (Pick-up trucks are almost as useless. 90% of people who own pick-ups never put anything in the back. Think about that.) Yet the green movement has singularly failed to brand these monstrosities as the kind of absurd extravagance we can no longer afford when, say, the Arctic is disappearing. SUVs sales have finally — finally! — begun to sink, but this almost certainly has more to do with high gas prices than any enlightenment on our part.

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This — like CAFOs — is really something we shouldn’t have to try too hard to organize against.

Want to hurt terrorists? Stop SUV sales, and we’ll use less oil. Want to stop global warming? Stop SUV sales, and it will help (though not enough.) Want to make our streets safer? SUVs kill far more people than accidents with normal cars. Everyone should, potentially, be able to find a reason to stop these things.

And if you’re far-sighted enough to want to build a different automobile infrastructure (plug-in, ethanol, hydrogen, whatever) consider this: the laws of physics still apply. Moving more mass takes more energy, period. If we’re getting our fuel from electricity (hydrogen or plug-ins) every extra pound of mass on our cars means more power plants, and more time to build them. If it’s ethanol, ever extra pound means more biomass grown, harvested, and turned in to a liquid — probably at some environmental cost.

Every SUV on the road — no matter how it’s fueled — puts off the day when we have a sustainable economy. They need to go.

So what’s stopping us?