A Hummer doesn’t help

Eric Amster is a University of California, Davis, medical student and environmental-health advocate

In September, General Motors announced its “Hummer Helps” program. The program has donated $100,000 (the cost of an H1) to Tread Lightly, an organization whose credo is to “respect the environment and rights of others” while promoting off-road travel “with minimal impact.” With the increasing popularity of Hummers, it’s time we ask some questions: To what extent do Hummers respect the rights of others? Do they “tread lightly"?

The most condemning evidence against Hummers, and sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) in general, is the associated health consequences. This year, the Journal of Respiratory Medicine reported that adults showed worsening of respiratory problems in communities with more car traffic and fewer fuel-efficient cars. Because of their small size and growing bodies, children are more vulnerable. A study of fourth-graders showed increased rates of wheezing and asthma in areas with fewer fuel-efficient cars. This means that if your neighbor is driving a Hummer—the most inefficient vehicle, at 11 miles per gallon—your child is more likely to get asthma.

This year Butte County received an F in air quality from the American Lung Association; 91 percent of our air pollution comes from mobile sources: cars and trucks. Hummers are three times heavier than most cars and use more than 200 percent more gas per mile. Quite simply, our air is growing ever worse because some people want to drive ever bigger cars.

Our government has created air-pollution standards that limit the amount of pollution from car emissions and set standards for fuel efficiency. However, Hummers and SUVs are allowed to emit 5.5 times the level of pollution allowed for other cars. According to the legislation, Hummers and SUVs are rural vehicles, exempt from the tighter rules.

Some individuals have taken radical approaches to dealing with the Hummer invasion, but there’s a better way. Educate! Tell your neighbors that you don’t want your kid getting asthma because they want a Hummer to go shopping. Inform your friends that they’ll end up spending three times more on gas for a Hummer. Tell them Butte County has some of the worst air in the country, and it’s worsening further because of the big cars people drive. Ask why they need a Hummer at all. Chances are, it’s not for rural uses.