Hans Eisenbeis' "Defense of the SUV" (July) displays the moral myopia that cripples so much libertarian thinking about the environment. Eisenbeis admits, in passing, that SUVs "contribute to our environmental dilemma; they burn more gas, oil, and rubber...and continue to pollute disproportionately once they've been scrapped."
He then dismisses these concerns by noting, correctly, that all cars contribute to these same problems, if in a smaller degree. Eisenbeis then glides smoothly on to discuss the symbolic, fantasy, and emotional virtues of the behemoths. He omits the reality that with a few hundred dollars invested in better engineering, the auto industry could make, say, a Ford Explorer get 34 miles per gallon, not 19, making our choice of vehicle far less consequential for global warming.
SUVs are, actually, real objects, with real material impacts on the world. What Eisenbeis and so many others fail to note is that "we" who drive SUVs are not the primary victims of their environmental impact, and that the victims almost certainly do not agree that our desire to use "these massive trucks" as a "form of escapism...a bulwark against harsh realities the rest of the world still faces on a daily basis" justifies the carbon dioxide pollution they emit, given that this pollution makes those realities harsher for, say, the tens of millions who inhabit the Gangetic Delta of Bangladesh.
One of the most certain consequences of global warming is a rise in sea levels. That rise means that the already horrific loss of lives and property which results from typhoons coming off the Bay of Bengal will increase dramatically as storm surges reach further north into the low-lying villages and towns. The Bangladeshis have never agreed to have their lives and property put at greater risk so that Americans can satisfy their post-industrial off-road fantasies. They receive no compensation for their loss. There is no contract, explicit or implicit, that gives American drivers the right to raise sea levels.
Under the common law, no one had the right to use their property in a manner which flooded someone else's. When the flooding is caused by millions of cars, SUVs, and power plants all over the world, and when it occurs tens of thousands of miles away, and perhaps years later, finding a mechanism to substitute for the nuisance lawsuits that were traditional in England is challenging. But the moral principle is the same. And since the death toll in Bangladesh alone is almost certainly going to be larger than the total number of American lives lost in all of our wars since 1775, this challenge deserves serious commentary.
If libertarians continue to pretend that global warming either doesn't exist, by denying the scientific consensus, or isn't important, because the American economy can probably adapt to a changed climate regime, they will only fuel one of the deep suspicions that the rest of us have about the libertarian concept of freedom -- that behind it lurks a doctrine which comforts the comfortable and afflicts the afflicted by emphasizing irresponsibility for the well-off and well-connected, while indulging the expropriation of common resources, such as the climate, that provide security for the poor and powerless.
The Sierra Club
I am a member of the Society of Automotive Historians and the Automotive Press Association. Though I enjoyed the writing and thrust of Eisenbeis' essay, it falls short on the facts.
Eisenbeis writes, "On July 2, 1941, this seemingly impossible list of specs was distributed to every American auto manufacturer." That's funny. Earlier today -- in connection with a book project I'm working on -- I was looking at a photo of Edsel Ford in the first Ford-built GP, dated February 28, 1941. Some trick to build a vehicle prior to receiving its specs. Surely Eisenbeis meant 1940.
The statement that "Willys...was building stripped-down commercial trucks and vans" is also not quite correct. See the Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1805�1942, for specs and pictures of Willys passenger cars produced and sold every year up to World War II.
"Already during the '30s, American cars generally sported V-6 and V-8 engines," writes Eisenbeis. Huh? Only a handful of cars had V-8s before World War II: Cadillac, LaSalle, Mercury, Ford, and Cord; Buick and Nash offered in-line valve-in-head straight eights, while Olds, Pontiac, Packard, Hudson, Studebaker, and Chrysler had flat-head straight eights. The first production V-6 was not offered in an American car until the 1965 Buick Skylark, and did not become popular and spread to other makes until the late '70s (G.M.) and '80s (Chrysler and Ford).
"By the end of September 1941, Probst's design was approved and the Army processed an order for 4,500 vehicles," writes Eisenbeis. Hmmm again. My local Ford dealer has on display in his service department a restored Ford GP with a build date of September 26, 1941.
"By 1949, Willys began to expand its model lines to include a four-wheel-drive station wagon...this 'woody,' so-called because of its distinctive wooden side panels...." Hell, guys, the vehicle was approved by ex-Ford exec Charles Sorenson in 1944 and was in production by mid-1946 as a two-wheel-drive model. And it was notable as the first steel-bodied wagon -- the "wooden" side panels were painted sheet metal. True, four-wheel drive arrived on the Jeep station wagon for the 1949 model.
"Throughout the 1950s and '60s, Americans were enjoying the golden age of the behemoth land yacht -- the age of the Cadillac Sedan DeVille and the Lincoln Town Car...." The Sedan DeVille debuted as a 1956 model four-door hardtop, while the Lincoln Town Car was first introduced in the fall of 1979 as a 1980 model. He would have been OK if he hadn't tried to gild the lily with series descriptions; just plain Cadillac and Lincoln would have sufficed.