The greening of a Governator

In light of global warming concerns, Schwarzenegger said hasta la vista to his eight Hummers.

by Holly Lahd

Of all the sport utility vehicles to loathe, the Hummer lumbers over them all as the most despised vehicle on the road to environmentalists. Hailed as the vehicle of personal freedom by some, despised as an obstructive gas guzzler by others, the vehicle has a sizable presence on the road and in public discussion. But last month one of the biggest proponents of the Hummer, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, changed his tune about the SUV. Weeks after signing the California Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32), the Governator announced he would sell his eight Hummers. From buying the first hummer on the market to becoming a global warming convert, what spurred Arnold’s change? And what does this mean for the Hummer?

Schwarzenegger’s history with the Hummer has the makings of a TV melodrama. He was the one who pushed for the Hummer to be made available after the first Gulf War, modeled after the military Humvee vehicle. He even bought the first one on the market in 1992. Over the years he has bought eight Hummers, with a total value of $950,000. The excessive purchases show his obsession with the Hummer, which he has described as “an incredibly precise and forceful machine.”

In 2002, the mammoth Hummer H2 was introduced. Hummer’s official website says this about the current H2 model: “In a world where SUVs have begun to look like their owners, complete with love handles and mushy seats, the H2 proves that there is still one out there that can drop and give you 20.” This is ironic, as the H2 is one of the most inefficient cars on the road, getting one of the poorest miles per gallon rating of any vehicle on the market. Because the Hummer weighs 6,400 pounds, it is placed in the work truck category. This means that the Hummer qualifies for massive business-use tax breaks and that General Motors does not have to report the Hummer’s official gas mileage. But Hummer owners report barely getting 10 mpg. If the H2 were a person, it would probably more closely resemble its overweight, sluggish owner than the fit military man it attempts to personify.

The Hummer is a lightning rod for environmentalists, symbolizing over consumption, greed and elitism. It is also the focus of many eco-terrorism campaigns. Hummer dealerships have been the target of arson fires, and numerous Web sites describe how to tamper with a Hummer’s tailpipe using a tuna fish can.

For years, environmentalists have lambasted Schwarzenegger for his love for SUVs. As he began his run for governor in 2003, his campaign appearances in giant SUVs and Hummers were not too popular with earth-conscious Californians. In an effort to remedy this, Schwarzenegger announced that he was working with GM to develop a hydrogen-fueled Hummer. The resulting H2H runs on hydrogen and is now shared between GM and the state of California. While it is a great engineering feat, the H2H is not intended for production and will not likely help the Hummer’s public image.

To add to the drama, and perhaps causing Schwarzenegger’s decision to sell, is the high-profile lawsuit against auto manufacturers in California. The state is currently suing six auto manufacturers, including GM, for monetary compensation due to the global warming emissions their cars produce. The state estimates that 30 percent of California’s carbon dioxide emissions come from transportation sources. With his state suing GM, Schwarzenegger wisely decided to sell his beloved gas guzzlers.

Schwarzenegger obviously is not the typical American, since he could afford eight Hummers in the first place, but for fun let’s extrapolate his actions to the level of the average American. If the Governator can give up his eight Hummers, can we get rid of our incandescent light bulbs for compact fluorescents? If Schwarzenegger can make such a change, can we change our driving habits? How about reducing our electrical consumption? The answer is quite simply, “Yes.”

If the man who bought the first Hummer can sell them because of global warming, what are we willing to do? Schwarzenegger’s persona is larger than life and this fantastic turnaround is, too. But his act shouldn’t exist in a vacuum. If Schwarzenegger is selling his Hummers, the future doesn’t look bright for the massive vehicle. The real concerns surrounding global warming and gas prices have taken precedence over the appeal of owning the road.

The greening governor of California made the right choice to sell his Hummers. Can the combination of high gas prices and increased public understanding of global warming cause a suburban Hummer revolt, too? Instead of selling them, Schwarzenegger could donate the Hummers to the military, where giant Humvee-style vehicles are actually appropriate.

Holly Lahd welcomes comments at [email protected]