Welcome to the Comment of the Week, where we highlight good comments in order to inspire more of them. You can help us choose our next one by replying with “comment of the week” to any comment you think deserves recognition. Please note: These selections are not endorsements.
Last week was a pretty boring one in the BikePortland comments section, wouldn’t you agree? (Ha, ha!)
For those just tuning in, a quick recap: earlier this month, a woman in southeast Portland woke up to find the tires on her SUV deflated in an apparent act of climate activism attributed to UK-based climate activism group Tyre Extinguishers. I saw several local news stories about this situation framed in a way I disagreed with, and I had a rebuttal to the common narrative I wanted to share. So I wrote up my op-ed, and watched as the comments started rolling in.
Going into this, I knew my piece was likely to draw some ire, but I thought the topic was important enough to risk the backlash. And I hoped that by writing this piece I could start a nuanced, respectful dialogue that I wasn’t able to find about the subject on sites like Reddit and Twitter. I was genuinely interested in how people would respond.
Well, respond they did. This article drew almost 200 comments in a day before we decided to freeze the comments section to loosen the tension a bit (and give our comment moderators a break!). While I did not believe all the comments were conducive to a quality, productive conversation, there were quite a few that I found thoughtful and well-reasoned (even if they didn’t agree with my conclusion).
So here are my picks for comments of the week. Two diametrically opposed viewpoints, both rational and thought-provoking.
From SD, who used sarcasm to good effect to emphasize the points I was trying to make in the article:
Wow!!! I have to admit, I almost didn’t read this article because I kinda thought it was old news (Sorry BP). But, now I am so glad that I read it and the COMMENTS! Ms. Griggs opened a magic portal between BP and NextDoor that sucked in all this high-octane moral panic about the deflation of our beautiful way of life. People that were sleep-walking toward the collapse of our life-sustaining ecosystem forgot about their catalytic converters and the unsightliness of poverty for long enough to write about the catastrophic harm caused to people who had to put air back into their tires. Even better, I learned that it is the people who are protesting climate change that cause other people to make climate change even worse. Who knew?
As an avid driver, I understand how what appears to be small inconveniences are actually the ravenous moths eating at the very social fabric that makes life worth living. When someone appears to slow down car speeds, touches a car they don’t own, or deflates a tire; AND then I imagine this happening to all the tires every day; AND then I imagine very unique circumstances where this might, at the very right moment, maybe cause more harm than driving an SUV everyday…. I lose my freaking mind! Aaarhghghaahgh!
But, now that I have had some time to reflect (as the avid cyclist that I am, BTW) I am seeing how the real “inconvenience to freak-out ratio” works in favor of tire deflation. This post, other news coverage, and the tire flattening has brought so much attention to the very important issue of climate destabilization, without any real harm. So cool! Thanks to all the hyberbolic pearl-clutching comments on this article, I get how awesome letting the air out can be. Heck, I just flattened my and my neighbors’ car tires and we had a good laugh while we pumped them back up. He was worried about being late to work, but in considering the many ways that the car-based transportation system that we have all become addicted to often fails us, we just had another good laugh about the tyranny of capitalism. Ha!
I guess it’s like Jonathan always says “read the comments,” the ridiculous things that climate-change-denying drivers say just might make you want to flatten some tires.
And from maxD, who disagreed with my stance but did so kindly and without making threats (and gave me something to chew on):
I agree that we are in an emergency and it can cause despair that people are not acting urgently. I disagree that random vandalism is smart tactic. I believe that we need to face uncomfortable truths and we will need to drastically change our lifestyles, but I strongly hope we can do it together. The last 5 years have shown us the ugliness of increasing tribalism and violence. TX strikes me as analogous to window smashing in the name of racial justice. There were people who lost their businesses over that. My point is that there are are villains, but the people driving SUVs are not them. It is selfish and clueless, but not villainous. The villains are Phil Knight, Jeff Bezos, Zuckerberg, et. The billionaires who exploit and control our economy and our politics. Having enough money for an SUV or the poor taste to buy one is not reason to target and vandalize them. Attack the power and the systems that are ruining our planet- alienating people that are really our wealthier neighbors will only promote counter-productive divisions and tribalism. It is so mean, and petty, and a total distraction from the very real oligarchs we should be targeting.
You can read SD and Max’s comments under the original post.
And as alway, thanks for all your comments. We appreciate hearing so many different perspectives.
The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house
That doesn’t even make logical sense. I’ve dismantled large parts of my own houses with tools I owned. (Maybe I’m not a master???)
And as an metaphor, it’s just as flawed: the Civil War and Emancipation Proclamation freed millions of Americans from slavery, but were only possible due to a government that (I’m sure you would agree) was rooted in a white supremacist view of the world. The US Constitution, a document with well-recognized chauvinist and white supremacist clauses, has been used to great effect to emancipate women and people of color.
The bottom line: steal the master’s tools!!!!
It’s helpful to read the full argument and place it in context.
“The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House”
I’ve read the essay. I still don’t think she’s correct that academic work isn’t a useful methodology in the larger fight to end systems of oppression.
For one example, I think critical theory has proved very useful in challenging racist and chauvinist systems. It would be bad for academics to give up on that task, or to give up on the powerful methodologies they use!
She had good points in her essay, and the saying sure is clever! But as a metaphor, it’s nonsense. If the master was tearing down a house to replace it, or doing a remodel, whose tools would they use? If there are institutional barriers to equality, shouldn’t changing the institution be of utmost importance? She’s really so sure that the “never” is truly warranted?
She really seems to think we are just going to bootstrap ourselves into utopia, but no culture in the history of our species has managed to do so.
As the past couple of decades of electoral advocacy has shown, we will never get anywhere with just voting away climate change. Environmentalism is at direct odds with capitalism, and a capitalistic system will never allow itself to be dismantled.
“We will never get anywhere”… uh, maybe you missed the news: US per capita carbon emissions peaked about 20 years ago, and total US carbon emissions peaked about 17 years ago.
We might not have the environment or economy that you or I prefer, but it’s plainly incorrect that electoral advocacy has gotten us nowhere. In fact, the currently competitive prices of renewable energy, and electric motor and battery technologies is in part thanks to decades of government subsidy!
So, *without* electoral advocacy, we’d be farther behind our goal of a decarbonized world.
We still have an economy focused on consumption of ephemeral goods and it’s still thought to be a sign of the apocalypse if the economy does not grow steadily through any period of six months. We are committed to producing stuff constantly and when we are done with it it is crushed and shipped to the desert:
-Columbia Ridge Landfill near Arlington, Ore., owned by Waste Management
-Finley Buttes Landfill near Boardman, Ore.
owned by Waste Connections
-Roosevelt Regional Landfill near Roosevelt, Wash., owned by Republic Services
-Wasco County Landfill near The Dalles, Ore., owned by Waste Connections
One reason that we have feelings about the people camping in our town is that their very American lifestyle is evidently very wasteful. We want our garbage to go away and not be in our face.
This has gotten to be a tangent, and the logic is tearing apart at the seams. I’m arguing that the US has made strides in combatting climate change by reducing carbon emissions, in spite of the supposed handicap of it being a democracy. And you’re arguing that I’m wrong because of the existence of landfills in Eastern Oregon?
Evidence of waste is not proof that “we will never get anywhere” with the tools democracy gives us.
If you’re so sure that voting doesn’t offer solutions, maybe we should be following the likes of autocracies such as China and Russia. Would you really argue that these countries are doing better?
Wherever people stand on the subject of vandalism, the fact of the matter is that the most environmentally friendly vehicle is the one that is never built.
A low mileage behemoth that’s barely driven has way less impact than scrapping it and buying a new electric. An SUV that’s actually filled with people puts fewer emissions in the air by a single occupancy Prius. Big low mileage vehicles typically have low resale values which makes them good for people of limited means, particularly those with mechanical skills.
If you want more people riding, maybe consider a strategy other than harassing and demonizing the exact people that need to be reached. That just pushes people to do the exact opposite of what you want — and is a major disincentive to would be cyclists who don’t want the association with a band of reality challenged yahoos.
But it hasn’t. The action is so incredibly dumb and juvenile that the entire discussion is about the action rather than climate change.
Portland activists are just so beyond lazy that focusing on low-effort stuff like this just about all they are capable of. Go flatten the tires of Governor Browns car, that would actually make a statement.
Messing with random people based on your perception of their needs is incredibly short sighted. You’re bound, like in this case, to end up targeting people who are extremely sympathetic, which only makes the public dislike the “activist” group and care less about what they’re trying to say.
The reality is that Portland has a garbage public transit system and terrible bike and pedestrian infrastructure. The idea that there are realistic alternatives for most motorists is 1) extremely classist and 2) incorrect.
meh, I applaud these actions, all the butt-hurt SUV owners can just go and suck it up, at least it’s only ‘free’ air and not their expensive platinum-laced catalytic converter.
It feels to me like Taylor is finally finding her voice here on BP, rather than just repeating PBOT or other organization’s talking points, congratulations!
I’ll try to steer this conversation back to cycling.
If you think that deflating tires is a good tactic, please consider the following true story.
I once left my bike in a storeroom at work. A co-worker didn’t like the fact that I brought my bike inside, so he decided to deflate my front tire a bit – not completely, just part of the way.
When I left work that evening, it was dark and the road was wet. I took my bike outside and got on the bike, not noticing that my front tire was almost flat. My building is at the top of a hill and I started to roll down the hill, gathering speed as I had done hundreds of times before.
Soon I noticed something wasn’t right. My front handlebars started to wobble and I couldn’t control the front of my bike. I tried to brake slowly and carefully, but the bike lane was wet and slippery. I let go of the front brake handle and tried to feather the back brake, but it was too late – I had gathered too much speed and needed to stop for a light at the bottom of the hill. I ended up going down on my left side and slid in the bike lane, stopping just short of the crosswalk. Thank goodness I didn’t hit anyone and no one hit me. I ended up with a bad case of road rash but no other injuries.
Anyone who vandalizes someone else’s car or bike is putting that person’s life at risk, along with all of the person’s passengers and any other innocent person on the road who might be affected by a crash. I’d support the longest prison sentence and stiffest civil penalty for anyone who vandalizes someone else’s vehicle, whether it’s a bike or a car.
what goes around comes around, but deflating a bike tire is a lot less safe for the user than deflating a car or truck tire. Don’t be a ‘Fred’ about this.
Thanks but I just can’t help being a Fred.
If you think it’s a good and reasonable tactic, do it in front of the vehicle owners and explain why. The noble cause and effort will obviously make sense to them.
Thank you SD, I don’t think I’ve ever laughed out loud at a BP comment before. Taylor, while I appreciate you pulling together some of the more nuanced takes from either side of this, reading some of these anti-deflategate2022 takes seem willfully ignorant to equate violent vandalism (window smashing, etc.) to inconveniencing someone for 5 minutes tops. Regardless, been enjoying reading your work, keep it up.
The person who had their tires deflated had to call AAA. Most people don’t have the ability to fully inflate four tires at home.
If you owned a bike and had any sort of decent bike pump at home, you would. And I didn’t read anywhere that it was all four tires.
You wouldn’t, you can’t, and you’ve clearly not tried this. If you have a vehicle, give it a shot.
Even if the bead isn’t broken (requiring remount/rebalance) and the tire isn’t too damaged by weight of car on the rim, it takes way more effort than that.
Ignoring that only people who cycle much have decent pumps, making the assumption that a person who’s been attacked specifically because they don’t ride has a pump is just weird.
This is patently false. First of all, it’s much easier to detect a flat bike tire and stop before the situation gets dangerous. Secondly, an out of control car is way more dangerous (especially to other random people) than an out of control bike.
I regularly pump up auto tires with a bike pump. Sure, it takes a lot of strokes and I’ve never done it from fully flat before, but I am sure it is possible. Plenty of people also own those crappy little battery powered air compressors that plug into the car’s cigarette lighter or whatever that port is called these days.
I use my bike pump to top off my SUV tires all the time and it takes about 200 pumps to go up 5 PSI. Going from empty would take a strong person with incredible upper body strength and endurance 15-20mins. minimum.
I think other commenters have covered how difficult blowing up tires can be pretty well, but I want to underscore the mental gymnastics and assumptions that the tire kids need to make to choose a victim.
All those assumptions just to make the public hate you and your message, doesn’t seem worth it to me.
I don’t get how occasionally deflating some random stranger’s SUV tire is going to stoke a mass movement of normies to rise up and demand some vague, all-encompassing governmental action to hold back climate change.
It’s half-assed, lazy social disruption because the scale is so minuscule. Just Stop Oil in the UK are real disruptors because they get mass media attention and impact anybody and everybody who happens to be on the road when they strike. Slashing someone’s Volvo tires in the West Hills does not register.
Put a human blockade on I-205, and you’ll get real attention. Glue your hands to a Monet or Van Gogh at the Portland Art Museum, and you’ll get attention. Maybe if you slash 1,000 SUV tires in one night all across the city, without regard to class, race, disability, or geography, and you’ll get real attention. Trying to be a noble vandal by only striking a few supposedly well-off people ain’t gonna change squat. They’ll just gripe on Facebook or Twitter then replace their tire and go on their way.
But getting attention in and of itself is not necessarily productive. If you somehow convinced 1000 current SUV drivers to actually change their transportation choices without resorting to desperate, random acts of disruption and vandalism, then you may actually form a basis for a local movement of citizens that could grow and have a measurable impact. That would be hard work though, probably even in Portland.
I appreciated that Griggs took the time to explain and mount a defense of this tactic. And I agree with the idea that we should shift auto buyers’ incentives *away* from large vehicles. So maybe, if this kind of vandalism gained popularity, regular people would buy smaller vehicles.
But ultimately I think that’s a ludicrously long stretch of the logic. As it currently stands, the tactic has met with considerable backlash, and seems unlikely to generate strength as a social protest movement.
Even if the possibility of facing regular vandalism shifted peoples’ purchasing choices, can you imagine the ill will this would generate? That doesn’t seem like a great way to win allies for the cause of climate risk mitigation.
I think we’ve seen in this most recent election that “normal” wins with most voters. That’s a real relief, because the abnormal right wing is a real threat. But the election should also serve as a wake-up call to the left: without winning centrists, moderates, and independents, our coalition will be too small to take power and use that power for greater (if imperfect) good.
One thing I’ve always found entertaining about this forum is that it often acts like a real life version of the People’s Front of Judea — tiny scale actions like this tire flattening thing presented as tide shifting are case in point.
Exactly this. Also, using harassment as a way to get people to do what you want is a page straight out of the MAGA playbook. Most people have had enough of that.
Besides, if force and intimidation become the new way of doing business, the strongest and most privileged (i.e. not cyclists and people concerned with the climate) will prevail.
People’s Front of Judea *scoff* We’re the Judean People’s Front! I fully approve of making your point via Monty Python.
The most fantastic part about all of this is that there are people among us who think that SUV drivers in Portland, OR not driving those SUVs will make a difference in climate change. They are so fervent in those beliefs that they think even temporarily stranding that vehicle will cause the owner to change their behavior. This is exactly how I would expect petulant children to act. It shows they don’t understand both the already low per capita emissions of Oregon residents and the way human psychology and behavior work. I.e. All the drivers of OR leaving the roads would not do anything for climate change and emissions nationally or globally, so it is a ridiculous exercise, and this is not how you get people to change their behavior.
Well said! If glaobal climate change can be curbed, it will take massive global political and social systemic change. Oregon will be able to play a small, supportive role, but to have an impact, we will need to be as unified as possible. I see these tactics as divisive and counterproductive.
Meanwhile, individuals should do nothing. Drive whatever you want as much as you want. Eat beef wrapped in bacon. Burn three bundles of green wood in your fire pit every night. It doesn’t matter.
The climate activists should voluntarily get sterilized. An individual will have no greater impact to the environment than by having offspring.
The response to Ms. Griggs’s article demonstrates that changing climate-destructive human habits is a very important and frustrating conversation –lots of strong opinions. The arguments against inconveniencing SUV drivers are well-reasoned, but unfortunately, they are aimed at an irrelevant target, rational human behavior. The majority of these wide-ranging arguments are based on the presumptions that disruptive actions should be rationally persuasive, that people behave rationally when facing existential threats, and that we will avoid ecosystem collapse by logical persuasion in an economic system and media environment that has been 100% devoted to driving off the climate cliff since it’s contemporary inception. To be fair some have argued that individual behavior doesn’t matter; only high level legislation or decisions by people with adequate power will cause change; so, be quiet and keep consuming and enriching the corporations destroying the planet.
I think that there are too many examples of widespread behavioral change causing substantial shifts in society to ignore individual action. But, to bring about change, we must take a close look at real human behavior, not the idealized rational human behavior. People respond to novel existential threats in both surprising and predictable ways. While the looming climate catastrophe has become clear to many, the response has not been to sit down and make a list of appropriate personal changes, or a list of actions that may affect those often-mentioned “100 corporations,” or even to assess the return on investment of individual action versus doing nothing. Instead, most folks have reacted emotionally to the immediate stress of impending climate catastrophe with internal coping mechanisms, but not materially to actually mitigate greenhouse gas accumulation.
For the most part, the reaction to gloomy climate predictions has been to quickly regain emotional equilibrium. Thoughtful reactions that ameliorate the stress of contemplating climate change can be found in the comments of Ms. Grigg’s original post: nihilism, what-aboutism, minimizing the harm of climate change while maximizing the harm of tire deflation, displacing worry away from climate change onto vulnerable people and most commonly, Goldilocks-ing every disruptive action. In fact, people are so bad at responding appropriately to unexpected threats that even with physical threats, let alone theoretical future threats, the reflexive unprimed response is often disbelief and hesitation. These coping mechanisms are completely understandable. Without them we would be paralyzed with stress or wildly overreacting to things that don’t matter. However, the way that people survive, even though they reflexively discount disrupting forces, is the key to sustainable behavioral change? People imitate others reactions to threats effortlessly. People will often notice quickly and respond strongly to the reactions of others. Likewise, if everyone is acting like nothing is happening, it takes a lot of energy for a single person to act differently.
Today, we are experiencing this disconnect on a massive planetary scale. The internal belief that “if climate change was really such a big threat, then everyone would be freaking out. No one seems to be freaking out, so… business as usual, I guess (shrug).” Should we all just freak out as if the meteor is out to make impact or the lion is about to pounce on the heard? Probably not. But, we can celebrate or participate in disruptive actions; actions that cause a break in the business as usual cycle that is driving the climate catastrophe. Are disruptive actions annoying? Yes, they are. Is it annoying when you want to keep sleeping, but your alarm is going off or someone is poking you? Is it annoying when your daily routine is unexpectedly altered with one more task or delay? Yes, these things are annoying, AND, most importantly, these annoyances or disruptive actions are not going to change the behavior of the individuals they are annoying. Nor are they intended to.
Disruptive actions are not effective because they change minds, they are effective because they inspire and consolidate people who already recognize the gravity of climate disruption. They are effective because they bring these people and their ideas into the spotlight, and people who share this perspective or who are inclined to imitate people with this perspective are activated. They are intended to create a critical mass from the people who are primed for change, so that eventually, those most entrenched in the status quo will simply follow along like they always do.
Currently, older people, who are invested ideologically or materially in the status quo will typically reject disruption, while younger people, who face the brunt of the future and are not wedded to the status quo will accept the cost of disruption for a better future. Rallying young people by creative disruptive actions is crucial to mitigating climate change. Not surprisingly, we see young people on the forefront of action, like tyre extinguishers, and old folks, like BP commenters, shouting them down, telling them their actions don’t matter, will backfire or should be done differently (also not suggesting any real solutions or making any effort, BTW.)
During a previous story on the climate strike, commenters brought the same Goldilocks criticism of the youth strike being not powerful enough to be effective but also so powerful that it causes irreparable harm and backlash. The majority of those comments revealed more about the commenters than the objects of their criticism. Ironically, despite BP being a bike focused media empire, a large number of BP commenters are dedicated consumers of the climate destruction economy.
As long as an action does not include violence or destruction of a valuable resource, I am all for it. In fact, tyre extinguishers go out of their way to create a targeted rationale that tries to create disruption while minimizing harm. Oddly, that rationale just provides more fodder for criticism. Ms. Griggs removed the descriptor “smart” from her title, but I will add it back. Tire deflation of SUVs and oversized trucks is a smart disruptive action. It is accessible, free and is appealing to people who don’t want to harm others. And, although there has been immense had-wringing about the off chance that this disruption could cause real harm to a vulnerable individual, statistically, it is highly likely that a tire will be flattened on a vehicle that is unnecessarily large and wasteful, and that individual could have made a less wasteful choice. Is it the only action? No, it is one of many that will come and go and should be savored and enjoyed by all.
In the end, transportation is a major contributor to green house gasses. Despite this, people are buying larger vehicles that consume more resources. Media about wise individual choices is no match for advertising and current social pressures. Time is short. Celebrate the people who are fighting for an appropriate response to the threat of climate destruction. If this action upsets you, no big deal, hopefully someone will come along that roll models an appropriate, effective response to climate destruction that you can blindly follow.
Hi BP comment moderators. Hoping my comment can be deleted and I can repost as a stand alone comment rather than a reply to another comment. Also made some small edits. Thx
Surely there is a better tactic of harassing sympathetic middle class people in the SE. This is a global problem and is much more complex than the choice of vehicles families use to get around in. Let’s also be honest that a family of four plus a dog is not going to ride or bike in the winter to soccer games in Vancouver WA from Portland Or. As long as you live in US, buy food here, heat your home here, you are as much a part of the problem regardless of biking, walking or driving a Suburban. if you want real change, focus on politicians to increase mass transit options and invest in renewable energy. FYI The electricity you heat your apartment with and cook with comes from a power grid that still uses coal and natural gas!