Beyond SUV's: Save Money & the Earth

Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb, 8/1/2003

[These notes, a cable news article, and a letter to the editor are sent on by Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb, who helped organize a "Ticket SUV's" campaign near Washington DC. Rabbi Dobb is the spiritual leader of a Reconstructionist synagogue and the co-chair of Religious Witness for the Earth. He worked with environmentalist author Devra Davis of the COEJL board (Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life) and others; Chesapeake Climate Action Network organized the campaign. It received major coverage from major media.— AW]

I. The ticket itself:

SUV DRIVERS: Save Money and Fight Global Warming!

A growing number of SUV drivers in our region are demanding that car-makers produce cleaner-burning SUVs.Not only does driving a cleaner vehicle save you cash at the gas pump, it reduces air pollution and lessens our dependence on oil.

    *Unless we switch to cleaner vehicles, global warming in the DC/VA/MD region is projected to degrade local ecosystems, seriously disrupt agriculture, and trigger potentially catastropic sea-level rise.
    *SUVs emit 40% more global-warming pollutino than an average car.In fact, switching from driving an average car to a 13 mpg SUV for one year wastes more energy than leaving a refrigerator door open six years.
    *In 2002, SUV drivers paid on average $350/yr more for gas than drivers of average mpg cars.Visit


(other side)


Steps you can take to reduce the impact of your SUV:

    * Mail attached postcard urging Ford and GM to commit to selling hybrid and cleaner-burning SUVs now!
    * Did you know you can power your current SUV using wind power to offset tailpipe emissions?Did you know you can power you rhome this way, too?Visit
    * Drive less!Visit to learn about car-pooling, monetary incentives for car-sharing, transit, biking, and walking in the DC/Baltimore region.
    * For a full list of cars and trucks and fuel-efficiency ratings, visit

Sponsored by www.chesapeake

(This 'ticket' was a long 4 1/4 x 11" sheet, with a dotted line and scissor icon in the middle, with the other half being a postcard to the CEO's of GM and Ford. The one I'm quoting is to William Clay Ford, Junior of Ford Motor Company:)

I want a cleaner SUV!

Dear CEO William Clay Ford, Junior:

I currently drive an SUV and would consider purchasing more energy efficient SUVs if they were offered to me. Technology currently exists that would save me hundreds of dollars at the gas pump yearly, while also reducing global warming and air pollution and decreasing our nation's dependence on oil.

Please follow through on your commitment to offer a hybrid version of the Ford Escape in 2004 and implement cleaner technology in all your SUVs immediately.



II. My remarks:

Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb

Chesapeake Climate Action Network SUV Ticketing Day, 7/18/03

In Jewish law - and in logic — different standards apply before or after something happens. Before the fact, l'chatchila, we encourage people to make the most ethical choice possible, and hold them to a high standard. After the fact, b'diavad, we don't chastise folks who made a dubious choice: we work with them to mitigate the impact of their decision, and to prepare to do the right thing when next the chance arises.

Every driver of a Sport Utility Vehicle - or of any car below the top of its class for energy efficiency and emissions - has already made their choice. We SUV ticketers this weekend are not out to chastise these drivers, or berate them, but to educate, and to activate them, and us together, in calling for health, sustainabilityand sanity.

For SUV drivers, the choice is already made. For SUV producers in Detroit and elsewhere, the choice is being made every day. And what choices are Detroit making?

    * To lobby against research, much less regulations, for better mileage!
    * To drag their feet on alternative technologies.
    * To break their promise of a cleaner SUV fleet by 2005, setting no new target date.
    * To say "we're just producing the cars consumers want," then limiting our choices, and driving the market for their gas guzzlers with ads about adventures most SUV owners never take.

What we drive is a moral choice. After the fact, we don't chastise. But before the fact, we do raise consciousness. Consumers should know that every increased mile per gallon means a child breathing easier; an endangered species not teetering on the brink; a Chesapeake Bay with less pollution falling on it, a global climate less radically altered by human hands. The choices we make - and the choices Detroit makes - have real, moral consequences for people and nature alike.

I should add that I know whereof I speak - I come from the Detroit area. I know how central jobs are to the Michigan and national economy. But this is not about jobs versus environment: pursuing and building cleaner technology will offer better jobs in a healthier automotive sector.

What we drive is an ethical issue. What automakers produce is an ethical issue. How can the Big Three claim to be moral, and to love their neighbors as themselves, and then lobby against improved fuel efficiency?!

For drivers, it's after the fact: we're just asking them to tell Detroit that they want vehicles that have less impact on others.

For purchasers of vehicles, it's before the fact: we're asking them to keep others in mind when making their choice.

And for producers of vehicles, it's way past time to come clean - and to help us get where we need to go, in cleaner vehicles.

We're here calling for long-term health. For the economy's health, which becomes uncompetitive without moving toward fuel efficiency. For our childrens' health - those getting asthma from urban air pollution, and all our children, growing up in a world warmed by our carbon emissions. And, ultimately, for the health of Creation. Together, let's clean it up. Thank you.

III. One example of press coverage, followed by letter to editor on it (all other coverage stayed on our more mainstream & conciliatory message):

Environmentalists 'Ticket' SUV Owners For Causing Global Warming

By Marc Morano Senior Staff Writer
July 18, 2003

Rockville, Md. ( - A coalition of environmental and faith-based groups announced on Friday that it would be issuing 15,000 "tickets" to Washington D.C./Baltimore area SUV owners as part of its campaign to "save our planet from the catastrophe of rapid global warming."

Fred Scherlinder Dobb, a Maryland rabbi and co-chair of the interfaith group, Religious Witness for the Earth, told that SUVs "are hurting the climate, hurting endangered species, hurting children and we are out here trying to change that." Dobb held a sign that read: "Dirty SUVs = Global Warming."

The Chesapeake Climate Action Network <> , at a press conference in front of the Century Ford dealership in the Washington suburb of Rockville, Md., announced the ticketing of SUVs would occur throughout the weekend in the Washington/Baltimore area.

The bright orange tickets < Money SUV postcard.jpg> contain negative information about SUVs and their alleged effects on the earth. The tickets are designed to pressure Detroit automakers into making more fuel-efficient cars and SUV owners into rethink their ownership of the vehicles.

Dobb predicted the tickets would persuade many SUV owners. "I really think [the tickets] will be an eye opener for many people," Dobb said.

SUV owners who are ticketed by the environmental groups can cut the ticket in half and send a pre-written post card to Ford Motor Company CEO William Clay Ford, Jr., demanding more fuel-efficient SUVs.

'Left-wing pseudo theology'

But a free market environmental group denounced the anti-SUV ticketing as "absurd."

"To stop people from buying SUVs to ward off the myth of global warming or to fulfill some left-wing pseudo theology of what Jesus would drive is absurd," David Rothbard, president of Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow <> (CFACT), told

CFACT is a Washington, D.C.-based group whose goal is "to inject reason into the environmental debate."

"SUVs may not fit into the radical green fantasy world where everyone lives within walking distance of their organic alpha garden and solar-powered mass transit train, but Americans in great numbers continue to choose these vehicles, because they provide comfort, convenience and safety," Rothbard added.

However, Dobb, who rode his bike nine miles to Friday's event in Rockville, believes people must reject today's SUVs on moral and ethical grounds.

"Consumers should know that every increased mile per gallon means a child breathing easier, an endangered species not teetering on the brink ... a global climate less radically altered by human hands," Dobb explained.

"The choices we make and the choices Detroit makes have real moral consequences for people and nature alike," he added.

'Guilty and conflicted'

Laura MacCleery, council for auto safety at the group, Public Citizen, slammed SUVs for creating a "vehicle arms race on the highway where everyone has to keep super-sizing their family car just to be safe."

MacCleery believes rejecting SUVs is "socially and environmentally responsible" and noted that she walks to work and doesn't own a car.

MacCleery said her new website <> , which enlists consumers in a campaign to demand that automakers "make a better SUV," now has more than 100 SUV driving members since it began about a month ago.

"The SUV owners tell us that they need the utility of the vehicle, but they are very frustrated. They have guilty feelings about driving an SUV," MacCleery said.

Detroit has to improve the fuel efficiency of SUVs soon because SUV owners "are sick and tired of feeling guilty and conflicted," according to MacCleery.

Michael Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said current SUVs "poison our air and destroy our health and warm our fragile planet."

"Drivers don't want vehicles that trigger perilous global warming," Tidwell explained.

"This campaign is not meant to shame SUV drivers ... it's meant to shame Detroit," he added.

'Dying political cause'

But Rothbard believes the anti-SUV campaign will end up as another failed political initiative.

"My advice to the SUV owners who receive one of these 'tickets' is to hold on to it like a souvenir or a keepsake from an extinct or dying political cause — kind of like if you received a memo from Hillary's [Clinton] health care task force or a button from the nuclear freeze movement of the 1980s," Rothbard said.

He also noted that SUV owners who get ticketed should consider themselves lucky that that's all they received from the green activists.

"These anti-SUV greens are only handing out tickets. They are not firebombing SUVs like some of their more radical counterparts have done out in the northwest and elsewhere," Rothbard said, referring to several incidents of SUV vandalism by radical green groups.

Dobb did concede that it was "understandable" that police were on hand for Friday's event at the car dealership, but rejected any linkage to eco-terror groups, calling them "very small fringe groups."

"We don't want to tar the entire movement based on what a few extremists do," he said.

Dobb does, however, believe that SUV drivers may also be committing "violence" by driving their vehicles.

"The choice to drive an SUV or to purchase a new one is also doing violence to others. It's just done in more insidious and constant ways every time they turn the ignition," Dobb explained.

But Rothbard sees nothing but hypocrisy in the campaign against SUVs.

"If the same people complaining about SUVs would let us drill for our own oil in America instead of trying to shut down everything whenever we try and pull even a gallon of oil out of the ground, that might help us to achieve energy independence," Rothbard said.

E-mail a news tip to Marc Morano:

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article:

Dear Editor:

I appreciate CNSNews' coverage of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network's recent efforts to raise public awareness about SUV's in the Washington-Baltimore region ("Environmentalists 'Ticket' SUV Owners For Causing Global Warming", 7/18/03). However, I must take issue with the way the article framed our campaign.

Despite the title of your article, our target was not SUV drivers, but SUV producers — specifically the Big Three Detroit automakers who broken promises for, while lobbying against, pursuing a cleaner fleet. The focus of our rally, and of the 'ticketing' campaign itself, was not to make SUV drivers feel guilty, but to enlist their help in asking Detroit to clean up its act.

Some 15,000 'tickets' were distributed last weekend, mostly on SUV windshields. These tickets listed "steps you can take to reduce the impact of your SUV", beginning with mailing the "attached postcard urging Ford and GM to commit to selling hybrid and cleaner-burning SUVs now!" The other actions were to purchase windpower for electricity to offset one's driving, drive less, and see the full list of fuel-effeciency ratings at

In my own remarks at the press conference, I referenced the traditional Jewish value of applying different expectations to people before or after making a dubious choice. My thesis, missed entirely in your article, was this:

"For drivers, it's after the fact: we're just asking them to tell Detroit that they want vehicles that have less impact on others. For purchasers of vehicles, it's before the fact: we're asking them to keep others in mind when making their choice. And for producers of vehicles, it's way past time to come clean — and to help us get where we need to go, in cleaner vehicles."

Thank you for allowing us to clarify our message.

Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb,
Bethesda, MD