If there is a single symbol of American wastefulness, military fetishism, and willful ignorance about what it means to be heating up the planet at the end of the age of oil, it is the Hummer. And if there is one American who is most closely associated with the Hummer, it is Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
So why, in a state whose voters consistently rank environmentalism as one of their most important concerns, is Governor Hummer considered such a lock for reelection? And why haven't the mainstream media made more of Schwarzenegger's stubborn refusal to give up the four Hummers he still owns?
For that matter, why is the press overlooking his opposition to Proposition 87 (which would tax oil companies to support research of alternative fuels) and tacit support of Proposition 90 (which would make environmental protection far more costly for governments), both positions on close races that are at odds with environmental groups? Is he really that good an actor?
The visceral response that Hummers elicit from true environmentalists is perhaps best captured on the Web site www.fuh2.com, which has posted thousands of pictures of people flipping off Hummers, what it refers to as "the official Hummer H2 salute."
The H2 is the slightly less offensive version of the original Hummer, a 10,000-pound monster adapted from the Humvee military vehicle that gets about 10 miles per gallon. The high cost and negative stigma attached to the original Hummer eventually caused sales to lag, and General Motors stopped making them earlier this year.
Schwarzenegger was the first private citizen to own a Hummer, back in 1992, reportedly encouraged American Motors (which GM later bought) to produce them for civilian use, and at one time owned at least seven of them.
Environmentalists have been chiding Schwarzenegger for years to set a good example and get rid of his Hummers, but he has only thrown them a couple of bones: he had GM develop one hydrogen-powered Hummer (at a cost of millions of dollars) and has publicly mused about converting one of his four Hummers to biodiesel, a project he hasn't yet begun.
At one point Schwarzenegger was rumored to have given up his Hummers. But Schwarzenegger spokesperson Darrell Ng told the Guardian the governor still owns four Hummers, which are now in storage while he drives state vehicles, and that he has no plans to get rid of them. Environmentalists say it is a missed opportunity at a critical juncture in the world's relationship with oil.
"He could say, 'I was part of the commercialization of these vehicles, and it was a mistake,’” Bill Allayaud, state legislative director for the Sierra Club, told us. "He could have a press conference and have one of his Hummers crushed or blown up, say these were the products of another era, and it would be a very important symbolic gesture."
We talked to Allayaud just after Schwarzenegger was elected three years ago, and he was "cautiously optimistic" that the governor would protect the environment. Initially, Allayaud was disappointed: "He vetoed a lot of good bills in those first few years."
Now, after the governor signed landmark legislation to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions and a few other bills that the Sierra Club supported and made a couple of good appointments to regulatory agencies, Allayaud said, "I feel like we're right back where we were in 2003, like he might be OK ... but what do we get in the second term? It's anybody's guess."
After all, every environmental bill Schwarzenegger signed was someone else's idea, Allayaud said, and many had to be significantly weakened to gain his support. Schwarzenegger also enraged environmentalists and some lawmakers two weeks after signing the global warming measure by issuing an executive order that seemed to weaken its enforcement provisions.
Schwarzenegger starts to sound like an environmentalist only around election time, his critics say, indicating where he really stands.