Fashion is one of our world’s foremost soft powers.
When augmented by peer pressure and materialism as a display of an individual’s value and values, then it is far more powerful than we might care to admit, especially if it leads to negative outcomes. The relentless growth in demand for SUVs is such an instance.
Though the global car market has stalled, the SUV segment has not. A record 35m SUVs were bought last year. It would be surprising if five million were bought by people who need a powerful 4x4, but fashion demands.
The other 30m are on the school run or in supermarket car parks.
There are, unsurprisingly, consequences. The International Energy Agency has reported that accelerating demand for SUVs was the second-largest contributor to the increase in global CO2 emissions from 2010 to 2018.
Over those years, SUVs’ global market share more than doubled, from 17% to 39%. Their annual emissions rose to 700 megatonnes of CO2, more than the annual emissions of Britain and the Netherlands together. No energy sector, except power, was responsible for a larger increase in carbon emissions, putting SUVs ahead of heavy industry (including iron, steel, cement, and aluminium), aviation, and shipping.
Subsidised fuels may be a factor in this silly indulgence, but unthinking vanity is by far the greater influence.
It may be time to regard unnecessary SUV ownership as antisocial as smoking and penalise accordingly.