Some drivers look for eco-friendly cars that are either entirely electric or at least have hybrid engines, to lessen their carbon footprint. Others are more cost-conscious and stick with more traditional engines. And then there are people who look to make an anti-environmental, political statement with their cars. These people are known as coal rollers.
Coal rollers remove emissions controls from their diesel trucks and modify their engines so they can spew staggering amounts of smoke from their exhaust.
Coal rollers don’t constantly trail plumes of black smoke; they choose when to “roll coal.” Much of the time, they activate the smog when passing pedestrians, cyclists, cops, or people driving environmentally-friendly cars.
For people targeted by coal rollers, the consequences are both uncomfortable and dangerous. Being suddenly engulfed by a cloud of black smoke makes it hard to see and maneuver, increasing the risk of a crash, and a mass of harmful particles entering a person’s breathing space is hazardous.
Plus, it’s maddening to see someone so brazenly pollute the environment. Why, after all, would someone want to intentionally harm the environment and be cruel to other people?
It’s an alteration that serves no functional purpose. It’s simply a way to show contempt for and sabotage those who try to reduce their eco-footprint — actually or symbolically cancelling out the actions of individual environmentalists. It conveys: as you cut down on carbon, I’ll just burn more, and laugh at you in the process.
It’s also a way to flout government regulations and flaunt freedom of expression.
As one coal roller told The New York Times, “The air sucks anyway.”
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Technically, coal rolling violates the Clean Air Act, but enforcing the penalty has been challenging.
So legislators across the country are trying to pass bills that specifically fine or punish coal rollers. Only New Jersey has succeeded in passing a fine — $5,000 —- for the offense.
When you step back from the DYI engine modifications, a more fundamental question plays out: is climate change real? And if so, should humans change their behaviors?
At this point, the merits of climate change are no longer seriously debated. The vast majority of scientists agree that it is happening and the worst impacts of climate change are starting to be felt.
But whether and how much human society has to adapt is still hotly debated.
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Greenhouse gas emissions are rising around the world and the delay of meaningful action can be attributed to the struggle over this question. What sacrifices have to be made to save the environment? And who makes those sacrifices?
Coal rollers aren’t adding to the global total of emissions in any significant way. But the whole phenomenon is a matter of principles gone awry and taken to an extreme.
It’s defensible to want to drive a big truck that runs on diesel; it’s another thing entirely to go out of your way to maximize the amount of oil you use and to endanger others in the process.
At the end of the day, climate change can’t be bullied out of existence.
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