Yesterday a Bafta, today the world

Posted by bex — 4 April 2006 at 8:00am - Comments

Thandie Newton in her Toyota Prius

After winning a BAFTA in February for her performance in "Crash", Thandie Newton has now set her sights even higher: on doing her bit to save the planet.

Last year, the actor found a Greenpeace leaflet stuck to the windscreen of her family's SUV. A short while later, she traded in her gas guzzling 4x4 for a fuel efficient Toyota Prius, which switches between petrol and electric to get nearly three times more miles to the gallon than her old BMW X5.

"My concerns for the environment had been growing for a long time," said Thandie, "but I had not connected them with the car I drove. When I saw the sticker it just connected all the dots up."

For several months, Greenpeace volunteers have been targeting 4x4s with cardboard clamps, leaflets and fake tax discs calling for extra road tax for high emitting vehicles. This call was eventually heeded by Gordon Brown in his 2006 budget when he created a new road tax band for gas-guzzlers.

"I think it's fantastic that Thandie sold her 4x4 to buy a Prius," said Cat Dorey, the Greenpeace activist who stickered Thandie's car. "Some of these 4x4s pump out two or three times their own body weight in CO2 every year, but hybrids have a much better fuel efficiency."

As well has trading in her own gas-guzzler, the actor has written to celebrity 4x4 owners on both sides of the Atlantic - including Jamie Oliver, Chris Martin, Michael Jackson, Robin Williams, Jack Nicholson, Madonna, Sean Connery, Ozzy Osbourne, David Beckham and her Mission Impossible II co-star, Tom Cruise.

"[T]his year I made what I believe is a life-changing choice; for myself and my family, and also, in a small way, for the planet, and I wanted to share that with you, and tell you why," she said in her letter.

"As you know, extreme weather events are on the increase. The Greenland ice sheet is melting, and sea levels are rising. This climate change, which is largely brought on by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, seriously threatens generations to come. The hazards I thought I was preventing by driving an SUV are nothing compared to the hazards our children and grandchildren will face if more is not done now.

"Vehicles designed for off-road terrain (and let's face it, how many times has your SUV been off the road?) can consume three times the amount of fuel, emit three times the amount of pollution than an ordinary passenger car. And incidentally, are more likely to kill a pedestrian... That's why I dumped our SUV and bought a hybrid... Initially I thought I'd be compromising on space, comfort and speed, but you know what? I love my Prius."

Along with the letter, Thandie has also sent the celebs a copy of a new report published by Greenpeace. The report, entitled Offroad Cars, Onroad Menace was written by Dr Peter Wells of Cardiff University's world renowned automotive research centre. It shows how the basic design of these so-called Sports Utility Vehicles results in a "weight-gain spiral" that leads to excessive pollution and makes them much more dangerous for pedestrians and drivers of other vehicles. The report cites US studies which found that death rates are up to nine times higher for car occupants hit by an SUV compared with occupants of the SUV itself.

The excessive pollution from SUVs, says the report, is the result of trying to match off road performance with levels of comfort and convenience expected by those who are going to drive the vehicles in urban areas.

"We've talked to a lot of 4x4 owners through our campaign," said Cat Dorey, "and most do understand our view - they have just never thought about how much CO2 their cars are pumping out. The saddest thing I hear is that people buy these huge cars to keep their kids safe, as if climate change is going to be good news for anyone's kids!"

Find out more

Read the full report: Offroad Cars, Onroad Menace.

Follow Greenpeace UK