Sticking It to SUV Owners

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It's 5 with wind chill in Brooklyn this morning — ideal weather for SUV hunters to stalk and tag their prey, since the vehicles' owners are likely to be indoors. One tagger, who says her name is Wendy, girds herself for the hunt with two layers of sweaters, a silky orange-and-cream scarf and a handful of bumper stickers. "I feel like I should be putting on camouflage," she jokes, "to Pink Panther music."

Wendy, 35, a free-lance editor, and a fellow tagger, Alex, scout a neighborhood of well-kept brownstones for half an hour before they choose their first target: a deep green Toyota Land Cruiser (estimated city m.p.g.: 13). Alex, 39, an avid cyclist and musician, peers up and down the street before peeling off the protective paper and slapping the Toyota's bumper with a sticker that proclaims, "I'm Changing the Climate! Ask Me How!" and gives the website address of Changing the Climate changingtheclimate.com), based in San Francisco. The group has sold 40,000 of the stickers in two years. "We are using ridicule and social embarrassment to change the habits of the American consumer," proclaim founders Charles Dines and Robert Lind at the site. A similar site, I Don't Care About the Air, sells 300 bumper stickers a week, and the Earth on Empty campaign estimates that its "tickets" for environmental violations have appeared under the windshield wipers of a million SUVs.

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These organizations are a far cry from the shadowy Earth Liberation Front (E.L.F.), which claimed responsibility for an arson attack in January at a Ford dealership in Girard, Pa. Self-described E.L.F. members also slashed tires and splashed chemicals on some 30 SUVs parked on streets in Richmond, Va., last fall. Wendy and Alex condemn such vandalism. "That's ecoterrorism," says Alex. Slapping unwanted bumper stickers on SUVs, he claims, "is just fighting the good fight with a sense of humor."

If caught by police in New York City — as in many other jurisdictions — Wendy and Alex could face a fine of as much as $250 for unlawfully posting advertisements, and higher if the sticker could not be easily removed. Some SUV owners, however, want to administer their own brand of justice — if only they could catch taggers. Even Alex admits, "I wouldn't like someone stickering up my bicycle."