Meet the Victoria environmentalist behind those controversial car-shaming handbills

‘I want to shock people, give them that burning feeling in their stomach,’ says advocate

The person who has been anonymously placing car-shaming handbills on vehicles in Oak Bay has come forward.

David Schwab confirmed to the Oak Bay News that the handbills left area cars earlier this month reading “Yes this is a crisis, you are the problem,” are his work.

He said he’s leaving them because others aren’t moving fast enough in the face of climate change, and came forward to share a message.

“I do want to shock people, give them that burning feeling in their stomach, that when they pick it up and read it, they know they’re not doing the right thing and feel terribly embarrassed for it,” Schwab said.

However, many might be surprised to know Schwab has specific criteria that he uses. Not every car is a target. Part of that is why his first visits were to Oak Bay.

READ MORE: Victoria drivers wake up to handbills saying ‘Your vehicle burns a lot of fuel’

“People say I don’t know anything about the car owners but that’s not true. I know they can afford a [luxury] car.”

Before placing a handbill Schwab asks himself if the car costs more than $10,000, he said.

“I’m not targeting poor people. Rich people can adapt. If you have an old beater, it might be a bad emitter. But they might have a really hard time selling and replacing it, whereas people who can afford it [have no excuse].”

The second question is: “Could this car be a Toyota Prius instead?”

Most SUVs fall in the category that it could be a Prius, or if it’s a truck, Schwab asks if it could be a four-cylinder Ford Ranger instead, he said. Not everyone can afford a Prius or an electric vehicle but likely could afford a small car.

On his first night out, the weekend of Nov. 9, the 25-year-old Victoria resident distributed 100 of the provocative handbills. One excerpt on the backside of the handbill reads “You might as well tell [your kids, nieces, nephews] to their face that you hate them, after all, you are helping to deprive them of food security, biodiversity, among other critical things.”

It ends with “Do your best. Anything else isn’t good enough.”

The response was massive.

READ ALSO: Drivers are ‘ICE’-ing electric car charging spots in Greater Victoria

While some bristle at the messaging of Schwab’s handbill, a November report by the International Energy Agency shows that the worldwide growth in SUV sales (the number of SUVs on the road grew from 35 million to 200 million) over the past decade has effectively negated the impact of electric vehicles to date. It’s due to the heavy size, and powerful engines that SUVs and excessive pickup trucks are built with.

Regardless, many who saw Schwab’s handouts were offended and took to Facebook to vent. Others were less offended. Some disagreed with the form of message but agreed with the sense of urgency. Others still, decided to spew vitriol towards Schwab despite not being targeted.

Of the many comments online are some from Oak Bay’s Dylan Kelk, who recently created a Facebook page called Oak Bay Climate Force.

Kelk shared a sentiment with many climate action advocates that Schwab’s approach is too polarizing to foster the right discussion.

“While I empathize with the fear and anger [he] must have felt, I don’t condone what [he] did,” Kelk said. “It’s unequivocally true that our community, and the world in general, still isn’t doing enough despite the progress we’ve made, and we absolutely must hold ourselves and others accountable for that. But if we’re going to do so without any empathy, respect, or knowledge of what a person might already be doing we risk alienating potential allies.”

So far, Schwab is on his third reprint of the handbills. His second print had a typo and he softened the wording on the first handbill.

“It said, ‘I suggest you go home and tell your kids you hate them’,” but that was too harsh, he said. Instead, it effectively reads, “You might as well go home and tell your kids you hate them.”

He does expect an additional backlash and that it will get personal when people see his name.

“The initial reaction was pretty much what I expected.”

Born to a pair of West Coast parents, Schwab was raised on the East Coast. They are scientists, and the scientific evidence of global warming was drilled into him as a kid. It’s in his DNA.

He moved here at 18 with hopes of finding a Utopian Left Coast where people scoffed at commuting to hockey and soccer practice in a Ford 150.

He was wrong.

“I thought the West Coast would be better. I came here thinking people would have the right attitude, that everyone here was going to pull together. When I got here, I realized there is a mix of people just like anywhere, but that there are people trying their hardest to combat climate change.”

It took Schwab a couple of years to get into a situation where he could bike everyday, including work. He avoids plastic like the plague, and has now made it normal to live a life with a lower footprint than most.

It wasn’t enough, he realized.

“I’m trying, but it’s only a drop in the ocean compared to what’s needed out there, so I decided to get my message out, ” Schwab said. “Each one of us has a role to play. Personal responsibility is a huge thing. We all need to take it up and all need to try our hardest.

“When I see people not doing that it gets me emotional.

“Kids in school are learning about climate change and when they get picked up, it’s with their parent in a Land Rover. That’s a slap in the face, isn’t it?,” Schwab said.

reporter@oakbaynews.com


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