Internationally speaking, there's a lot of news out there currently demanding our attention. Israel and Palestine are locked in horrific turmoil; a 116-passenger plane has gone missing exactly one week after another was shot out of the sky. For many of us, these are heady times. Others of us, however, are like "FUCK IT BRAH, LET'S ROLL SOME COAL."
Savvy publications first took note of coal rolling—sorry, rollin'— sometime last month, with Vocativ leading the breathless charge. In essence, rollin' coal is made possible by modifying a truck's engine to consume an excess of fuel, which is what produces those thick black clouds of smoke whose size and girth are undoubtedly intended to make some profound artistic statement about the truck owner's genitals:
An entire subculture has emerged on the Internet surrounding this soot-spewing pastime—where self-declared rednecks gather on Facebook pages (16,000 collective followers) Tumblers and Instagram (156,714 posts) to share photos and videos of their Dodge Rams and GM Silverados purposefully poisoning the sky. As one of their memes reads: “Roll, roll, rollin’ coal, let the hybrid see. A big black cloud. Exhaust that’s loud. Watch the city boy flee.
A profusion of think pieces, penned with academic restraint and surprisingly few uses of the term "asshat," have emerged since then, with each publication's treatment of the subject loftier and more all-encompassing than the last. Slate tied rollin' coal in with a larger trend of "conspicuous consumption," in which certain conservatives and Libertarians make a show of over-consuming for the sheer joy of pointing out that they can, at least until liberals take away the fun. Here's a money quote:
“I run into a lot of people that really don’t like Obama at all,” said one seller of stack kits from Wisconsin. “If he’s into the environment, if he’s into this or that, we’re not. I hear a lot of that. To get a single stack on my truck—that’s my way of giving them the finger. You want clean air and a tiny carbon footprint? Well, screw you.”
New York Magazine's Science of Us blog hopped on the bandwagon today, employing a sociologist to deconstruct the deeper meaning behind rolling coal:
Even so, Wade argues that by rolling coal, and subsequently publicizing their actions online, that these men are very possibly attempting to rebuild their sense of self in a culture that’s increasingly moving beyond them. “Cities are now the center of our cultural life, the economic viability of their small towns is plummeting, and the values they represent are now seen as backward,” Wade explained. Rolling coal is a way of resisting all of that.
Ever the (corporately-owned) contrarian, Vice penned a 1,200 word meditation to argue that in the scheme of things, the actual environmental impact of coal rolling is relatively modest.
It’s true that the black carbon emissions are among the more toxic air pollutants and also a major source of climate change. But rolling coal is not likely to have much of an environmental impact. Especially when compared to say, industrial factories, or deforestation, or the 3 billion coal and biomass cooking stoves that people are using worldwide. “It's like so many things—if a few people are doing it, at truck shows or race tracks, it doesn't really matter,” said Anthony Wexler, director of the Air Quality Research Center at the University of California, Davis. “If it becomes lots of people doing it, that's when it matters.” (He added that “if these people don’t think it’s bad, they should have to put their tail pipes in front.")
That's certainly true, although it doesn't make it any less inane. As any true celebration of waste, such modifications are pricey, costing up to $5,000. Of course, Coal Rollers are no more likely to read any of the exhaustive think pieces on middle America's new favorite pastime than they are to spend their money on causes that more productively advance their mission, like donating to the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
It should go without saying that not all pick-up owners support coal rolling. Here's a refreshingly succinct cease-and-desist from PickUpTrucks.com:
Whether this is a growing concern or just an example of a few bad apples, we can all agree this type of tailpipe exhibition and Prius targeting does not help anyone or any issue. If we allow this type of behavior to go unchecked or without consequences, it will affect all pickup truck owners, whether they drive diesels or not. We'll be the first ones to defend the right of free expression, but when a few bad apples receive the wrong type of attention for using a torque-loving turbo-diesel improperly, we need to call these guys (or women) out.
In conclusion, coal-rollers will continue to do what they do, acting like assholes and hastening climate change, and Ivy League-trained reporters will continue to do what they do, authoring wordy screeds for an audience already in agreement with their meticulously researched arguments. Anyway, we've got enough "rolls" already.