A gassy discomfort

Gas prices continue to rise and diesel is rising the most. Truckers are feeling the blow to their wallets and suffering.

Turnpikes in New Jersey slowed last Tuesday as independent truckers created a scuffle on the freeway. Many drove 20 miles per hour. Some circled the Pennsylvania Capitol. Some merely parked. Regardless, they couldn’t be missed. While rising gas prices are affecting average families throughout the United States, the families of independent truckers aren’t among the average. The price of diesel has risen 18 percent in the last two months and is forcing drivers to eat the extra cost of fuel. It can easily cost $1,000 to fill a rig, and on April 2nd, one Stillwater driver reported to the Star Tribune that fuel costs were now consuming two-thirds of his revenue.

The problem is that the independent truckers don’t receive corporate discounts on fuel like those who drive for larger corporations. If their trucks break down, few would have any means with which to fix them. As a result, the Independent Drivers Association is proposing a surcharge to contractors of about fifty cents per mile, and because the proposal has met upturned noses, drivers decided to bring their rigs to a standstill. “We’re earning the same pay as when diesel was $1 a gallon. If a load pays just enough to cover fuel and make a few bucks, I’ll stay home,” a Tampa driver told the St. Petersburg Times.

But there are still bills to pay, and drivers must now pick and choose among the most valuable of their bills: the house? The car? Credit cards?

It should be no surprise that the oil companies are still reporting top profits. To be exact, $123 billion dollars in profits were reported between the five major companies last year. It should be less of a surprise that lawmakers in Congress were frustrated as they grilled the top executives of Exxon Mobil, Shell, CononcoPhillips, BP America, and Chevron about gas and their multibillion dollar tax breaks. While the companies were challenged to donate ten percent of their profit to researching renewable and alternative sources of energy, they claimed to be in line with other countries. But while these executives don expensive cuff links, truckers around the country are beginning to sell their rigs. And it’s not only the truckers who are hurting. Last week, Sun Country Airlines announced it would be laying off nearly one-third of its pilots in May because of the cost of fuel. Minnesota farmers may be pinching pennies as they plant and harvest from the summer into fall. Yesterday, the Energy Information Administration predicted summer gas prices will rise at least $30 per barrel from last summer, and as oil accounts for 70 percent of the cost of gas, this should bring the national average to a minimum of $3.62 per gallon by June.

But aside from our repeated fury with corporate America, Americans might be learning a skill on conservation we should have learned ages ago. In the land of Nascar, supersizing, SUVs and houses with far too much space, we’ll have to conserve if a gallon of gas is going to cost $4.37 like it does in Mendocino, Calif. today.

So what does it really mean to buy a gallon of gas? The gas we consume isn’t isolated to what we pay at the pump. Our food relies on gas, especially in the wintertime. Let’s not forget oranges don’t grow in Minnesota and grapes are flown into the country from Chile. The National Geographic’s Human Footprint campaign reminds us that, “When we eat an egg, we’re not just eating an egg.” It’s the gas the truck used to deliver it, the coal used for the electricity of refrigeration and the resources used to cook it.

I experimented with the campaign’s gas feature. As it turns out, with 112,694 miles, I’m below the national average of gas spent in a person’s lifetime, but that’s probably because I walk everywhere at the University. On average, a human in the United States drives 627,000 miles in his or her lifetime, which if broken down, is like driving around the equator 25.18 times. It would take a little more than a year to complete. Even if you drive a hybrid, this requires nearly 13,630 gallons of gas. How’s that for supersized?

So, if each individual drives for an entire year in his or her lifetime, and there are now approximately 303,814,515 people living in the United States Ö I’ll let you do the math. But the number is obvious, and fails to represent the rest of the world’s gas consumption. Minneapolis has the second largest population of bikers who ride to work, and we might do well to join them. The weather is warming, and using a cycle is a sure way to keep your gas prices down. While the government works on renewable energy sources, use yourself as a resource.

Kelsey Kudak welcomes comments at [email protected].