Environmental musings of a pizza delivery boy

| Staff Columnist

Unlike seemingly every other undergrad at Wash. U., my summer employment was not particularly impressive. I didn’t land an internship at a Fortune 500 company, nor were my past few months spent unearthing scientific secrets from within the bowels of a chemistry lab. I wasn’t taking painstakingly difficult classes in order to ease my schedule during the year; my days weren’t even applied toward any of the countless volunteer endeavors for which members of the Wash. U. community seem so eagerly available. Unlike what I would assume is the vast majority of my peers, I spent my time away from school delivering pizzas.

My life as a pizza delivery boy did not leave me in tune with many of the experiences of those who spent their summers in stereotypical Wash. U. ways. It did, however, leave me perfectly in tune with the summer’s gas prices. Ambling along inside my small, white Honda touting a brightly-colored, pizza-advertising roof ornament, I was especially sensitive to the soaring gas prices: Any fluctuation in the cost of fuel had a direct impact on my paycheck at the end of each week.

It goes without saying that gas prices hurt everyone who spent the last couple of months driving to and from work. My situation was perhaps slightly more painful seeing as driving was my work. I was concerned when gas prices cracked $4.25 a gallon and utterly panicked when they broke $4.50. So meteoric was the summer’s spike in the cost of gas that even those from outside the country’s community of pizza delivery boys took notice.

The media and public at large understandably spent the summer in outright dismay at the cost of fuel. Seldom was there a day when headlines weren’t ablaze with talk of oil, gas and the like. What was largely ignored, however, was the surprisingly applicable aphorism suggesting that there are two sides to every story. As the price of gas sky-rocketed and adults behind the wheel grew ever more frustrated, their children in the back seat became increasingly fortunate.

It’s only natural that, as the price of gas increased, people’s hesitancy to hop in the car grew, resulting in somewhat of a tendency toward economic disengagement. When this was combined with rising prices across the majority of the nation’s markets, for which the cost of fuel was also responsible, it’s rightfully concluded that the high price of gas kept the economy from taking off over the summer. The nation’s economy, however, was not alone in its cost-induced summer slowdown. As driving became more costly, Americans simply drove less and thus by default kept their emissions of car exhaust somewhat in check. So while the summer driving season may have been more burdensome on the bank accounts of those who chose to participate, it was less of a burden on the environment simply because not as many people could afford to take part.

Earlier this month, the Associated Press reported that during June alone Americans drove 12.2 billion fewer miles than in the same month the previous year. One need not think too hard to see the positive effects on reduced pollution by way of transportation emissions, which the Union of Concerned Scientists calls the “largest single source of air pollution in the United States.” While it strained the nation’s wallets, the increase in fuel prices may have helped alleviate the pressure on the country’s lungs.

Although it’s unfortunate that pollution reduction had to come in the form of prices at the pump, it’s important that it came at all. The benevolent wave of environmentalism spurred on and even epitomized by public media such as Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” appears to be limited in its scope of effectiveness. In order for Americans to become truly in tune with the dangers of a global environmental crisis, there will need to be a fair deal of financial prodding.

I’m not advocating an infinitely high price of oil or gasoline as any type of environmental policy. I am, however, recognizing the trend that this summer made very evident: In America, there’s no incentive quite like a monetary one. If America is going to be at the helm of any type of environmental pro-action, it’s in the best interest of the country’s leaders to use some type of fiscal encouragement to get their constituents on board.

Whomever this fall’s presidential winner may be, he would be wise to remember what the summer taught pizza deliverers the nation over: Americans will pollute less only when polluting costs more.