Every day, I hear more comments critical of the big oil companies. Americans are angry as gasoline prices rapidly approach $3 a gallon — and beyond. I have been critical, too.
For example, Exxon Mobil set a national record for corporate profits last year. Exxon Mobil still has $33 billion in its coffers. Executive compensation is at an obnoxious level. Exxon’s CEO, Lee Raymond, received a $58-million pay package for 2005 and another $98.4 million for his retirement.
If today’s average production worker had received the same percentage of wage increase as the CEOs of the mega-corporations since 1990, the average would be an annual income of $110,126 rather than $27,460. Had minimum wage increased at the same rates as CEOs, minimum wage would be $23.03 rather than $5.15 per hour.
As I frequently say, there are businesses and there are mega-corporations: two different animals. However, we must be fair in our criticism.
The sole purpose of mega-corporations is to make a profit and to make as much profit as they can make for their stockholders, board members, executives and workers. They perform in a global market and must remain competitive in their field. A corporation does not have a conscience and has no interest in the cost of its product that you and I pay for unless it relates to their objective of profits. It is the nature of the animal. Their influence in both major political parties is so powerful that the American public has been convinced that any regulation of large corporations is a bad thing. Political parties and politicians must have money from the corporations to stay in power or to gain in power.
The political agendas for the mega-corporations are not always in the best interest of business in general or the American public.
In fairness to big oil, crude oil has risen to more than $75 dollars a barrel following a brief decline to $10 a barrel in 1998. We are much more dependent on foreign oil today than we were during the oil embargo of the early 1970s. Katrina affected our oil and gas supplies. Our refineries are old and have limited production.
Our leaders, both Democratic and Republican, have failed the American public in developing effective energy policies. Brazil became energy-independent in little more than a decade. It was a painful and controversial energy policy which basically promoted biofuels though national subsidies.
We can blame big oil and government but we must also look in the mirror. As President Bush said,” Americans are addicted to oil.” We have not been good stewards of the oil that God has given us. Our selfishness has led us to consume oil that will be needed by our children and grandchildren. Our rate of consumption of oil is unpatriotic. We are jeopardizing our superiority as an economic and military power with our personal greed for oil.
Honestly, there is little we can do as an individual to affect corporations or government; however, collectively, we can change our patterns of energy use and together we can make a difference.
A major step is to make gas mileage a very high priority in the selection of our next car or truck. Since most of us are stuck with our present vehicles for a while, we can practice prudent usage of our current vehicles. Eliminate unnecessary trips. Limit usage by combining trips. If you have more than one vehicle, use the one that is more gas efficient when possible. Carpool or use public transportation if possible.
Make sure that you are getting the maximum gas mileage out of your present vehicle. Remove any extra, unnecessary weight from your car trunk or truck bed. Drive within speed limits or below. Avoid rapid starts and excessive braking. Keep your tires inflated to the recommended limits. Under-inflated tires can reduce gas mileage by 3%.
Make sure that your vehicle is well maintained and the engine properly tuned. Change the air filter at recommended intervals. Consider changing to a less restrictive air filter that increases power and fuel efficiency.
Some tire stores are promoting nitrogen in tires rather than air. There are claims of increased fuel efficiency. Don’t forget to walk or bike those short distances rather than taking an automobile.
Let us become better stewards.
Archie King’s column appears regularly in the Mississippi Business Journal. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.