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Javier Sierra Headshot

This Is a Stick Up!

Posted: Updated:
OIL GAS PRICES
AP

Have you ever felt like you have been robbed after paying at the gas pump? You're not the only one, especially if you happen to be Hispanic.

Our community is suffering the most during this new spike of gas prices. According to a study by California's Public Policy Institute (PDF), 83 percent of Latinos agree that pain at the pump is causing them financial hardship, as compared to 54 percent of non-Hispanic Whites.

The study also revealed that we Latinos dedicate 5.4 percent of our income to gas and car-related expenses; that is one percentage point higher than the rest of the population. We are, however, the most willing to carpool and eager to buy a fuel-efficient car.

And while you dig for the last coin in your pocket, Big Oil is throwing a fiesta of historic proportions. ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, Shell and ConocoPhillips reported a staggering $34 billion in profits in the first quarter of the year. ExxonMobil alone posted $10.7 billion in profits, a 69-percent increase from the same quarter in 2010.

In fact, between 2001 and 2010, Big Oil made $952 billion in profits -- a figure too hard to comprehend. That's almost one trillion ($1,000,000,000,000).

And whether we like it or not, we all contribute to these obscene profits, both as consumers at the gas pump, and as taxpayers by allowing the federal government to shell out billions of dollars in subsidies. Between 2002 and 2008, the fossil fuel industry received $72.5 billion courtesy of the federal treasury. And just a few days ago, the industry's allies in Congress blocked yet another attempt to end Big Oil's unjust subsidies. Had this effort been successful, we all would have saved $21 billion over the next decade.

What is crystal clear is that our oil addiction is costing us all an arm and a leg and that we cannot continue this way if we are to regain our economic vitality and create the millions of jobs we so desperately need. Also, oil and fossil fuels in general and their toxic emissions cause tremendous damage to public health, especially the health of Latino communities.

The Obama administration should establish stronger fuel standards for cars and trucks that reach at least 60 mpg by 2025. This would save us 2.5 billion barrels of oil per day. Also, if we invested those $4 billion Big Oil receives each year in clean energy, we would create 64,000 jobs per year, especially in the sectors of the economy that employ the most Latinos. And those jobs cannot be outsourced, will pay well and the worker will become a valuable asset to the hiring company.

Clean energy is one of the sectors that is doing best in these hard economic times. According to the Wall Street Journal, the wind industry is the country's second most robust economic activity, and solar the seventh most robust. And the future is even brighter. The wind industry is expected to grow by 11.2 percent in the next six years, and the solar industry by 7.9 percent.

Speaking of bright futures, clean energy could very well provide 80 percent of the planet's energy needs in the next four decades. The United Nation's Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released a landmark report that reinforces the need to abandon fossil fuels and to embrace the energy of the future.

The IPCC, comprised of the world's 3,000 most prestigious climate experts, revealed that if we are to reach that 80 percent, we could keep climate disrupting gases below the limit beyond which climate disruption will become catastrophic and irreversible.

The report adds that out of the 300 Gigawatts of new electricity generated throughout the world between 2008 and 2009, 130 Gigawatts came from clean energy sources such as wind and solar.

But the UN panel warned that even though the solutions to our climate and health challenge are already at our disposal, without the political will from the world's governments we will continue to be hooked to the 19th Century's energy sources and risk leaving a planet in chaos to our children and grandchildren.

It's in the United States where we must pay special attention to this warning. It's in the Congress, which is so powerfully influenced by Big Oil and Coal, where the change must start.

It's up to our representatives to turn a robbery into an investment.

Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist.

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