Recently, with massive construction projects ensuing at Harvard University just down the street from my home, I’ve noticed a plethora–a veritable swarming–of large trucks, pickup trucks, mostly massive, heavy duty and full size, once called 1-ton and up. I counted some 25 in a two-block span, parked for the day, as their often-burly drivers build new buildings.
Since I am prone to early morning walks, I notice drivers sitting in their parked giants, often doing nothing, not reading papers, not drinking coffee, not on cell phones, simply blank–waiting for what? Have they arrived early to find a parking spot? Do they pay parking fines if not Cambridge residents parked in Residence Only places? Why do they buy such gargantuan trucks? What material goes into making such a truck, gassing the truck, disposing of it when it’s lived its useful life?
Gas mileage ranges between 11 and 17 mpg, with an average of 16 mpg. Prices are between about $18,000 and 50,000. Capacities vary from 1000 pounds to five times that. I’ve not found statistics for the amounts of metal, glass, plastic and energy required to build a truck. There is growing resistance to large pickups, signaled by a sharp decline in sales. Some studies show that only about 35% of heavy pickup trips are for business purposes (decreasing to 9% for light trucks), altho this is a frequent justification for buying such an elephantine vehicle. A full 26% of the heavy pickup trips never actually haul anything in the bed. (Many of these statistics come from Pickup Truck Usage Study for the Environmental Defense Fund, 2005.)
At one point while I was photographing, I noticed a huge tractor-trailer truck rumbling down the narrow Oxford St toward the building site. Thinking yet another male drove it, I was surprised to see a woman driver. A big, heavily muscled woman, but a female nonetheless. This dispelled one stereotype I have about trucks: male drivers. The penchant for trucks, in the age of feminine liberation, might be bruiting.
I’m frustrated by titanic trucks, I freely admit this. Altho I once loved trucks–the first vehicle I bought, at age 20, was a pickup truck, a 1/4 tonner, miniscule by today’s norms–and appreciate their utility, lines, and potential, I find them obnoxious and perhaps immoral. Why? They gobble up more of the earth’s treasures then they deserve. They are ravenous of scarce materials, hogs for space on the road and for parking, pollute more per capita than many other forms of transport or cartage, and leave a toxic trail on and into the earth, poisoning our descendents for generations.
Thus, not persuaded that I should use a violent approach to rid the world of these mammoths, I chose to use my craft, photography, to make a dent in the problem. I try to alert others to the reality I and we all face: desecration of the earth. Based on greed and ignorance
Another response I make to large vehicles–this time SUVs–is to ticket them, a sort of “citizen ticketing,” like a citizen arrest. I use specially designed tickets available on line (www.earthonempty.com) that highlight the many problems SUVs create, similar to problems created by large trucks. Early morning I am out on the streets shoving tickets under windshield wiper blades. I imagine the following conversation, should a driver stop me: “What is this? he angrily shouts, ripping the ticket from his windshield. A “citizen ticket,” I answer, “a message of concern, raising a question–why buy a SUV? Have you considered its effect on the planet, on those who live near your route, breathing in the exhaust fumes, scampering out of the way as you lumber by? And the effect on all of the planet and its population, experiencing the depletion of oil?” I’d like a similar ticket for large pickups.
In 2004, U.S. cars and light trucks emitted 314 million metric tons of carbon-equivalent (MMTc). That equals the amount of carbon in a coal train 50,000 miles long–enough to stretch 17 times between New York and San Francisco. (Sierra club)
American pickup truck drivers would have saved over $16.6 billion at the gas pump, conserved 9.3 billion gallons of gasoline, and eliminated more than 130 million tons of CO2 pollution [in 2004] if U.S. automakers had used existing automotive technology to improve the fuel economy of pickups, according to a report released by the Sierra Club. The full report, which includes average driver and state savings data, is available online at http://www.sierraclub.org/globalwarming.