Pretty much everyone is REALLY ANGRY about the ongoing BP oil volcano deep in the Gulf of Mexico. I’m angry too. But when lots of people start calling for a boycott of BP, I get off the boat. Or oil rig. Or whatever. Boycotting BP just won’t work.
For one thing, oil is a commodity. It’s bought and sold on a worldwide market, with production and prices determined for all of it by cartels like OPEC. So long as we’re buying gas from *someone*, prices will stay the same, and BP will still be making profits, because you’re never going to get enough people to boycott one gas provider to really hurt their bottom line.
Not to mention, if you refuse to shop at a BP station, you’re probably not hurting BP at all, but rather a small business owner who owns the franchise, since BP doesn’t own most BP stations. And if you get your gas at a Kroger or a Costco, you just might be buying BP gas anyway. And you’re going to have to avoid products from BP subsidiaries like Castrol and Wild Bean Cafe.
For another thing, as this excellent Newsweek piece points out, ALL of the oil companies are pretty deplorable. If you don’t give your money to BP, who are you going to give it to? Exxon, who dumped a bunch of oil on Alaska during the Valdez oil spill and still hasn’t finished paying for all the damages? Texaco/Chevron, who are accused of dumping toxic waste into the Ecuadorian rainforests? Citgo, whose profits prop up a Venezuelan dictator? Shell, who are accused of supporting human rights abuses and of environmental degradation in the Niger Delta (40% of the US’s oil imports come from Nigeria, where more oil is spilled by the likes of Shell and ExxonMobil every year than has been spilled at BP’s Deepwater Horizon)? The piece makes pretty clear, there is no “better” oil company to support.
However, the Newsweek piece also says:
The only way to make this the last oil spill in the gulf is to make oil obsolete. Shall we all hop on our bicycles, charge our plug-in hybrids with wind-generated electricity, swap out the heating oil or natural gas warming our homes for geothermal wells and passive solar?
Didn’t think so.
Why can’t we all hop on our bicycles more often? Via the League of American Bicyclists:
According to the Nationwide Personal Transportation Survey, 25 percent of all trips are made within a mile of the home, 40 percent of all trips are within two miles of the home, and 50 percent of the working population commutes five miles or less to work. Yet more than 82 percent of trips five miles or less are made by personal motor vehicle.
I’ll tell you what– I’m mad about the BP oil spill, and I’m not just going to talk the talk, I’m going to walk the walk. I have a bicycle, but I haven’t been riding it to the store like I know I should, as someone concerned about climate change. Rather than boycotting BP, I’m going to ride my bike if I go to the grocery store this week. Even though it’s hot. Even though it’s hard. Even though I’d really rather not. And I’m willing to bet there’s a few trips you could make on foot or by bicycle this week, too.
I really just don’t get where Newsweek gets off pooh-pooh-ing what could be a real solution to the problem of our country being held hostage to deplorable companies like BP just because we’re junkies who need our fix of what they’re selling. If, as this amazing infographic suggests, 71% of our oil goes to transportation, and, as mentioned above, most of our trips are within five miles of our homes, we could seriously cut our oil consumption AND seriously cut companies like BP’s profits if we just hopped on our bikes, walked, or rode public transit for short trips. It may not be as easy as boycotting BP, but it would go a much longer way toward actually hurting BP’s bottom line.
Sure, we need to lobby the government to more seriously regulate oil companies. We need to recognize that offshore drilling, with the catastrophic risks that go along with it, is just not worth it, as the same infographic points out that the US generates about 1.5 million barrels of oil each YEAR through offshore drilling but consumes 19.5 million barrels of oil per DAY. (I’d do the math and tell you what percentage of our total oil consumption comes from domestic offshore drilling, but I majored in English, so I don’t know how to do that.) We need to shift our economy away from petroleum as our primary fuel source. But the only way for any of that to work is if we each and every one of us seriously cut our fuel consumption. And to do that, yes, Newsweek, we shall all have to hop on our bicycles and start walking more. Maybe then we can use the money we’re saving on gas to get solar panels on our roofs and buy plug-in hybrids and invest in geothermal heating.