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Saturday, 12 June 2010


I can see from my facebook newsfeed that a lot of my USian friends are boycotting BP. BP ignored a lot of safety stuff, had a history of infractions and there's been a huge disaster as a result. This kind of reminds me of the previous, then-largest spill in US history, when the Exxon Valdez crashed in Alaska. They also failed to follow safety regulations or best practices. Their filed statement about what to do in case of spill was similarly bogus (it assumed that all spills would take place in perfect weather on the summer solstice). Angry consumers also wanted to launch a boycott.

It turns out that it's really hard to boycott oil from any particular refinery or source. Oil is fungible and the gas station closest to your house might have a particular brand on it, but they're probably selling oil from many different refineries, including competitors. If nobody wants to buy BP gas at the BP station, the price of that gas will fall and Shell will buy it and start selling it from their own stations. You can hurt BP's retail brand, but you can't touch their refineries and wells unless you cut your overall gas consumption.

I'm not going to talk about car travel, because that's too obvious. But we heat our houses with natural gas or diesel fuel, which is also a petroleum product. We heat our water with natural gas. Taking shorter or cooler showers is a way to stop throwing so much money at BP.

Also, we can be secondary consumers of petroleum. If I buy produce that's flown on an airplane, I'm paying for the jet fuel that brought it to me. So to keep money form BP, I could try to buy more locally grown produce. I could try to get local stuff in general, or just buy less stuff, and thus give less money to BP.

Plastic is a petroleum product. Reusable shopping bags and reusable water bottles will keep money from BP.

A lot of electricity is generated from natural gas (including some which comes from plants that are supposed to be solar. They make up for cloudy days with gas), so turning stuff of at night, etc keep money from BP.

Now, obviously, because oil is fungible, these same steps keep money from other oil companies too. But, really, every oil company is up to no good someplace in the world. Shell is not currently causing problems in the US, but they're doing all kind of bad things in Africa. Exxon (now branded Valero) hasn't spilled anything in the US recently, but the Alaskan coast still hasn't recovered - and neither have the workers who tried to clean up the spill without being provided proper safety equipment. Basically, there's no such thing as a good oil company. And BP is the one that's currently causing problems in the US, but every oil company is causing problems for somebody somewhere. Oil is dirty and toxic and often under places of great natural beauty or places where people inconveniently live (but can be removed from with armed violence). Countries that we might not want to be best buddies with sell us a lot of oil. And burning it causes stronger hurricanes and will eventually melt the world's coral reefs.

So boycotting BP is a good start, but if we want to get serious about this and ensure real change that prevents stuff like this from happening in the future, we need to think bigger. Many countries require relief wells to be drilled at the same time as regular wells. Congress could pass a law requiring that if we ask them to. They could legislate that best practices be followed. And the US uses more petroleum per person than any other country - totalling a quarter of the world's oil. That makes us vulnerable to spills and foreign powers. BP is just a tiny piece of a much larger problem that spans an entire industry and the way our lives are organised. If we want to fight them, we need to stop requiring so much of what they sell.


libhom said...

British Petroleum is a terrorist organization which must be destroyed and whose assets must be seized.

Charles Céleste Hutchins said...

Criminal negligence =/= terrorism.

Unless you're talking about use of armed violence in the 3rd world, in which its an industry-wide problem.

Crinis said...

This reminds me of a stupid email forward I received many years ago when gas was hitting $4+ a gallon. An idiot relative of mine sent along a note saying that we should all boycott oil on a given day to stick it to the oil companies for reaming us. I replied back to the whole list, noting most of the same things you did, but since this was 2004, I also recommended that they stop voting for Presidents and Congressmen with huge ties to big oil. That last suggestion was met by scorn. When I pointed out that it was true, one replied back that, well, they're all corrupt. To this day, when I point out that some right wing politician is a nut with ties to industry and doesn't care about you, I get that, well, they're all corrupt. I'd love it if they realized, that, no, they aren't all corrupt, and some are waaaaay more corrupt than others (e.g. Joe Barton R-TX is apologizing to Tony Hayward right now on the floor of Congress for how badly he's being treated by the American people). But politics is strange: once wedded to a party, like an abusive spouse, people make all sorts of excuses to stay on well past the expiration of all reason.

Charles Céleste Hutchins said...

Oddly, I think the abusive spouse metaphor works just as well for democrats. Obama's going to regulate finance, repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell, pass a gender-inclusive ENDA, close gitmo, repeal DOMA .... aaaannnnnnny day now.

Or they just tell women who want to control their bodies and LGBT people and a lot of other groups, "who ELSE are you going to vote for?"

Electoral politics is not our way out of this. Massive public outcry is our only hope.

Chels said...

As an American, the oil spill hits me on a personally emotional level; it is devastating! Americans think they found the proper solution: campaigns of "Do Not Buy From BP Stations", as you mentioned. Many BP stations tore down their signs and closed up shop because they received little to no consumers anymore. However, these stores were owned by LOCAL AMERICANS who had no affiliation with BP! Our news sources report on closing stations, but fail to report on the innocent people out of a job in this recession because of a boycott out of their hands. Americans feel they must "support a cause" or they are worthless. We spend millions to billions to trillions on relief efforts, then as soon as a new effort crops up, the original drops from the public eye and the new "celebrity cause" gets full attention. We NEVER finish the jobs we start! This spill is just sickening -- at least, until a new, "worthy" cause crops up!
~Chelsea, ADY/HD