When I first started seeing the "Boycott BP" meme flooding my FaceBook, I was intrigued. I've boycotted establishments before, but knowing what I know about the oil industry, I thought I should do a little digging before I committed myself to that cause. The first place I went to was the BP corporate website. I immediately located the page listing all of the BP subsidiaries and as I scrolled down the page through hundreds of listings (in a variety of industries) I thought to myself "whoa...how the hell is boycotting a gas station going to be effective when BP has THIS much out there?" I genuinely did not even know how many gas stations BP even had in this country. There are no BP gas stations in my area, which seemed odd to me considering I live in the 7th largest city in the country. But then again I live in the heart of Valero territory, so I put my Google-Fu to use and started digging a bit deeper. At that point I found an article talking about how BP got out of the gas station business 4 years ago because of the shitty profit margins. There's roughtly 900 BP gas stations in this country; out of that number only 100 are corporate owned stores. The rest are franchises.
And the more I thought about it, the more I thought this was a bad idea. When it comes to where I do business, I will ALWAYS go for the small business owner before the corporate giant. It just didnt make sense to me to punish the small business owner who had the bad luck to chose to open a BP franchise as opposed to an Exxon or Mobile. I mean sure, BP does get a certain amount of money from the franchisee, but that's really a drop in the bucket when you look at the hundreds of other places BP earns their profits from. Our economy is already fragile, what good is it going to do to put a bunch of small business owners and their employees out of a job? And when you look at just how many tentacles BP (and every other oil company) has extended out there, how do you know you arent patronizing them in a hundred different ways? That tiny bit of gas you pump in your SUV is probably a drop in the bucket when you compare it to the other things you spend money on that BP makes a much bigger profit margin on. How many BP boycotters are researching that? My guess is very, very few.
When I saw the meme for the zillionth time in a "friend" who is an LJ/FB crossover, I thought it would be "safe" for me to voice my opinion. Hell, for all I knew nobody really was aware of the fact that BP didnt own their own gas stations! Oh, how wrong I was! You would think I had said I wanted to nominate BP for Humanitarian of the Year or something! I have never seen people act more defensive, rude and passive-aggressive in my entire life. I was blasted in the FB post, I was blasted in my email. Wow...so much for people respectfully sharing ideas like civilized adults!
One woman actually *bragged* about how she was doing something. Unlike *SOME* people (gee, who was THAT directed at? Passive-aggressive much?) she was boycotting! Why, she drove a whole 20 miles out of her way just to make sure that she avoided BP. I didnt even respond to that one, but when I read that I thought, "Wait a second. What kind of car does this woman drive? What's her gas mileage like? Because she just spent MORE in fossil fuels by driving 40 miles round trip for what??" Flawed logic is flawed.
Personally, I think boycotting BP really only fills some psychological need people are having to DO something in response to a tragedy that is hopelessly beyond anyone's control. And I totally get that people are outraged. I'm outraged as much as the next person! If it were up to me, I'd make every one of those slimy, greedy corporate bastards live in a vat of the shit they have poisoned our ecosystem with. They should be force fed oil-poisoned shrimp that havent been de-veined. They absolutely should have their feet held to the fire on this - and I hope their feet are coated in oil so that when they get near the flames those bastards ignite in a fiery inferno. There, is THAT outraged enough for you? Because heaven forbid I make someone think I am not giving them blanket approval.
At this point the comment thread is over 40 comments from a smattering of people. Out of all of those people, I think maybe 2 were even remotely polite towards me. And not one person to date has answered a single question I asked. At one point in the conversation someone mentioned that they didnt understand why we just dont make the switch to alternative fuels. And since I actually know a little about that, I commented back.
Sure, we have other forms of energy. Wind, solar, coal, nuclear, etc. So why arent we using any one (or all) of those forms of energy on a global scale? Because there are serious problems that prohibit them from widespread use. The reasons vary. Some technologies create their own environmental problems - mining uranium for nuclear is not exactly an earth friendly endeavor. Some technologies are in their infancy and require decades of ironing out the kinks - like hydrogen. Some work halfway decently, but are still way overpriced for all but the wealthiest to afford - like solar. In solar's case, in order to meet the energy needs of this country alone, you would have to lay panels over an area roughly HALF the size of California. Oh, no problem - we'll just put solar panels on the roofs of houses! Really? Who's going to pay for all that? Because as it stands right now, in order to convert your average run-of-the-mill 3 bedroom American home, it would cost anywhere from 30 to 80 grand (depending on how
much energy you need to generate per month). That kind of investment would take 20 years to see a return on the investment. Christ, people can barely pay their mortgages right now, who has an extra 80 grand laying around to do that? And that's just here in America. How is some poor guy in China who makes $25 a year going to afford to convert his home to solar?
Like I said the other day, I find the whole concept of Peak Oil and sustainable energy to replace oil a fascinating subject. I first started reading and researching 4 years ago when Jared and I first saw "A Crude Awakening". That movie scared both of us sufficiently enough that we've been keeping an eye on crude oil prices and the news concerning alternative technologies. And as much as I hate to say it - its NOT a pretty picture. Our consumption of oil has surpassed what's being pulled out of the ground since 1980. We havent had a major oil discovery since what...1970? And its not for a lack of technology to find oil. We have such sensitive sonar now that it can show the most minute details underground. When we're trying to suck oil out of the sand pits in Canada, and drilling in deep water that should tell people something: *we've already gotten the easy-to-get good stuff*!
And yet oil is used for EVERYTHING. Everything you wear, everything you eat, the meds you take, the tools you use during your daily life - everything comes from oil. This country's infrastructure was developed around oil. And why not...its cheap to pull out of the ground - so cheap its virtually free (even if it doesnt seem like it is). For one dollar you can pull a barrel of oil out of the fields in Iraq. Right now a barrel is what...around $70? And that one barrel yields the equivalent of 23,000 hours of human labor in energy. Where else can we generate that kind of energy? Nowhere. Even if you are extremely optimistic about developing technology and were to combine all the forms of alternative fuel that we currently have, we are far from equaling the amount of energy derived from one barrel (only 42 gallons) of that black gold.
But apparently according to my favorite critic, reading things online doth not make me an expert. After I got over that crushing blow to my ego, I politely asked this woman to provide me with more information. After all, she was certainly quick to tell me how wrong I was! Yet when I asked to be specifically told what part I had wrong, when I asked for books or links or anything, the answer I got was "I'm not comfortable telling you about my employer or what I do for a living." What the bloody fuck? How does "please provide me with reading material" get interpreted as "tell me every intimate detail of your life, oh Internet stranger"?? I thought perhaps she misunderstood my question. Oh no...according to her she cannot give me ANY information supporting her claim that we have sustainable technology ready to be globally used right now - except for her own employer's information.
I dont give two shits about her or who she works for...its not like I had plans to go stalk her or something. She could have given me ANYTHING and it would have shut me up and satisfied my curiosity. She could have said, "go to your library and check for stuff by Bill Smith" or "Google search info on chipmunks on conveyor belts" Hell, she could have given me info from her employer and I would have never known that she worked for them. But oh no. Her evidence condeming my 4 years of compiled information is Sooper Sekrit? And just sayin here...if you REALLY want to make sure the whole of the Internets doesnt know who you work for, you might want to do a better job
making yourself anonymous. It took me all of 5 seconds to Google her employer AND her official job title. And as far as *that* goes? When it comes to the subject of Energy, I am going to give the word of someone from the EPA about as much weight as I do to someone from OPEC or any of the oil companies. What she really should have just said to me was "I dont know a godamn thing about what you are talking about, but since you have DARED to disagree with the rest of my friends I am going to say you are wrong, you meanie fascist poo-poo head!" At least then I could have respected her for her honesty. But to say I'm wrong but its a secret? Come on!!
Like I said...I get people being upset about this and wanting to do something. And sure, even small acts will add up to big things. I just think that if someone wants to do a "small act" it would be more prudent to really think about what sort of effect you are aiming for here. We all live busy lives, juggling careers and relationships and everything else that demands our precious time. Wouldnt it make sense to utilize that time doing something that has the most impact and benefit? If your goal is to punish BP or somehow get their attention, boycotting Apu's Kwik-E-Mart isnt going to do that. Putting the pressure on your elected representatives to keep demanding that BP pony up and make good on this mess might be a better option. If your goal is to help the areas that have been affected, there are a host of things that any one of us can do without going to the Gulf and getting our hands dirty. For example, why not organize a "hair drive" in your community? Solicit your local hair salons and pet groomers to donate their hair clippings - after all, they just throw them out. Hair clippings can be sent in and made into oil absorbant mats. That is something any average "little guy" can do in any location in this country. Its a positive, proactive, life-affirming action and would have an immediate benefit where assistance is most desperately needed today. Wouldnt that be a better way to utilize your time and energy?
Sadly, I suspect few people would even bother taking any REAL action. Oh, I am sure that people feel like they are "doing something" when they boycott BP but let's be honest: exactly how much time and energy is invested in just not driving somewhere? If mass forwarding an email and driving to the gas station across the street from the BP one is your idea of activism, then I shudder to think what kind of future the human race has to look forward to. Maybe the cockroaches deserve to inherit the mess we've left for them.