Five ways to boycott BP without helping Exxon

beyond Petroleum

Image by Rusty Boxcars via Flickr

Every morning I wait for the bus in front of a BP station, watching people drive up and fill their tanks.

Are they not outraged, do they not care, did they not notice the logo?

But is it better if they drive further to fill up at Exxon, which survived the last major oil boycott in the early 1990s to set new profit records in the 21st Century? The effort to boycott BP, growing for a few weeks now, is undermined by the lack of a clean competitor and by the extent to which petroleum is woven into our lives. Hank Kalet makes this point on his Channel Surfing blog:

The problem is that for the boycott to be effective, the message must be clear and I’m just not sure that withholding my gas money from BP while giving to Exxon (Valdez oil spill), Shell (a host of injustices throughout Africa, including the death of the Nigerian activist Ken Wiro-Siwa), Chevron (unsavory activities in the rain forest, Burma and elsewhere), and so on, sends much of a message.

The real boycott would be of gasoline altogether, but that is an impossiblity given how tightly woven into the fabric of our lives the poisonous fuel is (not only do we drive, but everything we buy relies on gas).

Although this makes it difficult to mount an effective boycott, it also means there are more opportunities to act.

Hate BP? Stop driving, I’d like to insist, but I know there’s little hope of that.

Many people are unwilling to give up driving, even those outraged by BP’s disaster. For others, it would be too difficult or dangerous to give up driving. Some live where there is little or no viable public transportation. Others travel where it can be unsafe to stand at a bus stop.

Give up driving, please, but if you can’t give up driving, there are other ways to withhold dollars from BP and its ilk. You’ve heard some of these before, but others might surprise you. Maybe you already practice some, but this might be the time to add one. Do it for BP. Call it your BP boycott:

1. Boycott bottled water. The comedian Lewis Black: “Try to go through this logic with me. Our country had water coming to our homes, and even if we were locked out we could still get it, clean water, and we said, no, fuck you, I don’t want it to be that convenient. I want to drive and drive and drive and look for water, like my ancestors did.” The Pacific Institute estimates the U.S. uses 50 million barrels of oil a year just manufacturing the plastic bottles for bottled water. Then there’s the fuel used transporting them to the store, and the fuel people use driving them home. Hate BP? Drink tap water. Filter it if you have a filter. If you don’t have a filter, you can find specific information on the quality of your municipality’s local drinking water from the EPA. It might be perfectly safe.

2. Avoid plastics and other petrochemical products, including chemical pesticides and fertilizers. BP is a major manufacturer of secondary refinery products like acetic acid, which is used in plastics, paints, adhesives, linings for containers and coatings for paper and textiles. Hate BP? Boycott petrochemicals wherever you find them.

3. Buy bulk foods and put them in reusable bags. I know you’ve heard this before, and by now you own a canvas bag for grocery shopping, but it doesn’t always make the trip to the grocery store, does it? According to Earth First, “America uses an astounding 100 billion plastic bags per year, and it takes 12 million barrels of oil to produce them. When you add in worldwide consumption, we could save 120 million barrels of oil annually by switching to reusable bags.” Jennifer Grayson of The Red, White, and Green advises avoiding packaged foods as well: “Do you really need your pears in a plastic clamshell? Buy produce loose, choose bulk items over individually wrapped ones, and cut down on processed food purchases.” Processed foods have a higher oil footprint, you can bet, because of the energy inherent in processing.

4. Be a locavore. Locally produced food didn’t travel very far to reach you, and if it’s also organic, it wasn’t grown with fertilizers or pesticides made by the oil companies. Need help finding local food? Look for a local chapter of Slow Food USA. Or follow the advice offered to me by True/Slant’s Todd Essig: “Ask a local!”

5. Boycott aluminum cans. Every time you buy a six pack, you’re buying two of the cans from BP. The BP subsidiary Arco Aluminum is responsible for about a third of aluminum can production in the United States, as well as for sheet aluminum used in the building and automobile industries. Of course, this means four cans of every six are made by someone else, and aluminum products are among the most recycled. But if you want to withhold your dollars from BP, you can’t ignore aluminum. Maybe other aluminum-can manufacturers will learn to label their cans “Dolphin Safe.”

A final suggestion: Don’t buy something new just to boycott BP. Some in the green-lifestyle press have advised people to buy aluminum water bottles instead of plastic, unaware BP may have supplied the aluminum. Others urge glass food containers instead of plastic, or petroleum-free cosmetics, etc. The green-lifestyle press often falls prey to the consumerist impulse to buy, buy, buy. But unless it grew in your back yard, every new product arrives with oily footprints. If you use plastic containers now, replacing them with glass will only burn more fossil fuels.

Good readers, no doubt many of you have found other ways to boycott BP. Let’s hear them.

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