There have been a lot of passionate calls for consumers to boycott BP to punish the company for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill — the ongoing environmental disaster that is smashing the Gulf economy, destroying beaches, killing scores of marine life, and poisoning vast parts of the ocean. It's understandable to not want to give money to a company as terrible as BP, but I think the sentiment to boycott them is misplaced.
We shouldn't be boycotting BP; we should be boycotting gas.
Who do you buy your gas from, if not from BP? Exxon or Mobil? Nope, they've got the Valdez spill, and surely that earns them a space on the boycott list. Chevron? No, its engineers dumped tons of toxic chemicals into rain forest rivers, contaminating the landscape and local people who live there. Shell? That company should also be on the list for the tragedy in Nigeria.
It's hard to find a large oil company that doesn't have something in its history that makes it worthy of a boycott. And I'd wager that even the ones that don't have Valdez-sized blunders on the books have plenty of smaller and quieter spills that add up in the aggregate. Drilling for oil is a messy, polluting business anyway you run it.
The problem with boycotting BP gas stations is that you're doing the bulk of the damage to the (mostly) small business owners and entrepreneurs running the stations — most have long-term contracts with BP that preclude them from switching to other brands of gas. Those fortunate enough to be able to switch still have to pay tens of thousands of dollars to change their signage and pumps over to the new brand.
Even when you boycott BP stations, you could be inadvertently putting money in BP's coffers because of the convoluted nature of oil refinement. BP has its fingers in various parts of the process and could have already profited from oil you buy at another station.
What we need to do is to boycott oil.
If you truly want to make a difference, then figure out how to use less oil. Ride your bike more, sell your second (or even first) car and get an electric bike or scooter. When you absolutely have to drive, use car share services like Zip Car and U-Haul's U Car Share. Walk more. If you live in the suburbs, move to the city where you can use public transportation and your feet to get around. Write to and call your elected officials and let them know that walkability and sustainable transportation matter to you as a voter.
In the face of the things that you can do to make a real difference, it's understandable how easy and appealing "drive by BP gas station" is to people. It takes a real effort to change your environmental footprint, but buying gas from the next station down the road does not.
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