Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.
Does boycotting BP gas stations send a message to the company that fouled the Gulf of Mexico? Or does it just hurt the poor mom-and-pop station owner down the street? The Columbus, Ohio, alternative weekly The Other Paper attempts to answer this burning question for guilt-ridden gas consumers in the story “Pissed Off at BP?”—and gets a stark solution from a BP station owner: Just don’t drive.
That’s right, Bill Englefield, who along with his brother Ben own 127 BP-supplied stations in the Columbus area, is
proactively getting the message out in advance of summer driving season that simply bypassing the green flower cannot ease your conscience.
“BP is one of the major suppliers of all gas in this market, and we’re not the only ones who buy their product,” he said.
The guy across the street could be supplied by BP regardless of what the sign says, Englefield added. And if they’re not supplied by BP one day, they may be the next, depending on the market.
So what should an emotionally charged activist do to avenge brown pelicans dying in distant lands?
“The best boycott is to just quit driving,” said Englefield.
Now that’s the most sense I’ve heard from a station owner in a virtual gusher of spare-the-small-business-owners homilies in the mainstream media. The Christian Science Monitor, using much the same logic as Englefield, ends up doling out similar advice, putting “Bike or walk—don’t drive” at the top of ways to truly send a message to BP.
Of course, Englefield—who doesn’t fit my definition of a small business owner—intends to lay down a gauntlet of sorts, sensing that most people simply can’t quit driving, hence resistance to BP’s vast market reach is futile.
I suggest we call his bluff. Even if we can’t all quit, perhaps enough of us can cut back to send a message to the “small people” in the boardroom at BP.
Image from MoveOn.org's Facebook page.