On Exxon, BP, and the efficacy of my private protests
(Note: This appeared a few days back on dailykos, where it went the way of all my blogs there. I have amended it some. I tried to post it here a day or so back, and it seems to have gotten lost. My ineptitude knows no bounds.)
If memory serves, and it is an imperfect agent in these matters, I have purchased gas from an Exxon service station exactly twice since the Exxon Valdez began spewing oil all over Prince William Sound on March 24, 1989.
In both cases, I was at the end of a gas tank on sparsely populated roads, and without choices.
Just now I looked up at the sign where I was filling up my little red farm truck, and realized I was at my friendly neighborhood BP station.
For better and mostly worse, I’m a guy who can hold a grudge. A hair over 50 (or hairless and over 50), and I’ve never once had a McDonald’s hamburger. Not once. Not ever. Now, in fairness and the interests of full disclosure, I have eaten their fake chicken nuggets a couple times in hours of need, and sometimes on long trips we get our daughter soft serve ice cones (only it’s not ice cream, is it, and so they can’t CALl it ice cream), or, occasionally, yogurt parfaits. But never a hamburger.
This is mostly because I was a picky eater as a child, and McD’s wouldn’t take all that garbage off their burger, or, if they did, it took so long as to be past embarrassing. Later it has come to be slightly more a political stand: Fast food is an international evil, and so I choose not to patronize this particular flagship brand.
See, I understand contemporary democracy principally as an exchange of monies. I mean, let’s be honest: every political organization to which I “belong” (which is to say, every group which has my e-mail address) loves me only as a potential donor. None of them really care what my opinion on any given subject might be, so long as they can rile me enough to open my pocketbook. (Which they can’t. Blood from stone, and all that.)
The democracy which matters in this country has to do with where you spend your money. Period. Even though, very occasionally, I choose to spend my money in a particularly gifted politician. I don’t shop at WalMart. We live in a small town, and it’s inconvenient not to shop at WalMart. But the presence of that store has ruined our local economy, and its new location has exacerbated watershed issues to the point where roads are in danger of blowing out.
I understand that if my private boycott were to spread, I would be endangering the jobs of people from this region who work at WalMart. I’m sorry about that, though the likelihood of such success seems remote. My belief is that if WalMart closed, other far better jobs would be created here.
Because Exxon was a party to ruining a beautiful shoreline, and did so with legendarily bad public relations, I refuse to shop at their stores. Makes my wife crazy. Truth is, I’ve never even been to Alaska, though I was friends growing up with enough guys who fished or crabbed or worked cannery gigs to pay for college up there that I think I have a few borrowed emotional memories of the place. Not to mention the photographs.
We’ve had our own issues this last month. Water, mostly, which doesn’t agree much with books, and we happen to own an independent bookstore. But I am not unaware of the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
Here’s what I think I know: I think that the Bush Administration went lax on safety regulations and BP got away with substandard (or at least not state of the art) equipment; I think that environmentalists have opposed this kind of drilling for years just because these kinds of events were inevitable; I think that our need for oil supersedes every other possible consideration (same with coal, and I live now in a coal state); I think BP is doing a tolerable job spinning the PR, that they’re spending a gilded fortune trying to stop the flow; I’m pretty sure that the fisheries (and tourist industries) in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana are screwed for the foreseeable future. And I’m curious that in none of my very casual reading have I seen the word “Mexico” even mentioned. It’s like this is our problem, and the hell with the rest of the world. (Which is the American way, I suppose.)
So there I am pouring BP gas into the little red truck. I don’t go to that station often. It would be easy not to patronize it. I’m not even sure there is an Exxon station in town (though, doubtless, one or more of the indies is getting Exxon gas anyhow, and we just don’t know about it), but there will be the next time we go down the road somewhere. I’m pretty sure the damage BP is doing in the Gulf of Mexico, whether or not it’s legally culpable (or should be, even) is far worse, far more damaging to fragile ecosystems and even more fragile economies, than the damage the Valdez did to Prince William Sound.
Best I can tell from a quick hunt online, the gas station makes about ten cents a gallon (no matter the price of gasoline). Which is why they’re in business to sell me chips and sodas and cold beer, none of which I buy from them. I’m also reliably informed that if BP weren’t selling gas to its own branded stations, it’d be selling it elsewhere. That BP doesn’t care, really, who sells their gas because somebody well. Probably the Kroger where I normally fill up is getting gas from both Exxon and BP, with my luck.
What, then? Do I boycott both? Let it go, just buy the cheapest gas I can find, like everybody else does?
There have to be consequences. I keep coming back to that.
Your opinion, then, is solicited. (But no matter what, I ain’t eating that hamburger. If that’s really what it is.)