Why gas boycotts will not work

Wednesday, June 18th 2008, 11:34 pm
By: News 9

I enjoy my job, so I won't pretend for a second that I wrote this.  I give full credit to a friend of mine in San Antonio who posted this on his MySpace page.  It goes out to all of us who have been bombarded with those boycott-this-certain-gas-station-on-this-certain-day e-mails.

Enjoy and thanks to Johnny Simpson.

-Rusty Surette



The only thing I hate worse than rising fuel costs & inflation are those annoying e-mail forwards (or MySpace bullentins) demanding that we take action against the big oil companies to drive down gas prices.  As nice as it all sounds in theory, in reality they can never work.  They are nothing new, everytime the companies begin gouging us I seem to get bombarded more & more with them.

For example, the most frequent one I'm sure y'all've all seen suggests that if we boycott Exxon-Mobil then we can weaken the profits of this mega-multi-billion dollar international conglomerate.  The e-mail says if we don't buy gas from their convenience stores and buy elsewhere then it will cripple the world's largest company.  But whoever crafted this e-mail didn't realize how the industry works:   when you buy gas from Chevron, Shell, or other service stations, you're probably still buying Exxon-Mobil gas (or another company's) because most of those independent franchised stores received their gas from a supplier or wholesaler who bought it from whichever company sold it to them cheapest.

The problem lies with the oil companies who have us where they want us and until they bleed us dry for every tenth of a penny they can, they won't fix the problem no matter how loudly we protest or how organized we are at trying to push them in a corner.  According to good old capitalistic economics, the demand dictates the price and we have allowed ourselves to become completely dependent on this substance even after the wake-up call of an oil scare and embargo in the 1970s.  And since a cartel controls the supply which directly influences the demand by adapting their production to fix the prices, those countries & companies will continue to reap the benefits of our suffering. 

That's why the only way we can effectively boycott gasoline is to decrease our overall depencency on it.  But -- just like those chain e-mails -- that's something easier said than done and it somehow works better on paper than in practice.  And this won't happen overnight, but if we take smaller steps we can ween ourselves off their control. 

It's only been a little over one hundred years since petroleum became the backbone of our global culture.  In Texas, for example, oil was first successfully drilled in 1901 (shout out to my hometown where it was first discovered!).  What really propelled our current dependency was Ford's use of a gasoline-based engine to fuel his cars, which in turn became the standard for most automobile makers.  There were alternative engines out there that could have powered vehicles, but the gasoline was the cheapest to produce to protect a cost-effective bottom line, and it also provided the most power for the driver to go faster (esp. compared with steam motors). 

But our dependency goes beyond just vehicles.  It even fuels the production of simple things we don't even notice in our everyday lives, like plastics.  Hundreds of barrels of crude oil go into the production of plastic every years.  You might even say that all that crude oil gets wasted because of how quickly we only use the plastic once then discard it. 

That's why if we really wanted to effectively boycott the oil industry we would use less plastic, for starters.  For example, bring your own bags to the supermarket so you don't have to use either paper or plastic.  Recycling plastic also helps lessen the amount of crude oil needed to produce plastic.  That's one reason I get so mad at conservatives who disagree with the enviromental movement because they disbelieve in global warming, but what they don't realize is that if we recycled plastics more, that is more oil or petroleum that goes into the overall supply for driving and of course it cost less to recycle then to generate new plastic.  And an increase in the crude oil supply is what ultimately drives the price. 

Another smaller measure most people can take is to switch to the longer-lasting lower-watt using light bulbs.  Since this uses less energy, it means your electric company is burning less fuel to run power on its grid.  Not only does it result in lower bills for you, but less energy means more oil in the overall supply since your company has to obtain less of it to fuel their customers homes.  Not only is this great for greenhouse emissions (if everyone in America switched over to these bulbs it would be the equivenlant of taking 80 million vehicles off the road as far as greenhouse gases are concerned).

These are just two example of ways we can start to "boycott."  A boycott is a quaint 18th-century idea that might have worked to help us gain indendence from Great Britain, but that standard ideaology won't work in the 21st-century to get us free from oil.