I have been having dreams about the oil spill. I never see the oil, never touch it in my dreams, but it’s there. Standing on the shores of some southern beach, in Florida or Louisiana or Alabama (I’m not sure), I look out at a distant horizon, at the sea churning there past the waves, and know that there’s a menace, something that seems likely to destroy everything.
My experiences with the Gulf of Mexico are small–a few days spent in Naples, a good spring break but not much to talk about. But this shoreline is very real, very remote, and though I don’t see any black goop, I know it’s coming.
I don’t need to tell you that this is the largest environmental catastrophe in United States history, nor that the oil is wrecking the livelihood of countless fishermen, the tourism industry, that every form of sea life–birds, fish, insects, and sea creatures small and essential–are dying or are going to die. Or that the currents and tides may carry this oil all around the Gulf, swirling the poison around and into the little inlets and bays, and it may even carry out into the Atlantic. It’s a crime. The worst of my lifetime.
A new Facebook page has sprung up, urging us to boycott British Petroleum. A hand drawn sign appeared on the pedestrian bridge over 394 calling for the same. We are starting to learn that BP avoided drilling the wells that could have plugged the leak (something Canada requires and that BP, as of only a couple of months ago tried to repeal), and if they had been in place we might have plugged the thing already. Instead it will take until August at best, December at worst. Like everyone, I’m angry.
See, it isn’t entirely about gasoline. It’s about oil. And something tells me that the oil that BP was pumping out of the Gulf floor wasn’t just being refined and sent to their gas stations to fuel the Hummers of suburban assholes. Much of that oil went to the stores with the green-and-yellow sun, sure, but a lot of it, I’m guessing, went into plastic.
Into milk jugs, the kinds you see at Cub Foods and the Seward Co-op. Into every button of every shirt and jacket I own. Into the cover of the calendar I use to keep my day straight, written with a mechanical pencil whose body is made of the same stuff. We have one car, so I proudly ride my bike on wheels made of oil, sit on a seat made of oil, and grip handlebar tape made of oil. Compact discs, iPods, headphones, hell, probably every electric guitar, keyboard, strings, all the components have oil in them. I don’t know if the ink in my favorite books and magazines are oil based, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were. My DVDs, movie tickets, the seats and carpet I walk on to see a flick are oil-based plastics, and I’m guessing the 35mm film of tonight’s Raiders of the Lost Ark screening are seen on oil. If you can read this blog you’re staring at oil.
I haven’t even mentioned fertilizers and herbicides, meaning every bit of food that’s not purely organic and every item of clothing has some oil in it. Of course, I’ve left out all the gas it took to get all that stuff to us. Not to mention that I have a distinct feeling that BP probably sells its oil to refineries who sell it to other gasoline companies, meaning that you could be avoiding your local BP only to be using their product at a Holiday.
I could be wrong about all this. But I bet I’m right. Looking at an old Snopes article about boycotting Middle Eastern oil, one sees that this is most certainly the case. “[T]he idea that oil companies sell gasoline only through their branded service stations, and therefore if you don’t buy gasoline from Shell-branded gas stations”–the company used as an example in this article–”you’re not sending money to Shell… is wrong. Oil companies sell their output through a variety of outlets other than their branded stations… as well, by the time the crude oil gets from the ground”–or ocean, in this case–”into our gasoline tanks, there’s no practical way for consumers to know exactly where it came from.”
Oil, it seems, is everywhere. If it makes you feel better to boycott BP, then by all means do so. Though I’m also guessing you’re hurting a guy who runs a local business that only uses BP gas because that’s what he was either saddled with or was convenient. Then again, after looking over that Snopes article, maybe your local BP station bought its oil from Shell.
The problem isn’t British Petroleum doing terrible things at the Deepwater Horizon platform, though no doubt they did. But I think that you’d have to be pretty naive to think that Shell, Exxon, and every independent who drills off-shore isn’t guilty of many, if not more, of these sins. The point here is that the solution is sacrifice. And no one I know is sacrificing, and that includes myself.
I have one car and ride a bike around town, ride the bus, use the train. Perhaps that’s better than the guy in Eden Prairie who has four cars, three of which are SUVs, and lives in a McMansion. But I still buy and use all those other oil products, and it seems to me that pointing a finger at that guy is like being a drunk who downs beer all day crowing over the guy hooked on hard liquor.
I wish I could say where to start. I wish I knew how to buy clothes that don’t have oil, food that doesn’t use oil, tires that are oil free, movies, books, music, etc. Right now, I don’t. But I want to find out. So consider this a call for advice: if you have suggestions, if you know ways to break this oil habit–one we all share–I am all ears. Because despite all the hue and cry, I don’t feel like British Petroleum is the enemy. I feel like I know who the real enemy is, and I don’t want to keep staring him in the face every morning.