Don’t Blame BP For Your Mess
I keep watching coverage of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and waiting for the real story. The story in which someone has the (tar) balls to say, “BP is drilling in the Gulf because you asked them to.”
“What?” I can imagine the aghast masses saying, “but I hate the petroleum industry, oil is vile, they are a horrible corporate machine hell bent on destroying the planet that people like me cherish.” But here’s the thing, if you’re saying that while typing on a keyboard, sitting on upholstered furniture, in a room with carpeting and any sort of electronic equipment, having taken a shower in which you squeezed shampoo out of a bottle, brushed your teeth with a plastic toothbrush and used toothpaste or deodorant, well, my friend, then you are right in there with the average American who uses 3.5 gallons of petroleum a day – even if you don’t shave your legs and do bring your own (plastic) water bottle with you everywhere you go.
You demanded petroleum products, BP is getting them for you. So, who’s backyard do you want that petroleum to come from?
When I first started making soap, it was because I had looked at the pile of empty plastic bottles in my bathroom trash can and had an ah-ha moment – that’s a lot of plastic, and the recycling industry is far from clean. Waste is waste. At that same time, I was at a friends’ house, and they had just purchased a bulk pack of liquid hand soap – in plastic bottles, wrapped in plastic wrap – at Costco. I asked why they didn’t use bars of soap instead. She said, “I don’t know, bars of soap just look dirty when you use them.” Dirtier than all that oil in the gulf?
Your life is filled with petroleum products – even if you ride your bike everywhere (presumably on roads made of oil-based asphalt.) The ANWAR publishes a list of products that have oil in them as a way for us all to realize how much oil we use and STOP IT before we have to drill in the ANWAR. Check it out and see how many are in your home.
But wait, there’s more. We eat the stuff too! Although the relationship between modern agriculture and the petroleum industry is a complicated one, the simple version is that something like 60% of our food supply comes from petroleum-derived corn products – either in the form of feed for industrially-farmed animals or the filler that is put in processed food that people buy. So, my love of local and sustainable food may have started as a sweetly sentimental desire to get back to Little House On The Prairie, it has become a step towards not eating petroleum. (And that doesn’t even take into account the packaging and fuels involved in eating strawberries from Chile in my Seattle living-room in February.)
I have never claimed to be a hippie or an environmentalist. But I am a very rational pragmatist. I don’t know if we are actually destroying our planet or not. Some part of me doesn’t actually care, because you don’t have to be a scientist to know that moving into some place, trashing it with no regard for the impacts of your actions is just plain rude. We are behaving like rats – consuming everything in site and leaving piles of toxic garbage in our wake, while our population increases at an alarming rate. I don’t need a scientific study to tell me that’s wrong.
I am also someone with a pretty solid grasp on basic business and economic principals. BP – and all the other oil companies, who have THOUSANDS of wells around the globe – are doing what they do because we have created a thriving market for their product. As long as that market exists, and WE GIVE THEM OUR MONEY, they will keep doing it. The best way to change this is to show them a better way to make money. Show them that we will pay more for energy from sustainable sources. If they can make money, you bet, they’ll go there.
For that matter, show all the corporations out there that we will pay for food and household products that are made without petroleum. The more we increase the demand for those products, the greater the supply will be, and the lower the price will go.
And it’s not as simple as saying that major corporations are the problem. They aren’t, we are. Yes, they make most of the actual pollution, but we ask them to. However, they also have the greatest potential to make the most amount of change. Take WalMart as an example. A few years ago, they committed to making one of their t-shirt lines out of organic cotton. However, they couldn’t find enough organic cotton to meet their needs. For a farmer to switch from industrialized to sustainable production involves a huge outlay of cash, but it takes 5 years before they can be certified as organic, and they can’t charge the premium price during that 5 year period – so it’s a huge hit. What did WalMart do? They created what is now known as the “transitional cotton” market. They agreed to pay farmers the full organic premium price for transitional cotton, giving them an incentive to make the change. The best part? They educated consumers about transitional cotton and why it matters. They helped consumers understand that getting green is a PROCESS that we all have to support with our behavior.
Look, I think there are some devils working at BP, don’t get me wrong. They have shown a clear and consistent pattern of making immoral choices to protect their bottom line, no doubt about it. This mess was their mistake, and they should be held accountable. But blaming them exclusively is just a giant oil-covered Red Herring. This one is on all of us. We use oil at an alarming rate, and we’d be pissed as hell if no one was getting us our fix.
It’s time for BP to clean up the gulf. But it’s also time for us to clean up our act!