The Gulf oil spill — the worst in U.S. history — is still gushing, and its devastating effects are almost too enormous to fathom.
Anger over BP’s handling of the disaster has prompted many groups and individuals to call for a boycott of BP.
However, this story by National Public Radio — hardly a bastion of corporate interests — does a good job of describing the difficulty of boycotting BP.
For starters, BP doesn’t sell gas to only its BP-branded stations. In fact, a Greenpeace representative says that the company only makes a small portion of its money selling gas to its own stations. So, you could be patronizing some no-name gas station, thinking you’re avoiding BP, but you may end up filling your tank with BP fuel anyway.
And then, of course, there’s the fact that BP owns zero percent of its BP-branded gas stations. They’re all independently owned. So, the practical effect of boycotting BP-branded stations is that you’re mostly punishing a bunch of small-business people who share no real responsibility for the oil spill, other than the fact that they unluckily chose the wrong Big Evil Oil Company to affiliate themselves with — and really, how could they have been expected to know the risks of every facet of BP’s operations?
Also to be considered is whether the companies you choose to patronize instead of BP are really that blameless. Can’t go to Exxon — they’re responsible for the Valdez spill. Can’t go to Citgo — they’re owned by Venezuela and largely fund Hugo Chavez’s semi-dictatorial regime. And the remaining choices are probably as irresponsible as BP; their moment of disaster just hasn’t hit yet.
Because of these considerations and others, the best way to sock it to BP is not necessarily to boycott BP-branded retail outlets.
Here are a few ways that are more likely than a boycott of BP-branded gas stations to either punish those who ought to be punished while minimizing the damage to those who don’t deserve to be punished, or to prevent disasters like the Gulf oil spill from occurring again:
* Implore your legislators to enact laws that address off-shore drilling.
* Resolve to lower your overall oil dependency and encourage others to do the same.
* Divest your investment accounts of BP stock.
* Buying enough BP stock that you have a half-decent chance of voting out the current board and replacing them with more responsible people.
Note that all of these suggestions have clear (and possibly hidden) drawbacks. You may, for instance, say you’re opposed to off-shore drilling … but are you willing to pay more at the pump to stand up for that principle?
Similarly, if you currently hold a lot of BP stock, divesting now is likely to result in a big financial loss, since the stock has been hammered.
As you can see, whether with a boycott or some other measure … it’s not as easy as it might seem to target only the bad guys.