As an anti-plastics blogger, I should be able to write about the gulf oil spill in my sleep. The connections seem obvious. Plastic comes from oil. Our demand for plastic drives up the demand for oil, as do our demands for all the other products made from oil. I should be able to write about this topic as I would write about anything else related to plastic, things like Bisphenol-A, bottled water, PVC, phthalates, ocean plastic pollution, and yet until now, I couldn’t.
Like the vastness of the ocean itself and the incredible magnitude of the spill, the topic was just too big to wrap my heart around. It hurt too much. Somehow the thought of oil gushing relentlessly up from the earth into the ocean felt even more nightmarish to me than that of plastic pollution washed by the tons into the same oceans. What’s more, with all the commentary about whose fault it is, what methods should be used for clean up, and how the guilty parties should be punished, I just didn’t have the stomach to throw myself into the debate until now.
A NY Times article this weekend somehow broke through my malaise. In his piece, Punishing BP Is Harder Than Boycotting Stations, columnist Ron Lieber explains that boycotting BP stations will not actually hurt the company much, since most of those stations are not owned by BP but by small business owners, and that often the gas provided by independent gas stations actually comes from BP. According to the article, even Greenpeace is not supporting a boycott, instead urging people to get beyond petroleum in the first place.
See, I’m not interested in vengeance. If it wasn’t BP, it could have been another oil company. All of them are culpable, as far as I’m concerned, but we’re the ones who keep them in business! Boycotting BP and simply going across town to buy our gas from the other guy does nothing to cut the demand for this terribly polluting substance in the first place. No, we’ve got to do more than carry a sign or “Like” a Facebook page. And thank goodness, there are other bloggers out there saying the same thing.
Diane MacEachern from Big Green Purse says that instead of boycotting BP, we should just stop driving. She asks:
Are there any “good” oil companies? Is Exxon, responsible for what was previously the largest oil spill in U.S. history, better than BP? What about Shell, a company known for its horrid human rights violations? Or Chevron, which has been sued for polluting pristine rainforest in Ecuador?
And Maggie Koerth-Baker from Boing Boing also wants us to drive less:
You and I are not helpless bystanders in this mess. Offshore drilling—especially deepwater offshore drilling—is not a simple project that BP and other oil companies get involved in for the giggles. They do it because there is a demand for the oil.
And Koerth-Baker gets down to hard numbers. She wants every one of us to commit to cutting our gasoline consumption by 9%. And then she delivers my new quote of the day, and possibly the year:
We wanted that oil cheap. In giving us what we wanted, BP and the government made some horrible decisions that we wish they wouldn’t have made.
They picked up a gun, loaded it and shot into the dark. But we’re the ones who told them that the night was full of zombies. Can we really say we’re not responsible when they accidentally kill a healthy toddler?
Okay, so that quote is all kinds of a mess. I still love it.
Get the Oil Out of Your Bathroom…
Ronnie Cummin, founder and director of the Organic Consumers Association writes on the Huffington Post:
There’s an oil spill in U.S. bathrooms that’s roughly the same size as the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s coming from the petrochemical-based cosmetics we’re rubbing into our hair and skin and rinsing down the drain. U.S. oil addiction isn’t limited to the fuel in our cars. If you know what to look for, you’ll find it everywhere, even in the grocery store’s health and beauty aisle.
The article then goes on to describe the kinds of personal care products that contain petroleum-based ingredients and what chemicals to look for on the label. It would be a great list to take to the store with you. Of course, he doesn’t mention the plastic containers themselves, which also come from oil.
And the Rest of Your House
Blogger Sandra Lee makes the connection between oil consumption and the oppression of the world’s poor in her post Reducing Your Oil Use and says that all of us who use oil are complicit in that oppression.
It can often be a knee-jerk reaction to get mad about corruption and injustice; it’s often harder to see one’s own piece in the puzzle. Don’t get me wrong. It’s important to hold people, corporations, and governments accountable for their actions. Nevertheless, pumping up one’s own frustration and aggression is not generally an effective solution. Anger and it’s associated emotions alienate others, and can also be harmful to your own health and wellbeing.
Lee then goes on to provide 11 ways you can reduce your consumption of petroleum and then lists 73 petroleum-based products that many of us probably wouldn’t even realize came from oil. For example, deodorant, crayons, umbrellas, carpet, just to name four.
And Jen from Perfect in Our Imperfections wants us to find other ways to cut our fuel consumption. In her post, What We Can Do About the Oil Spill, she suggests looking at what we eat: reducing meat consumption, eating locally, avoiding processed foods, most of which contain petrochemical ingredients.
Cut Out the Plastic Packaging
Blogger Super (Natural) Mama wants you to take a hard look at not just cosmetics but all the petroleum-based products you use on a daily basis: your shampoo bottle, your toothbrush, the containers your foods are packaged in, and reconsider your choices. She says,
Yes, we’re angry at BP. We want them to pay, and they are. But the only way to really send the message that we’ve had enough is to reduce our reliance on petroleum products. The more we use, the more they drill.
And of course, this step is the one I’ve been working on feverishly for the past 3 years. Cut out disposable plastics: plastic containers, bags, bottles, jars, packing materials, packing tape, straws, utensils, wrappers, and all the other plastics we throw away on a daily basis. My Plastic-Free Guide can help.
In her piece on the Huffington Post back in May, Episcopal bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori says that the big lesson from the gulf oil spill is that we are all connected.
The still-unfolding disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is good evidence of the interconnectedness of the whole. It has its origins in this nation’s addiction to oil, uninhibited growth, and consumerism, as well as old-fashioned greed and what my tradition calls hubris and idolatry. Our collective sins are being visited on those who have had little or no part in them: birds, marine mammals, the tiny plants and animals that constitute the base of the vast food chain in the Gulf, and on which a major part of the seafood production of the United States depends.
Yes, she speaks in terms of sin. And whether or not you believe that sin is an appropriate word to use, we have to conclude that we are all responsible for the ecological disasters caused by our insistence on consuming as much as we want whenever we want.
The point is not whether we drive some or buy some plastic or eat some meat or carry a reusable bag. Those things won’t matter if we don’t change our basic mindset of entitlement. As far as I’m concerned, we’re entitled to have a roof over our heads, food in our bellies, and clothing on our backs. We’re entitled to healthcare and fair treatment and the opportunity for self-actualization. We are not entitled to a new car or prime rib or an iPod or expensive shoes. We’re not entitled to a latte wherever and whenever we want one or even a hamburger. We’re simply not entitled to destroy the planet, its animals, and the 85% of the world’s population who earn less than $2,500/year so we can have these things. We’re just not.