Boycotting BP is Futile and Unethical
I know you’re mad. I am too. But a boycott won’t accomplish any of the things you’re trying to accomplish. And it’s unethical.
The push to boycott BP (as a punitive response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, obviously) comes from the advocacy group Public Citizen, which encourages you to: “Boycott BP: Take the Beyond BP Pledge today!” There’s also the inevitable Facebook group, Boycott BP.
This move is well-intentioned, but entirely wrong-headed, for a number of reasons.
The first reason has to do with alternatives. Sharon Begley at Newsweek, with the sarcastic title “Boycott BP! Because it’s much better to give your money to Exxon.” It’s highly unlikely that those who participate in this boycott are going to eschew gas purchases altogether. With a few exceptions, they’re much more likely to simply start buying their gas at the non-BP station down the street. And, as Begley points out, as far as the oil companies providing the oil go, good luck finding one that meets your high ethical standards — or even minimally decent ones. Every oil company you can name is in roughly the same moral category. So boycotting BP just means jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.
Second, there’s the fact that a boycott of BP gas stations won’t actually hurt the organization you’re trying to hurt. In practice, “boycotting BP” means boycotting BP-branded retail outlets. And as an editorial in the LA Times pointed out, “BP stations are independently owned, so a boycott hurts individual retailers more than London-based BP.” So, sure, boycott BP stations — that is, if your goal is to hurt a bunch of small businesses already operating on razor-thin profit margins. Put a few minimum-wage gas jockeys and cashiers out of work. The difference simply will not be felt at BP’s head office. (The same naturally goes for vandalism of BP stations, which is both unethical and criminal.)
Finally, there’s the question of tokenism. Buying gas for your car is far from the only way many of us indirectly buy from BP on a regular basis. As “DanH” points out in the Comments section of this blog entry, (see comment at June 3rd, 2010 2:52 pm) BP also makes home-heating fuel, airline fuel, ingredients for plastics, and the natural gas from which much electricity is generated. Oh, and solar panels — BP makes those, too. If you want to make this boycott real (which you shouldn’t) you’ve got to boycott those things, too.
Can consumers take action? Sure they can, by doing things — long-term things — to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels. They can also write their elected representatives to encourage tougher regulation of risky practices like deep-water drilling. And so on. I know, I know: in the immortal words of Homer Simpson, “But I’m mad now!“ Well, then direct the righteous indignation you’re feeling now toward change that will make the world better for the future.
It’s fine to be angry about this disastrous oil-spill. Being angry is entirely appropriate. And it’s good to want to do something. But do the right thing, not the first thing that comes to mind.
(Tip of the hat to AP.)