Angry about the tens of thousands of barrels of crude oil pouring into the Gulf each day? Furious that oil-soaked pelicans are hobbling on legs dripping with crude and that tar balls are washing up on Florida beaches?
Many Americans want to do something – hit BP where it hurts or, at least, affect its bottom line. But that's hard for individual consumers to do.
• Boycott local BP stations? The oil giant makes only a small portion of its profits from retail gas sales, and can sell excess fuel to other retailers. The fuel the 10,000 BP gas stations in the United States pumps also comes from a variety of refineries, so consumers can't be sure they're buying oil that came from a BP well. And the stations are all run by small business owners with contracts to BP, which are difficult and costly to break.
“Anytime you boycott a local gas station you’re doing far more harm to that station owner than who they’re buying their gas from,” said Brandon Wright, a spokesman from the Petroleum Marketers Association of America.
BP’s local gas distributors, called jobbers, are starting to see serious losses, said John Klein, a spokesman for the BP Amoco Marketers Association. Many have responded with their own public relations campaigns, going on local radio stations and writing letters to the editor to inform the public about their losses.
• Dump BP stock? The market has already done that, cutting the stock price nearly in half in the last two months. Selling more stock might make individual investors feel good, but the price is going to rise or fall primarily on calculations of risk rather than anger.
• Symbolic actions? Angry consumers can join the Boycott BP Facebook page, which as of Thursday morning had more than half a million fans, or keep boycotting BP stations in the hopes it will send a message.
“Boycotting is shorthand for shaming,” said Kert Davies, research director for Greenpeace, which has not called for the boycott. A BP gas station is “a nice place to demonstrate your anger at the spill” and could have a significant impact on how tough the federal government is on the company.
But maybe focusing on a single company is the wrong approach, some argue.
Here are some alternate steps you can take right now:
- Bike or walk. Don’t drive.
- Drive smarter. Consolidate your driving trips; include some form of public transportation in your commute; carpool.
- Turn down your air conditioner, or in the winter, turn down the heat.
- Visit house.gov or senate.gov to learn how your congressmen stands on the upcoming energy package. If you don’t like their stances, write a letter or call.
- Get involved in your local government and advocate for community planning that better integrates housing, shopping and workplaces, and includes a comprehensive public transportation system.
- Buy a hybrid or electric car. If that’s not an option for you right now, get a tune up, and pump your tires to decrease drag on the road (and gas consumption).
- If you do have some experience cleaning birds or managing toxic spills, volunteer your time in the Gulf. Note that there is not enough staff on hand to train people, and the oil is toxic, so if you don't have any oil clean-up experience, you're not encouraged to volunteer.