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Disasters and reality

Martha Young //June 10, 2010//

Disasters and reality

Martha Young //June 10, 2010//

Have you received emails asking you to boycott BP due to the Deepwater Horizon, Gulf of Mexico accident? I am getting inundated with them. They are amazingly shrill and vitriolic. The most recent one, received this morning, is demanding a boycott on oil. Excuse me? Do you have any idea what that would mean? Let’s take a look:

– Oil is used in the tires for your bike and car.
– Oil is used in the plastic bags in the produce section of the grocery store.
– Oil is used in many bath and body care products.
– Oil is used to heat your home.
– Oil is used to lubricate motors so think about your refrigerator, dish and clothes washers, and air conditioner. Are you ready to give them up?
– Oil is used to surface the roads.

Crude oil is a significant raw material in the chemical industry. In fact, according to Microsoft’s Encarta, more crude oil is used in the chemical industry than for mobility. The chemical industry includes fertilizers as well as medicines. Mobility includes boats, planes, trucks, trains, buses, cars, and even bicycles.

Petroleum and its derivatives are used in the manufacture of medicines; foods; plastics including coolers, jugs, and plastic ware; building materials; paints; and clothing (this is what “spun synthetics” are based on).

With the wide variety of uses of crude oil is it reasonable, or even possible, to ask people to boycott oil? The answer is a resounding no.

Can you cut back on your personal use of oil and oil based products? Definitely. Some cut backs are easier to make than others. Every cut back helps reduce the overall demand for crude oil. One of the easiest practices to institute is to use cloth bags when shopping. The change does not impact the consumer, but makes a huge difference in reducing demand for plastic bags.

At the moderate point, converting a gas hot water heater to solar is a bit involved, but provides significant impacts in demand reduction. At the more extreme level consider converting your home to alternative energy sources, give up one of your cars, or just stop driving every day. There are dozens of ways individuals can reduce their demand for oil, but to be asked to give it up or boycott oil is simply a ridiculous request.

Which brings us to extreme-ism. People holding extreme positions are not helping solve the problems we face. It doesn’t matter what the topic is: politics, environmental, religion, social issues or something else, extremist attitudes prevent the ability to develop workable solutions that address the issue at hand.

During World War II the American people were asked to reduce their consumption of specific products including sugar and tires. Not give them up, just reduce the use of these items. These products were needed in the war effort. The attitude of collective sacrifice was critical to the successful outcome of the war.

All of us need to consider the positive value collective sacrifice provides when it comes to crude oil. Becoming aware of what parts of your life require the use of crude oil verses where crude is optional and easily foregone is something each of us needs to consider and act upon.

Boycotting crude oil or BP is not going to solve the Gulf environmental disaster. Reducing our demand for crude will, however, reduce the need to do deep ocean drilling. Each of us has a role that precipitated the Gulf disaster. Each of us has a role in addressing the long term solution.

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