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Constructive Outrage and the BP Situation

June 15, 2010

Dark humor goes a long way during a cycle of depressing news coverage.  The Onion’s spin on the 9/11 attacks still sticks in my mind.  I liked The Onion’s piece on BP in early June, but the BPGlobalPR Twitter feed is by far the best satire on this crisis:

Investing a lot of time & money into cleaning up our image, but the beaches are next on the to-do list for sure. #bpcares

Utterly confused as to the difference between the dome and the top hat, but barreling forward with it anyhow. #bpcares

We respect your outrage, we just don’t believe it’s sustainable. #exxonvaldez #bpcares

Unfortunately, fakeBP is probably right on that last one.  As of this writing, the Boycott BP page on Facebook has over 600,000 fans, and Daniel Gross at Slate has a nice list going of creative ways to punish BP for this mess, including tarring and feathering the executives – we now have plenty of both!  The problem is that Americans have the outrage thing down, but we tend to fall short when it comes to changing our behavior.

If there’s one thing we hate more than negligent corporate behavior, it’s that same behavior plus a healthy serving of hypocrisy.  BP spent years rebranding itself as the cleaner energy company.  While competitors like Exxon openly questioned the legitimacy of global warming, BP rolled out a new green and yellow  logo, a progressive tagline (“Beyond Petroleum”), an “Environment and Society” section on their website, and a series of commercials flouting their commitment to clean energy.  It turns out that BP was just the friendly drug dealer who likes to tell us how much he wants us to quit junk and get our lives together…right after we buy some more heroin.

While the outrage is fresh and hostile, here are some more thoughts on what we should and shouldn’t do in response to the spill.  As always, feel free to steal these ideas or propose your own in the comments section.

1. Don’t boycott stations unless you’re prepared to boycott gasoline. If you bypass a BP station and fill up at the Exxon down the street, you’re making the problem worse by driving the extra block.  Most stations are independently owned and make their money on convenience store sales and car washes.  You aren’t punishing BP – just small, locally-owned businesses.  Big oil is an oligopoly, and you won’t have any economic impact by choosing one station over another.  As Sharon Begley at Newsweek rightly points out, the other oil companies aren’t exactly saints.

2. Change your consumption behavior.  It may not feel as good as a boycott in the short term, but you can trade in your gas guzzler for a fuel efficient car, a moped, or a bike.  Take public transit.  Carpool.  Keep your home thermostat lower in the winter.  This hurts BP’s bottom line far more than buying your gas at a Chevron station.

3. Don’t Invest in Big Oil.  If you invest, put your money into companies that are responsible corporate citizens, especially clean energy technologies that can wean us off oil.

4. Donate money.  The Greater New Orleans Foundation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, and the Gulf Restoration Network are three charities where you can contribute.  You can also buy one of these awesome “BP Cares” t-shirts from StreetGiant – proceeds go to healthygulf.org.

[update: Threadless is offering a Pelican design T-Shirt with proceeds to healthygulf.org]

5. Donate hair.  When stuffed into nylon stockings and woven into mats, hair works well as natural boom for oil cleanups.  Ask your barber/salon about donating clippings.  More information at MatterOfTrust.org.

6. Write Congress.  Make sure that public pressure doesn’t wane until BP pays up and we fix the oversight problems.  If we’re going to drill off-shore, standards have to be higher on safety and compliance, and BP likely had no business operating the Deep Horizon rig in the first place.  ProPublica ran an extensive piece on BP’s problems leading up to the disaster.  Their track record was horrendous even by oil company standards.

7. Vacation in the gulf.  Tourism is a major source of revenue for gulf states, and that’s where they’re getting hit hardest right now.  Visit New Orleans, Mobile, or Gulf Port.  Most of the beaches are fine.

8. Don’t Blame England.  BP is a global corporation with shareholders everywhere.  This isn’t a foreign policy issue.  Save the heckling for their greasy-fingered goalie.

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