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Friday, April 15, 2005

25,000+ sign boycott petition

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and her "PAC for a Change" have begun a petition campaign to organize support for a consumer boycott of any companies that eventually drill for oil in the Arctic Refuge. She claims on the PAC's website that more than 25,000 people have signed the petition and agreed to participate in a future boycott.

I think that's a significant number. More than I expected, at least. And that's only since the petition drive was launched three weeks ago.

But part of me questions whether a boycott of this sort will really work. Or if people will really follow through. I mean, how many people are really ABLE to give up oil? It gets to the essence of our oil-addicted economy and culture.

There are two issues here, as I see it. First, any oil coming out of ANWR will probably get moved through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, where it will mingle with other oil drilled on the North Slope, outside ANWR. Even if we could track the ANWR oil in that pipeline, it may not be sold at the retail level by the company that drills for it.

So if, say, ChevronTexaco is the company that taps ANWR, they could sell the crude to BP, which then sells it as gasoline at its own stations and maybe also to independent retailers. So you go and you say, "I'm not buying gasoline from ChevronTexaco," and then you go and tank up at BP instead. You may be hurting ChevronTexaco a teeny bit, but you're still buying that ANWR oil. You're still part of that revenue stream, and ChevronTexaco is still getting some of your money.

Second, crude oil makes more than fuel. It goes into motor oil, plastics, clothing, household chemicals, and a hundred other things. You may boycott ChevronTexaco for drilling ANWR, but how are you going to change all those other buying habits to affect the ANWR-oil cash stream? There's really no way to know how to spend your dollars right in this situation.

Sure, boycotting ANWR drillers will still have some value -- perhaps mostly symbolic. But I think a more effective protest might be to take yourself out of the oil market as much as possible. Buy clothes made from natural fiber or recycled plastics. Use public transit more. Consider switching to a diesel car and running it on biodiesel.

I think Boxer's protest might be better served if it was honest with people in this way. In our supply-and-demand economy, if we collectively use less gas, that should bring the price down, which will mean less money in the petro-giants' pockets.

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