As you watch the BP oil spill unfurl like a sticky black flag in the ocean, do you feel helpless? Like you just wish you could DO SOMETHING? Well, there IS something you can do.
BP only drilled in the gulf because we - you and I - want to consume it. I hear a lot of people calling for a boycott of BP. But that's just a silly superficial understanding of the situation. If you don't want a spill like this to happen again, there's an easy answer: stop buying oil, and things made of oil.
Easier said than done, right? Not at all! This is the time to develop a more nuanced understanding of your petroleum footprint, and start making deep cuts in your own oil budget.
1. The first thing you can do is drive less. This year I started a rule that if I wanted to go to the store one day, I would schedule a trip to the store tomorrow. (Unless it's an emergency involving something on the Critical Items list: 1. toilet paper, 2. tampons, 3. cat food, 4. coffee.) Just delaying a trip by one day can save me up to four round trips a month.
Every time you find yourself reaching for the car keys ask yourself, can this wait a little longer? Can I bundle this errand with another one later in the week? Is there a way I can accomplish this task online, on foot, or with public transportation? And the big question for me is always, do I really need to do this, or am I just looking for an excuse to get out of the house and/or avoid some task on my to-do list? If the latter, I give myself permission to find another way to get out of that task - a way that doesn't involve driving the car.
2. Next on your list: plastic. It's made of oil. Buy less of it!
3. Buy local. Locally-produced goods didn't travel as far - burning oil all the way - to get to you.
4. And finally, buy fewer things that are made with oil. For example, most conventional shampoos, laundry detergents, soaps, conditioners, and toiletries of all sorts are made with ingredients that are sourced from petroleum. Crazy, right?
I was going to write up a list of common ingredients which are made from petroleum. But that list would be ridiculously long. It starts with mineral oil and propylene glycol, and ends with fragrances, and is about a hundred items long! Suffice it to say that unless the label states "no petroleum-derived ingredients," it contains lots of petroleum-derived ingredients.
Shop for green cosmetics, toiletries, and cleaning products. Or better yet, make your own! Baking soda isn't a petroleum product, and it doesn't ship in plastic. Dr. Bronner's doesn't contain petroleum-derived ingredients, and although the bottles are made of plastic, it's from 100% post-consumer recycled plastic. And there are a lot of places where you can buy it in bulk, with a reusable container.
Every time you think a sad thought about an oily pelican or the underwater plume, every time you read another news story about the wretched destruction, look around you and count all the things made of plastic. And pick one of them to resolve never to buy again. It's something you can do, and it makes a tangible difference in the world.
Creative Commons-licensed image courtesy of Flickr user leeno