There's a "Boycott BP" movement growing on the Internet at the moment - a response to BP's lamentable inability to plug, kill, cap, or otherwise contain their "Deepwater Horizon" oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
It's an understandable response, but BP is the wrong target.
First, BP is hardly unique among oil companies in its arrogant disregard for the environment, human rights, democracy, life, and anything else that gets in its way. A few examples:
- Shell has been spilling oil all over the Niger Delta for years, but because Nigeria is not a rich western nation, hardly anyone outside Nigeria pays attention.
- Exxon Mobil is a key funder of climate change denialism.
- Chevron is responsible for massive toxic waste dumping and water pollution in Ecuador and other South American countries.
But the oil companies behave as they do because we enable them. We use their oil, and as long as we keep demanding more of it, they will keep producing it until it is economically and geologically impossible for them to do so.
Because easily-accessible supplies of oil are fast running out, that means more offshore drilling, more drilling in protected land, in the Arctic, in sub-Antarctic waters. More oppression of indigenous peoples. More greenhouse gas emissions. More power, more money, and even less accountability.
So the answer is not to boycott BP, but to boycott all the oil companies - by using less of the stuff. Not driving when we could walk, bike or take public transport. Not wasting oil on unnecessary journeys.
And, at a political level, lobbying and arguing for better public transport, better support and better safety features for walkers and cyclists, less air travel and more train travel. Less new roads and more new cycleways. And a ban on further deepwater offshore oil exploration and drilling - not least off the coast of New Zealand.
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our oil companies, but in ourselves.