Boycott BP? Boycott The Lot Of Them!

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:

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.

No Oil

I’ve posted here previously about our dependence on oil, and how to start addressing it. There’s a story in Transported, “Homestay”, which touches on the same theme — though, being fiction, it also includes people with wings flying around rural Southland, which I don’t actually expect to be a prominent feature of post-Peak Oil scenarios.

Here’s my one attempt, so far, to tackle the topic in poetry. “No Oil” was first published in Southern Ocean Review (together with “Replicant”), and is included in All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens.

No Oil

Bad news from the north
and the queues growing longer.
Late winter, I remember,
when the shipments ceased.

There was still oil for some
which showed
where power intersected with need:
The rich.
Ministerial limousines.

The rest of us walking,
riding bikes, taking trains,
as our grandparents had:
valuing land
for what it can grow.

A Great Leap Forwards
in reverse
our faith now
in the wisdom of the old.

The world to the north
turns to poison
a battle
of each against all.

Here we cling on
in the ruins of a false economy
doing to others
being done unto
looking back with angry eyes
on a century of waste.

(If the “shipments from the north” ceased right now, we could meet about 2/3 of New Zealand’s present oil demand from domestic production — but that’s unusually high at the moment because of the exploitation of the Tui field, and there’s no guarantee that production levels will stay this high for long.)

A Twelve-Step Plan to End Oil Addiction

Regular readers of this blog will know that I sometimes break out from my focus on books to take sideswipes on issues such as transport sustainability and climate change. I thought this press release by the Sustainable Energy Forum (issued by some guy called Tim Jones) was worth reposting here.

I think of it as an antidote to those emails urging people to boycott BP this week or Caltex the next. It’s understandable that people take out their anger over higher fuel prices on the nearest target, the oil companies, and it’s true that oil company profits have risen with rising prices – but oil prices are rising because there is no longer enough oil being produced to meet demand, and there may never again be enough produced to meet demand.

And for that, anyone interested in the fate of our climate should give thanks.

Press Release: A Twelve-Step Plan to End Oil Addiction – Sustainable Energy Forum

With the price of petrol hitting $2 per litre, the Sustainable Energy Forum has proposed twelve steps for New Zealand to end its increasingly self-destructive addiction to oil. “Our addiction to oil has been bad for us for a long time,” says Tim Jones, Convenor of the Sustainable Energy Forum. “We’ve paid a high price for it in terms of high greenhouse gas emissions and cities choked by cars. But now we can’t afford our regular fix any more.”

“So here’s what we need to do to conquer our addiction. It won’t be easy, but it will be worthwhile — and besides, we don’t really have a choice,” Tim Jones adds.

The Twelve Steps:

1. Stop deluding ourselves. The era of cheap, readily-available oil has ended. Prices may fluctuate, but the underlying trend is up, up, up. We have to get used to using less.

2. Demand that politicians take the issue seriously. Make it an election issue. Don’t take ‘we’ve got everything under control’ as an answer.

3. Stop building new roads. They’re a monumental waste of money, time and effort. They encourage, rather than ease, congestion, and besides, the growth in car travel that’s used to justify them isn’t going to happen anyway.

4. Divert that money and effort into measures that address the challenges of oil depletion and climate change.

5. Make a major investment in public transport. It needs to be better, faster, more comfortable, more regular, and more predictable. It needs to cater for everyone, not just peak-hour commuters — though they need a better service as well.

6. Make a major investment in broadband internet to allow more people to work from home, and change tax and business practices that discourage working from home. The more car trips we can avoid, the better.

7. Electrify transport where possible. New Zealand is well placed to use renewable electricity for transport. We should be electrifying commuter rail where it is not already electric, using light rail (trams) in cities, and looking at electrification of the main trunk line. On the other end of the scale, electric bikes and scooters can make a big difference in our cities. And electric cars show promise, though there’s a lot of questions to be answered yet.

8. Don’t use cars unless there’s no alternative. Take the bus. Take the train. Switch to a scooter. Walk or cycle – both your wallet and your doctor will thank you.

9. Deal with other aspects of our oil dependence. Agriculture, for example, is highly dependent on oil. We’re going to need to change the way we grow and distribute food. Let’s get to work on that now, not wait until supermarket shelves start to empty.

10. Stockpile or manufacture vital products currently imported from overseas. When oil runs short, will that still be possible? Let’s take stock now and work out what we may need to start stockpiling or making in New Zealand.

11. Think local. Ending our oil addiction isn’t just up to central government, though it can play its part. Communities can work together to make themselves more resilient. Join or start a Transition Towns group in your local area.

12. Accept reality. The age of cheap oil is over. It’s not coming back. As individuals and as a nation, we have to adapt.

The Future of Oil

Spurred on by the international oil price touching US $110 per barrel, the price of petrol in New Zealand set a new record today: it reached $1.77.9 a litre for unleaded 91. This strikes me as a good time to draw your attention to an article I first had published in the Dominion Post in November 2007, The Future of Oil.

The Future of Oil describes a problem which has kept on getting worse since the article was published. But what should we do about the problem?

The first requirement, as a nation, is to start taking oil depletion / Peak Oil seriously, and not delude ourselves any longer that rising oil prices will magically make new oil production come onstream to meet rising demand, or make alternative fuels for the internal combustion engine materialise in huge quantities. We’re going to have to get used to living with less oil.

For ideas on what we need to do, especially in the field of transport, see the papers on the topic produced by the Sustainable Energy Forum at – for example, Peak Oil: A Major Issue for New Zealand (PDF, 60 KB). There’s the beginnings of a wider discussion on what it will take to move New Zealand to a low-fossil-energy consumption future at the Transition Towns website, (is your town a Transition Town?)

What there hasn’t yet been is any systematic official consideration of the ways in which New Zealand will be affected – not just in transport, but in trade, tourism, food production, and all other aspects of economic and social life – by the end of the era of cheap and readily available oil, nor of what New Zealand as a country should do to face up to this issue. The Green Party and the Maori Party have both issued calls for a Commission or similar body to investigate this and recommend action. So far, those calls have fallen on deaf ears. With the 2008 general election campaign approaching, it’s time for the major parties to start paying attention.

You can read The Future of Oil, and the discussion that followed it, on the Be The Change web site.