OPINION: Oil Spill Should Force Us To Get Beyond Petroleum

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Gulf Oil Spill

Last week I visited my sister who proudly told me that she refused to purchase any BP gas. On any other day her comment might have engendered an “Amen” chorus from my soul. But on that day, by that time, I had witnessed my 99th photograph of oil-soaked pelicans, fish slithering through sludge, and wetlands coated with black slime. The world had changed. So while her particular comment fell on deaf ears, my soul heard another message clearly: it is time to aggressively rethink our way of life—specifically our dependence on fossil fuels.
Twenty-one years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, we still have the same bad habits. Now, oil from another huge gas company, BP, is leaking its way from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic, and again, everyone is crying for a boycott.
But, will boycotting BP make a difference? The Montgomery bus boycott and the resilience of Rosa Parks taught us that the power of our voices when united in the pursuit of a cause can make a real difference in the world. We boycott because it’s a simple, yet effective, method of getting the message across: we disagree with you. Boycotts send a clear message and compel companies to change their standard operating procedures – even when it’s against their nature.

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And what is their nature? It probably can be best described by remembering that old story about the scorpion and the frog. During a flood, a kind-hearted frog lets a scorpion ride to safety on his back. But, just as they reach the middle of the river, the scorpion stings the frog. As they both sink beneath the waves, the frog asks, “Why did you sting me?”
“It’s my nature,” says the scorpion. “That’s what I do.”
But is it only BP’s nature that needs to change as a boycott might suggest? A boycott would hurt the local economy, prolong the current economic downturn and do nothing to impact other corporate conglomerates whose hands are just as unclean as BP’s. A boycott would also do nothing about the fact that my hands, my sister’s and all of ours are pretty unclean too. It’s time to face the music: we simply cannot continue living at the expense of our environment.
This country was built with strength, ingenuity, and the firm belief that we can rise above what society dictates to us. The past 250 years of building our nation in the face of great challenges both internal and external have taught us that we have the power to change our natures and our destinies. So, instead of boycotting BP, who is, sadly, just stinging us because that’s the nature of large corporations who seek speedy profit at the expense of the rest of the world, let’s do what we know works. Let’s find real, practical ways to change our culture for the better.

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For example, my family lives in the heart of the District. This disaster has inspired us to make a commitment to spend more time on our feet and less time in our car. The other day, instead of driving to the grocery store, my daughter and I grabbed backpacks and our bicycles. Between the two of us, we were able to bring home enough food to feed my four-person family for a week.
By trying to reduce my family’s dependence on the car, I am making a statement that goes beyond simple cause and effect. By riding our bikes, we see the world differently. We get more exercise and show our children the importance of healthy living. We make careful choices at the store so that we take what we need, rather than grab everything we want in some consumerism-induced mania. We spend more time together; we take our time rather than rush. Plus, we end up giving less money to BP and all of their competitors by buying less gas, which still gets the message across.
The human race has survived over the years because of our adaptability. It’s a unique gift, and it’s one that we shouldn’t take for granted. We aren’t bound like the frog or the scorpion to only follow our natural instincts, or to take the path of least resistance. We have the strength to challenge ourselves, and those around us, to think of new ways to live better lives. Let the government deal with BP and the civil and criminal accountability that will surely arise from this spill. And while President Obama and his team are doing what they do, we, as everyday citizens, should do what we can do. Let’s put our babies on our bikes, and start where we can make a difference. As Mahatma Ghandi said, “be the change you want to see in the world.” If families and neighborhoods link together by thousands to make these kinds of positive changes in our own lives, then BP and all the others will eventually have no choice but to live up to the name – Beyond Petroleum.

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