Q. Dear Umbra,
In light of the recent BP oil gush, I have begun to think more critically about where I purchase gasoline. And while I don’t drive all that often, when I do fill up every three or four weeks I would like to support companies that are taking extra measures in social and environmental responsibility. Are there any particular gas stations noted for this?
A. Dearest Rachel,
Your question reminds me of something Socrates once said: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Given this massive and unyielding Gulf oil spill, your critical thinking about gasoline purchasing is just what we need to address our oil affliction.
Globally, we humans go through about 84 million barrels of oil a day, according to the American Petroleum Institute. Our current, unexamined use of oil is nearly as impractical and dangerous as this gas station scene from Zoolander:
The Gulf isn’t the only place in the world beset by leaking oil right now. Nigeria has oil spills going on concurrently with the Gulf disaster. You might be surprised to learn that the five major oil companies all have clean up plans that are very similar to BP’s. And we see how that plan’s working out.
So how do we turn this brown upside down?
Unlike coffee, the other brown fuel, gasoline does not have a “Fair Trade” label, the seal of approval that tells us better trading conditions and sustainable practices were embraced in the making of the product. In my dreams, an independent, non-governmental, not-for-profit organization would exist to promote the responsible use and management of oil. Like the Forest Stewardship Council which “encourages the responsible management of the world’s forests,” this new organization might have a sticker that tells us which gas is better to buy. We could call it the Oil Stewardship Council. If anyone is interested in starting OSC, sign me up to help.
Ah, but I digress, dear Rachel. You asked about which oil or gas companies are trying to do it right. (Before I answer that let me just say that in case you were thinking of boycotting BP, it isn’t really an effective option. Since most BP stations are owned by franchisees, making boycotts more painful to small businesses than to BP at large.)
Attempts have been made to rank oil companies. You can check Green America’s Responsible Shopper Guide, which rates an oil company’s level of social and environmental responsibility. Type the oil company name into the Responsible Shopper search field and you will be taken to a page chock full o’ oil information. Consider listening to La Gasolina while you browse.
Victoria Kreha, Responsible Shopper Coordinator, says Green America ratings are based on “published articles, reports by other organizations and level of egregiousness in the company’s practices.” But even the highest rated company, is still the “best of a bad lot,” according to Todd Larsen from Green America. Adds Kreha: “Exxon has funded climate change denial, Shell has been involved in human rights abuses, polluting local water supplies and poisoning crops.”
Since there’s no perfect choice, here’s how I like to think about buying gasoline … Every time we go to the pump, a pelican dies.
It’s a great motivator for using less gas. Which reminds me, Rachel. I want to commend you for driving infrequently. If we all drove a little less it could have a tremendous impact. Meatless Mondays are lowering people’s carbon footprints. May I suggest Carless Tuesdays?
If we all take the bus, bike, walk, telecommute or find some other carless way for just one day a week we could have a big impact with a small sacrifice. Even The New York Times concluded that “perhaps the best way for people to express outrage and inflict pain on oil companies is to use less fuel, thereby lowering overall demand.”
As you know, Rachel, the spill is a disaster. But if we’re smart and continue to examine our consumption habits, we can make better choices and a better world. This is our moment to change things. Thanks for stopping to fill up at this station, my friend.
Keep on trucking (figuratively, of course),
I occasionally get emails from http://www.environmentnewmexico.org/action/add-to-mailing-list The following is from one such email . . .
As we witness a major environmental disaster unfold in the Gulf of Mexico, it’s time for President Obama to reconsider his recent support for more drilling off our nation’s shores.
By Wednesday, the oil slick emanating from BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig had spread over 3,200 square miles of the Gulf. That’s more than three times the size of Rhode Island and the slick is growing by the hour.
It’s hard to overstate the likely ecological damage. Already, as much as 200,000 gallons of oil per day are bubbling up through waters populated with endangered bluefin tuna and sperm whales. The Breton Island National Wildlife Refuge — established 100 years ago by Teddy Roosevelt and home to thousands of brown pelicans — stands right in the oil slick’s path. As the oil oozes towards the shore, Louisiana’s famed seafood — fish, shellfish, oysters — will be hit hard as well. 
This is the catastrophe that the oil industry has been telling us is impossible. We can expand drilling, they’ve told us, because new technology has made drilling “clean and safe.” As it turns out, not so much. 
Yet it was just a few weeks ago that the Obama administration announced plans to open another 165 million acres off our Atlantic coast (an area almost the size of Texas), and another 40 million acres off Florida’s west coast, to more oil drilling. The administration’s Minerals Management Service is accepting public comments on part of their offshore drilling plan now.
This should be, as the president himself might say, a “teachable moment.” As Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida, a recent supporter of some offshore drilling until he flew over the spill, said, “If this doesn’t give somebody pause, there’s something wrong.” 
Disasters happen, especially when drilling holes thousands of feet into the ocean floor for an inherently dirty fuel. Click here to tell the Obama administration that “drill, baby, drill” is not the answer to our nation’s energy future.
And thanks, as always, for making it all possible.
Environment New Mexico Energy Program Director
I am sure Mr. Sargent won’t mind my sharing.
Currently touring the United States at film festivals, conventions, university events, and community screenings, and soon to screen for Members of Congress in the US Capitol building, “9500 Liberty” will soon premiere on cable television (can’t say where just yet) and will be available on DVD and for internet download by the end of the spring, 2010.
Prince William County, Virginia becomes ground zero in Americas explosive battle over immigration policy when elected officials adopt a law requiring police officers to question anyone they have “probable cause” to suspect is an undocumented immigrant.
9500 Liberty reveals the startling vulnerability of a local government, targeted by national anti-immigration networks using the Internet to frighten and intimidate lawmakers and citizens. Alarmed by a climate of fear and racial division, residents form a resistance using YouTube videos and virtual town halls, setting up a real-life showdown in the seat of county government.
The devastating social and economic impact of the Immigration Resolution is felt in the lives of real people in homes and in local businesses. But the ferocious fight to adopt and then reverse this policy unfolds inside government chambers, on the streets, and on the Internet. 9500 Liberty provides a front row seat to all three battlegrounds.
What to do with foreclosed houses—How about letting homeless families move in? An innovative idea that’s also illegal.
American streets are littered with foreclosed houses, but one daring advocate says these homes shouldn’t go to waste. He encourages and facilitates homeless squatting. It’s an idea that addresses two issues at once – homelessness and foreclosed homes—and it’s also illegal.
This week, NOW travels to Miami to meet with Max Rameau, an advocate for the homeless. Rameau’s organization, Take Back the Land, identifies empty homes that are still livable, and tries to find responsible families willing to take the enormous legal risks of moving in.
Rameau, who considers his mission an act of civil disobedience, says it’s immoral to keep homes vacant while there are human beings living on the street. But while these squatters have morality in their hearts, they don’t have the law on their side.
With the faltering economy separating so many people from their homes, what’s society’s responsibility to those short on shelter?
You can own your own Oogavé T-shirt for the ludicrously low price of . . . nothing. Nada, zip, zilch, zero, free (except for shipping and handling of course but that goes without saying).
All you have to do is send us a check or money order in the amount of $5 (for the aforementioned shipping and handling).* Make the check payable to Oogavé and send it to Oogavé Sodas, 4420 Glencoe Street, Denver, CO 80210.
Be sure to include your return address, your name and, of UTMOST IMPORTANCE, your size. Duh!
You can get a regular adult T-shirt in S, M, L, XL, and even 2XL! Children’s sizes are S, M, and L. And a new women’s “baby doll” cut is available in S, M, and L.
*Or, if you happen to be in the neighborhood, stop on by the warehouse at 4420 Glencoe and save yourself five bucks! (Just give us a call beforehand as we don’t always keep regular hours.)