A Really Worthwhile Energy Protest

Every few months the semi-farcical email calling for a one day boycott of buying gasoline gets sent around again. You know, the one which says if only all American Internet users, all “73,000,00+” of them, don’t buy gas that one day then the gas companies will lose about $3 billion in revenue and surely get the message that we’re fed up with high prices.

This is so wrong on so many levels but let’s just hit a few highlights:

  • Gas is not, generally speaking, a luxury item like dinner out or a team jersey; people only buy as much as they need and use. So not buying on one particular day only means filling up early or later and thus the net revenue is the same for the gas companies.
  • Since people working at gas companies are among the 73M American Internet users and therefore as likely as anyone else to get this email they might use the information to raise pump prices a day or two before, drop them on the day of the protest and raise them again the day after. Just to show consumers who really has the hammer.
  • By the law of large numbers, not everyone would need to fill up on any given day and so only about 1/7th of cars would be filled up on the boycott day in any case, say 10.5 million. Further reducing the numbers, by an admittedly much smaller amount, is that not all Internet users own cars; I would argue that the proportion is smaller for this group than the general population since more Internet users live in cities or are still in school. Let’s say 10%, getting us down to about 9.5 million and the hypothetical revenue loss to $300 million even though, as previously mentioned, this is only an illusionary loss and a drop in the bucket compared to total annual revenues (which were, in 2001, just for US gas stations, $158 billion).

So what can we, as fed-up consumers, do that will have actual, meaningful effect?

  1. For starters, use less gas. Seriously! Most people think cars need to be warmed up for a few minutes before driving but that hasn’t been true for many years thanks to better engine technology, so here’s one easy way to save a gallon or so every month or two. When you stop at a major traffic light, one where you’re likely to be waiting over 60 seconds for a green, shift into neutral. Plan your regular shopping to minimize the route–and take your own bags for bringing home the groceries, since petroleum is a key ingredient in plastic and transporting them to stores uses gas too. Realize that every second less you have a car engine running is one second more we have left for later.
  2. Buy a hybrid next time you get a new car and support groups like CalCars that are trying to work around the major automakers.
  3. Make your opinion heard. Call or fax your congressperson and senators (don’t email, apparently those are mostly ignored). Call or write the CEO’s office at the major gas companies and tell them what you think. Call or write the CEO’s office at the major automakers and tell them what you think. Try and be polite, I suppose. Maybe get several friends and family members to sign your letters. Send a copy to your local newspaper or the consumer reporter at your local TV station’s news team.
  4. Buy and use fewer things. I know, this is a terrible suggestion in our capitalist, materialist society but every good bought uses some amount of resources to manufacture and transport. Reuse where possible, use energy consuming goods less where possible–turn off lights and TVs today so you can see and watch tomorrow.

I’m sure you can add to this list. Feel free to send me your ideas or post them on your own blog, and to pass this list around too.