Wednesday, June 16, 2010

What we can do about the oil spill

The New York Times had an article this weekend explaining why the "Boycott BP" campaign won't hurt the company's bottom line.  In a nutshell, BP doesn't own most of the service stations that bear its logo, and the money they get from these stations is "a rounding error in terms of overall revenues or profits."  Because oil is something everyone needs, BP can sell the oil it drills to all the other stations.

I still haven't pulled into a BP station since the spill. I'm trying to limit my driving, since the only thing that is really going to help in the long run is decreasing demand for oil. In the short run, we can donate to groups that are helping to clean up the spill. Or we can support The Sierra Club, which lobbies for legislation to protect the environment and sues organizations that are involved in disasters like this one.

In the meantime, here is a list I have compiled of ideas on small things each of us can do to lower that demand for oil, which will make risky ventures like deepsea drilling less attractive and will also help slow the rate of global climate change. I have done many of these and am working on the others:

  1. Drive less, walk, bike, carpool, use public transit, skip a trip.  This is obviously the biggest thing we can all do.  This article explains how a 9% change in everyone's gasoline usage could make a huge difference. It's probably also one of the more challenging ones, since many of us live in places that are unfriendly to pedestrians and cyclists and don't have practical mass transit options. There are other ways to make smaller differences: If you have a choice between two vehicles for a trip, choose the more fuel-efficient one. Try to combine small trips. Remember that speeding increases your fuel use.
  2. Keep your car in good running order.  Keep tires properly inflated, get regular oil changes, investigate problems when they're small.  If your car is not running right, chances are, it will use more gas.
  3. Don't keep your car idling when stopped.  I saw a sign outside a Jackson, Wyoming grocery that said, "Please do not idle your car. Running the engine for 10 seconds wastes more gasoline than starting it."  A lot of this idling is to warm up the car in the wintertime or cool it off in the summer.  If everyone in the U.S. reduced their idling time by 5 minutes, we could save 1.4 billion gallons of gasoline and keep 13 million tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.  So try to do what we did in the '70s and open your windows a few minutes before you get in the car when it's hot, and wear gloves and a hat when it's cold.
  4. Consider a more fuel-efficient car for your next vehicle. When I was on vacation, the car rental agency gave us a Prius.  I had never driven one before, but the display that showed how much fuel/battery power we were using was fascinating.  My '99 Honda Accord is still getting decent gas mileage, but when I retire it, I will definitely consider a Prius or another hybrid model, especially since the tax incentives can make up for some of the extra initial cost.
Sigg Design Eco Message Water Bottle (0.6-Liters, Simply Ecological)
    Copco Acadia Reusable To-Go Mug, 16-Ounce Capacity
  1. Cut back on your consumption of meat and animal products.  Mark Bittman recommends trying to cut back by 10% to make a big impact on the environment. Consider Meatless Mondays as one way to do this. Think of the energy needed to grow and transport all the grain (including petrochemicals to kill weeds, fertilize, etc.), transport animals to market, and then drive the products to the store.  This is the easiest time of year to enjoy more fruit, vegetables, and cut way back on meat. 
  2. Check out local farms and farmer's markets in your area. has listings.  I just checked and there are a lot more options than the last time I looked.  If this feels like too much extra trouble, find out what grocery stores stock foods from local farms and try to buy them first. It will taste a lot better, be more nutritious, and save fuel for transportation.
  3. Ditch disposables where you can. Get a reusable coffee mug to take with you to Starbucks and get a 10-cent discount.  I like this one because it looks like one of the coffee shop cups. Bring reusable bags to the grocery store (plastic bags are made out of oil), and you may get a discount there too. The best side effect of this last one is that you won't have 10,000 plastic bags stuffed into your cupboards anymore. Get a stainless-steel water bottle and you can save money on bottled water and avoid creating more plastic trash.
  4. Eat less processed foods. Corn instead of corn chips.  Fruit instead of Froot Loops.  Water instead of soda. All that processing, packaging, and even some of the flavors and colors involve oil and/or petrochemicals. It will be better for you and the environment to cut back on these kinds of foods. (This is one of the ones where I have lots of room for improvement).
    Aquis Microfiber Hair Towel, Celadon (19 x 39-Inches)
  1. Air-dry your hair.  I can't stand pointing a heat gun at my head in the summertime, so this is a big one for me.  I wrap my hair in a microfiber towel after I wash it, then eat my breakfast and either comb it out or finish it with a blow-dryer.
  2.  Remember what your mother said. Turn off the light when you leave a room. Turn off the TV when you're not watching it.  Don't run the faucet when you're brushing your teeth. Don't stand there with the refrigerator door open.  Turn down the thermostat in the winter and wear a sweater. Turn up the thermostat in summer or skip the air conditioning and open windows.  Every time I'm tempted to turn the air conditioner on, I think of all those tar-soaked animals.
  3. Fix leaks around the house.  Leaky faucets and toilets that constantly run mean wasted water, which also means wasted energy.
  4. Unplug chargers when you're not using them.  This one can be kind of a pain, but all those mobile phone and computer chargers use energy even when there's nothing plugged in to them.  This one can be a little confusing so I found an article that explains which appliances use energy when they're off and which ones don't.
This list is getting long, but if you want more, here's a link for 100 ways to save the earth. Right now I'm going to do my final suggestion: Turn off (and unplug) the laptop and go play outside!


    1. Bravo Jen... well said. It's sad that so much of this is common sense that so many of us just don't do anymore. I remember my mother visiting my house and walking past the bathroom - reached in and switching the light off with a "tsk tsk" about us wasting electricity. alas my poor roomie was in there :)

    2. Great List~!!!! One more thing: please email the President (and ask all who read your blog to do the same), to request that he push for conservation as you have described. He has not ONCE mentioned conservation as being important. In fact, he has pointedly avoided mentioning it. We all need to do all the things you've listed.

      Your list is how my husband and I have lived for at least the past five years. It's easy to do, and we do not feel deprived!

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful post! My friend, Debbi, who reads your blog regularly, sent this to me.


    3. Excellent list, Jen! Some things I'd thought about but others were not as obvious. These small steps can make a difference. I'm happier every day that I bought a hybrid last year!


    "Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07