Drawing The Line – Getting Free From Big Oil

Man holding petrol pump nozzle to his head

Image: Fotolia

A couple of protests have made headlines in the last few days.

The first appears to have been big news in Canada and the US and amongst environmental organisations. It was the Draw the Line day of action organised by 350.org against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline to transport oil from Canadian tar sands to Texas for refining.

The second protest gained news coverage around the world…or, rather, what happened
during it did. Armed Russian officials stormed and are holding captive a Greenpeace ship and activists who were drawing attention to the first attempt to drill for oil in the Arctic shelf.

So how does this all relate to clear pathways to living more sustainably?

Stay with me, and I’ll explain.

In both cases, the protests were against further extraction of fossil fuels…and oil in particular. The concerns are:

  • extracting and transporting the oil is likely to cause significant direct environmental damage. (Think the damage caused by the oil spills in the US – the Exxon Valdez off the Alaskan coast and the BP leaking oil well in the Gulf of Mexico).
  • burning the oil will add to catastrophic climate change. Burning the fossil fuels (like oil, gas and coal) that corporations already have in their reserves would result in 5 times the safe amount of CO2 in our atmosphere…so why go after even more? (Ironically, drilling for arctic oil has only become possible since global warming has caused melting of the arctic ice shelf.)

In other words, if we are to stabilise our climate and have a safe climate to live in then 80% of current fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground.

The over-arching concern for the protesters is that our children, grandchildren and future generations should have the right and freedom to enjoy a planet similar to what all previous humanity has enjoyed.

But I also recognise that, at the moment, most of us will need to use a petroleum-fuelled motor vehicle at some point.

So, what to do about fuel?

I don’t want to buy fuel from a company that is hell-bent on wrecking the environment, just so that they can make a quick profit (which, if the environment is wrecked, they won’t be able to enjoy for long ;)).

I especially don’t want to buy fuel from the company that aims to be the first to extract arctic oil.

So what are the options?

The biggest oil companies are amongst the very biggest companies in the world. They are very wealthy and very influential…and continue to exploit fossil fuels so they can get even bigger.

But the situation is not that clear. For example, of the main petrol brands trading in Australia:

  • Shell is one of the two main partners in the arctic oil drilling venture – and is my closest petrol station…but was the key developer of ethanol as a fuel in Europe
  • BP was the culprit in the huge oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico…but, until recently, was a major producer of photovoltaic (solar electricity) panels in Australia
  • Caltex is owned by Chevron, which has been responsible for major oil spills, particularly in South America …but claims to be helping to introduce geothermal and other renewable power to Asia
  • Mobil is a brand of Exxon, which was responsible for the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster off the Alaskan coast and, as well as last year being the largest company, has been the biggest driver behind moves against action on climate change
  • United appears to be an independent Australian-owned fuel company…but its directors were associated with Esso, an Exxon company

The short answer answer? They’re all pretty bad and have dubious ethics.

The best bet for the environment is to:

  1. buy as little petroleum as possible, to minimise oil companies’ profits and environmental damage
  2. use active transport, public transport and transport that uses alternative energy sources (such as electricity produced from renewable sources)…and pressure your local politicans to make them more attractive options than private fossil-fuel-powered vehicles.

It is possible – and immensely liberating – to reduce your direct transport greenhouse gas emissions and the cost to your hip pocket. Imagine not having to worry about rising fuel costs and what your next car service will cost!

I do.

Last year, I reduced my car use so much that my garage had to call me in for a service…because I had travelled less than 10,000km in the previous 12 months.

Not travelling everywhere by fossil fuel-powered private car means that I am free to:

  • spend money that would otherwise have gone on fuel as I wish 🙂
  • enjoy relaxing, working or whatever I want while travelling by public transport 🙂
  • get fit and lose weight while travelling to nearby destinations 🙂
  • use my time productively instead of wasting time queuing for fuel 🙂
  • avoid having my hands smell of petrol 🙂
  • know that I am living more sustainably 🙂
  • keep my mobile phone turned on…if I want 😉

How about joining me?

Here’s a video to inspire you:

How Bikes Make Cities Cool – Portland from Kona Bikes on Vimeo.

I’d love to read or listen your comments, questions or topics you’d like me to address. Just leave a comment in the Reply box below…or send me a voice message by clicking on the tab on the right.

Till next time…be gentle to yourself and our world!