Oil giant BP, as a devotee of British understatement might say, has something of an image problem. Its environmentally devastating spill in the Gulf of Mexico — and new questions about risky decisions it made in an effort to cut corners and save money — have led to congressional hearings, federal investigations and a 25% drop in the company's stock price. The crisis has also prompted worldwide derision, demonstrations and fury. All perfectly understandable under the circumstances.
But there's something not quite cricket about the growing calls for a more extreme form of protest — a boycott of BP gas stations. Public Citizen, the consumer-advocacy group founded by Ralph Nader, has an online petition calling for a three-month BP boycott, and a Facebook group has thousands of members who promise to bypass BP stations. There are far better and more effective outlets for public outrage.
Before the gulf spill, BP was considered among the most environmentally responsible oil companies in the world. Granted, that's not saying much. BP's campaign to market itself as a protector of endangered species and a promoter of renewable energy has accurately been dubbed "greenwashing." But it has invested more in renewable power than other oil companies, and it has taken strong steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from its operations. We have to wonder where people who are boycotting BP stations are going to fill up — at stations branded by Exxon Mobil, one of the nation's biggest polluters? Will they turn to Chevron, which is fighting ferociously to deny responsibility for its role in an environmental catastrophe in the Amazon? In the oil business, nobody has clean hands.