The Gulf Spill and You

June 9, 2010 at 6:17 PM | Posted in Environmentally Friendly Living, General | Leave a comment

Let me begin by apologizing for my absence of several months. Due to some extremely bad people that used to be part of my life, I suffered through several life-changing events, and it has put me in a position that makes it difficult to blog, among other things.

At any rate, with the gulf spill going on, environmental bloggers everywhere are going nuts, and I’m no exception. But I’m not going to talk about why BP sucks or what kind of incompetent engineers can’t fix a spill like that after a month or more. I’m going to talk about the problem that got us here in the first place: dependence on oil.

A favorite website of mine displayed this graphic:

The Blame Game

Grist has put together this graphic to show us where the blame for this spill really lies.

This pie chart puts some of the blame on you and me, consumers of oil (You can read the full article, along with a decent breakdown, here). I’m not sure it’s really enough though. Sure, BP cut corners and the industry has some stake in this, but if not for you and I supporting an industry that has to go to these kinds of extremes to keep producing, we would never have arrived here in the first place.

The answer seems simple: we need to reduce our dependence on oil. What’s the first thing you think of? What did you just think of when I said that? You thought of your car – driving. And I know what part comes next – you don’t care. You can’t stop driving because it’s your means of livelihood. How else would you get to work, see your friends and get things done?

Well, I’m going to show you a bunch of other ways you can reduce your dependence on oil, both foreign and domestic. If you can’t stop driving (and believe me, in Omaha that’s something I can unfortunately understand), then you CAN do some of these things.

1. Reduce Your Plastic Use and Recycle

The first thing you generally think of when you think of oil dependence is your vehicle. But one thing people fail to realize on a huge scale is that the plastic industry is one of the largest oil users in the world. It takes some serious gulf oil to get a bottle of water to you, and it’s not just the transportation. Almost every plastic product ever made has the base ingredient of some kind of oil. Think about it – plastics are just massive chains of hydrogen and carbon (sometimes with some other stuff). What is crude oil? You see my point now.

So it makes sense that you should try to curb your plastic consumption. Some easy ways to do this:

  • Reusable Shopping Bags I keep pushing this one because for all the harping and preaching I’ve done to my friends and family, I still see almost NO ONE using them!  California recently enacted a law (following the lead of Washington, D.C.) stating that single-use plastic shopping bags would now cost a nickel each at the checkout.  While it isn’t stopping everyone, it’s taken plastic bag use in D.C. from 22 million per month to 3 million per month.  As far as I’m concerned, the damn things should be illegal, but this is a fine start.  I presume other states will soon be following, so get your reusable bags while they’re cheap.


  • Drink Tap Water The standards to which tap water are treated in the United States are well above and beyond what is necessary for good health.  There is no reason why you shouldn’t be drinking tap water.  However, if you INSIST on filtered water, then take my next piece of advice and
  • Install a Water Filter at Home It’s not a difficult choice.  Instead of buying massive packages of single-use plastic bottles in the store, install a water filter on your home water supply.  It will save you a ton of plastic bottles.
  • Refuse Single-Use Plastic Products This one seems vague, but let me give you examples.  Instead of storing leftovers in plastic baggies in the fridge, put them in tupperware.  Instead of plastic party cups, try reusable plastic cups for events and glassware (better for your health) any other time.  Instead of buying a huge pack of 4-oz Snapple bottles, get a big gallon jug of it instead.  Simple things like these can reduce the amount you throw away, and plastic doesn’t decompose.

Here's your single-use plastic bullshit. And you could have at least recycled some of it.

  • Recycle!!!! This is such a simple, easy thing to do in most cities now that I find it offensive that so many people refuse to take part in it.  Every bit of plastic you throw away either ends up in a landfill indefinitely or ends up somewhere in a water feature.  The oceans are starting to get attention as the Pacific gyre traps an ever-growing amount of garbage.  Recycle all the plastic you can.

If you reduce the amount of plastic you use you’re tackling roughly 40% of your oil usage right there.  Let’s talk about some other products that use oil you might not think of.

2. Soap, Shampoo, Lotion and Cleaners

Here’s another easy thing to fix.  Virtually every soap product you buy in the store that doesn’t explicitly claim to come from all-natural products uses synthetic oil from petroleum producers like BP and Exxon as a base ingredient.  By switching from these synthetic base soaps to natural-based soaps, you’re reducing your dependence on oil by that much more.  The extent to which you go petroleum-free depends on the zeal with which you convert.  You can switch all of your soap from petroleum-based to natural: hand soap, body soap, dishwasher detergent, dish soap, laundry soap, and even toothpaste.

Lotions and shampoo also use synthetic oils for a base in most cases.  Unless you’re buying organic shampoo or lotion, you’re probably getting suckered into putting petroleum products on your body.  Now, let’s ignore the fact that this is OBVIOUSLY bad for your body.  Even with that glaring fact set aside, you’re still supporting oil spills if you don’t switch.

Here’s a hypothetical question.  Let’s say you’re about to fry up some hash browns.  Just as you’re about to put the butter into the pan (maybe olive oil if that’s how you roll), I come in with a quart of something that sort of looks like Valvoline, but isn’t.  I say, “Look at this wonderful product we have created.  Using sticky goo created over a thousand years ago, painstakingly pumped up from the gulf bottom and shipped over hundreds of miles right to your front door, this synthetic oil base is able to replace that butter (olive oil) because it has all the physical properties of oil!”  Would you switch?  I’m guessing not.

So use your common sense when it comes to soap, shampoo and lotion.  You can bet your last dollar these things contribute to melanoma development and aren’t at all good for your health.  You’re smearing petroleum all over your body!  Birds DIE from this stuff!  And what’s even more disturbing is that most of this stuff gets washed off your body at some point, down the drain and to the treatment plant, where it can’t be removed very effectively and so ends up back in our natural waterways.

And really quickly before I wrap this up, I’d like to mention cleaners.  A lot of cleaners are actually based on harmful chemicals that aren’t from petroleum, but some are.  I mention them here as a way to reduce your oil dependency and also as a way to remove things like ammonia and nitrates from your home.  Switch to brands that claim to come from all-natural sources, like Green Works® or something similar.

3. Eat Better
This might be my weirdest advice of all, but let me explain.  When you buy food that is fresh or as close to the raw ingredients as possible, you’re reducing your oil dependence in a huge number of ways.

  • Processed Food Needs to Travel Further Yes, I realize there are exceptions.  However, in general, your box of Oatmeal Cream Pies came from a lot further away than those in-season berries or apples did.  And which one is better as a snack for you?  You guessed it.
  • Processed Food Takes more Oil to Make Factories that have to process corn into Twinkies are big, mechanized oil-hogs.  And if you’re not into Twinkies, let me assure you that bacon bits, donuts and frozen pizzas all do the same thing.
  • Less Packaging One of the pitfalls to buying pre-cooked, processed or ready-to-eat food is that it has HUGE amounts of unnecessary packaging.  And most of it’s plastic.  And most of it is not recyclable.
  • More Local Fresh, whole foods tend not to come from as far away as processed foods.  There are thousands of feed lots in the country for beef.  There are less than a dozen processing plants for Twinkies.  Makes sense, right?  Any time you have the opportunity to buy local food, you’re putting your money back into the local community and you’re getting your food with a LOT less oil guilt.  Put your money where your mouth is, if you’re into bad puns.

Another awesome thing you can do is support your local farmer’s market.  I know it means getting up before 8 AM and traveling to a not-too-far-away location, but it’s usually cheaper than the grocery store, better for your health and better for economics.  Plus, the farmers could really use that money since they get raped by corporations like Monsanto, who by the way you support every time you buy a processed soy product.

And finally, learn to cook.  My father is my greatest example for this (he seems to be the inspiration for so many of my rants).  He complains all the time that food costs too much and how the man is trying to keep him down.  But when it comes right down to it, he’s not willing to cook most of his meals.  Which do you think costs more – cooked food or raw food?  You guessed it.  And which is better for your health – food you prepared or food you bought prepared?  You guessed it again!  Common sense is fun!

So there you have it.  If you can’t bring yourself to take a bike ride once a week to somewhere you need to go, or you picked unwisely to live 1050234 miles away from your work and drive an SUV for some reason, and changing any of these terrible habits would somehow destroy your life, then you can take action in these ways instead.

I hope I’ve shed a little light on this huge problem we’re having with the oil spill.  YOU are responsible!  Every time you get mad at BP or fed up with the oil spill, just remember that you’re contributing to it every day you refuse to take action, even in some of these small ways I’ve listed here.  It’s such an easy change to make.  If I can do these things and I don’t even have a job, I’m sure you can afford the extra dollar or two at the store.

It's now or never. The gulf spill is just the beginning - a slap in the face about how far we've gotten out of control. Do the right thing for once and actually do something about it.


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