Gas Boycott: Nice Idea, Totally Misguided

I received an email from a friend today with the subject line, "Don't Pump Gas On May 15, 2007."
Subject: FW: Don't pump gas May 15th 2007

NO GAS...On May 15th 2007

Don't pump gas on may 15th

In April 1997, there was a "gas out" conducted nationwide in protest of gas prices. Gasoline prices dropped 30 cents a gallon overnight.

On May 15th 2007, all internet users are to not go to a gas station in protest of high gas prices. Gas is now over $3.00 a gallon in most places.
It seemed familiar. Sure enough, a quick search turned up that some version of this email has been circulating for seven years now.

It's a well-intentioned idea, but totally misguided, which is what I tactfully told the friend who sent me the email. Someone else has summed up the reasons why.
1. There was no nationwide "gas out" in 1997. There was one in 1999, but it didn't cause gas prices to drop 30 cents per gallon overnight. In fact, it didn't cause them to drop at all.

2. There are over 205 million Internet users in the United States, far more than the 73 million claimed.

3. If, say, a hundred million drivers refused en masse to fill up their tanks on May 15, the total of what they didn't spend could amount to as much as $3 billion. However, it doesn't follow that such a boycott would actually decrease oil companies' revenues by that amount, given that the average sales of gasoline across the entire U.S. is under $1 billion per day in the first place.

4. Whether the total impact was a half-billion, 3 billion, or 10 billion dollars, the sales missed due to a one-day consumer boycott wouldn't hurt the oil companies one bit. Think about it. Every single American who doesn't buy gas on Tuesday is still going to have to fill up their tank on Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday, making up for Tuesday's losses. Sales for the whole week would be normal, or very close to it.

A meaningful boycott would entail participants actually consuming less fuel -- and doing so in a sustained, disciplined fashion over a defined period of time -- not just choosing to wait a day or two before filling up as usual.
It's that last part which is most important -- consuming less fuel.

So there are better ideas than a boycott and they all boil down to one thing -- driving less. Bike to work. Carpool. Take the bus. Telecommute. Group your trips together.

Did you know?
  • Most American families spend more on transportation than on healthcare, education or food.
  • Shopping and leisure activities account for over half of all car trips.
  • A daily commute of 20 miles round trip in your car can add up to more than
    $2,000 per year, not including parking!

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