Today, May 15th, is "Don't Buy Gas Day," and as empty, feel-good gestures go, it ranks right up there with the ubiquitous "support our troops" stickers that are apparently standard issue for all gas guzzlers.
This bogus boycott was sparked by a chain of e-mails claiming that we can stick it to Big Oil by going on a one-day fossil fuel fast. How pathetic, and how American. Is there any other nation so convinced that the solutions to all our problems can be solved by shopping--or not shopping?
Of course, the choices we make as consumers do, in fact, make a difference. I'll be the first to shout "Amen!" to the Reverend Billy and his Church of Stop Shopping. Reverend Billy's a fake preacher, but he advocates making real changes. His message may be swaddled in satire, but he makes a sincere case for living a more spiritual--and sustainable--way of life.
Don't Buy Gas Day, on the other hand, is a perfect example of what my friend Elizabeth Royte, a "no impact" pioneer, would call a "sustainability stunt." It may make a good sound bite, but it's totally toothless.
The premise of Don't Buy Gas Day is that you can make Exxon Mobil and Chevron bleed for your gas-gouged pain by waiting till Wednesday to fill your tank. Supposedly, postponing your petro-fix by one day will deprive the oil companies of nearly $3 billion in revenues, and cause a 30 cent per gallon drop in gas prices overnight.
But as Tyson Slocum, energy program director at Public Citizen, a national consumer advocacy organization, told CNN, "A one-day boycott makes no sense whatsoever. You're not reducing consumption, you're just buying on a different day."
It's a tragic misconception that cars equal freedom. In reality, constructing our communities around automobiles deprives us of autonomy, steals hours from our lives with long commutes, alienates us from our neighbors, tethers us to a finite source of fuel we deem worth dying for, and which, ironically, is killing our ecosystem.
That's why, in our household, every day is Don't Buy Gas Day. Matt doesn't even know how to drive, and I barely do. Never owned a car. We rely on New York City's excellent mass transit, and commute to our humble Hudson Valley hovel on the weekends via Amtrak.
Our lovely little hamlet has no shops, no mail delivery, and no municipal garbage pick-up. The nearest grocery store is several miles away, and the town dump's even further.
Does it sound inconceivably inconvenient? It's not, because our town is rich in the ultimate renewable source of energy--people. Our friends and neighbors gladly give us a lift to the market, or take our garbage to the dump. It's an old-fashioned sort of community, the kind you can't find once you've exiled yourself to the exurbs.
So give the gas pumps a pass for today if it makes you feel good, but take a moment to think about tomorrow, and the next day. Because even as the cost of gas goes ever higher, Americans are driving more than ever. Maybe it's time to pull over and take a closer look at the road map.