Thursday, May 10, 2007

The May 15 Gas Out—Organizing for Real Change?

I have received at least three different emails talking about the Great Gas Out which is scheduled to take place on May 15, 2007. For your reference, one of them reads:
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 being asked not to go to a gas station in protest of high gas prices. Gas is now over $3.00 a gallon in most places.

There are 73,000,000+ American members currently on the Internet
Network and the average car takes about 30 to 50 dollars to fill up. If all users did not go to the pump on the 15th, it would take $2,292,000,000.00 (that's almost 3 BILLION) out of the oil companies' pockets for just one day. Send this to all your contact list. With it saying, ''Don't pump gas on May 15th"

At S & G Endeavors, we are committed to change on all levels, whether it is using our strategic planning services to help create organizations with great ideas or using our media services to create media for a changing world. I, personally, am extremely committed to the Bill of Rights for this country, which provides us with the ability to organize in groups to protest those things that we feel unfair. Though I do not drive, I believe the gas prices to be a true injustice to those who do, and have held several conversations with friends, family members, and my business partner regarding the subject. I fully support the intentions of this protest, but my higher commitment to leading change is compelled to ask the following question:
Just how effective is this “protest” going to be, and what will be yielded to the consumer as a result of such efforts?

Before you get upset with my question and assume that I am just spouting off a negative attitude, I ask you to continue reading…

Emails like the one above have been in circulation on the Internet since 1999. The Urban Legend Reference Pages explain why:
This year's e-mails (proposing a one-day "gas out" in May 2007) is yet another recasting of similar messages that have been circulating since 1999. All of them are reminders that "protest" schemes that don't cost the participants any inconvenience, hardship, or money remain the most popular, despite their ineffectiveness. A one-day "gas out" was proposed in 1999, and a three-day-long event was called for in 2000, but both drew little active participation and had no real effect on retail gasoline prices.
The premise behind all these messages is inherently flawed, because consumers' not buying gasoline on one particular day doesn't affect oil companies at all. The "gas out" scheme doesn't call upon people to use less gasoline, but simply to shift their date of purchase and buy gas a day earlier or later than they usually would. The very same amount of gasoline is sold either way, so oil companies don't lose any money.
Further research yields similar statements—from CBS2Chicago.com:
Chances are the plan is more fantasy than feasible…"I think in theory it may have some effect. But in reality or practice it would have little or no effect at all," said Jason Toews, co-founder of gasbuddy.com, a gas price-tracking site that allows visitors to post and compare local gas prices. “Getting enough people to participate would probably be difficult,” he said, “as well as the fact that those participating would probably just fill up the day before or after the boycott.”
And in addition, we find the following written in the Post Tribune:
BP Amoco spokesman Scott Dean said a one-day strike wouldn't affect operations. "If suddenly, people no longer demand gasoline ever, certainly it would affect supply and therefore price," Dean said. "But for a single day? It doesn't change the picture for the month, the year or the decade."
And, finally, as reported on NJ.com—who featured the article from the Gloucester County Times:
It would take more than a one-day boycott to have an impact, said Eric DeGesero, executive vice president of the New Jersey Fuel Merchants Association. "They aren't going to have any long term impact until they change their behavior," DeGesero said.

And, there we have it! An email goes out; it motivates people to think they will make a great impact; and, all that happens is the people are portrayed by the media as a joke. Check out these headlines from previous similar efforts provided by The Urban Legend Reference Pages:
Reports indicated few motorists paid attention to a nationwide boycott touted initially by Internet e-mail and later by word of mouth.
Although a gasoline boycott that began as an electronic mail campaign kept some drivers nationwide away from the pump, dealers say they saw little, if any, effect on their traffic.
Friday's gasoline boycott was an effort that sputtered, coughed, then died. Motorists continued to fill up gas-guzzling sport-utility vehicles and trucks alongside smaller vehicles despite a one-day protest aimed to pressure oil companies to lower gas prices.

This is not to say that a boycott does not send a message, but the research suggests that the effects are minimal at best. In addition, the only supporting comment I found when doing my research was, ironically, from a Democratic Congressman in Gary, Indiana, as reported in the Post Tribune:
"It sends a message that people have power," said state Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, who is trying to convince constituents to protest on May 15.
It takes all of my effort at this time to not pick up the phone, call the Congressman, and ask him why he is using his time encouraging his constituents to waste their time with a boycott that lacks effect instead of using his resources to advocate on their behalf. To me, his comment only demonstrates that he is good at deflecting his own responsibility for not addressing the issue. As a fellow democrat, I am disgusted at the spin control he is using on his own people.

My purpose in writing this post is not to discourage people from boycotting fuel; it is quite simply put, to demonstrate that we need to take a more aggressive strategy with our boycotting efforts. If we are going to use resources to bring the people together, why not bring the people together for a cause that will have a greater effect?

How can a greater effect be achieved by consumers?

According to the Urban Legend Reference Pages:
Not buying gas on a designated day may make people feel a bit better about things by providing them a chance to vent their anger at higher gasoline prices, but the action won't have any real impact on retail prices. An effective protest would involve something like organizing people to forswear the use of their cars on specified days, an act that could effectively demonstrate the reality of the threat that if gasoline prices stayed high, American consumers were prepared to move to carpooling and public transportation for the long term.
Gasoline is a fungible, global commodity, its price subject to the ordinary forces of supply and demand. No amount of consumer gimmickry and showmanship will lower its price in the long run; only a significant, ongoing reduction in demand will accomplish that goal. Unfortunately, for many people achieving that goal would mean cutting down on their driving or opting for less desirable economy cars over less fuel-efficient models, solutions they find unappealing.
And, from Break the Chain.org, we read:
In order to influence a reduction in prices, producers must either make more oil and refined fuel available, or consumers must reduce the demand for it. But this means a reduction in overall demand over a significant period of time. The United States is among the world's top consumers of gasoline. Fuel-efficiency on America's highways has not improved significantly over the last ten years and light trucks (including SUVs), which typically get the worst mileage, comprised nearly 55 percent of all new vehicles sold in 2003, and have accounted for more than half of all sales each year since at least 2000.
And from CBS2Chicago.com, we are told very simply:
"People just have to stop using their cars," Toews said. "They'd have to start using public transportation or carpooling. That's what it's going to take, not a 'gas out."

So, what do I propose?—to start the discussion, I feel it best to include another excerpt from Break the Chain.org:
The bottom line: If we want to save money at the pump, we must use less gas - slow down on the freeway, plan outings to get everything in one trip, walk more, ride a bicycle and trade in that gas-guzzling SUV for an economical compact or hybrid car for starters. Unfortunately, this has proven to be a very unpopular approach to the problem.

Leave your comments, please. Based on the information discussed in this post, what do you think we should do—should we protest for a day, or should we do something else? Should we pressure our Congress members to stop wasting our time with spin control and to do something about the problem like using our income tax to invest in public transit that we can use? Should we pressure our country’s leader to use his family connection to oil to begin to fix the problem? I’m looking forward to your comments.

1 comment:

Jerry Jayjohn said...

To be honest anyone who has any background in economics should be able to grasp the concept that in order for the price to go down, we either need to increase production, or decrease consumption.

We in America are living in our own little world, we feel that we will always have gasoline to get us around, but the honest truth is we are burning through our fossil fuel very quickly with no remorse for what it is doing to our planet and environment. I am not a tree hugger or an environmentalist in anyway, I drive one of those gas guzzling SUVs you are talking about in your post, but we are spewing carbon dioxide and monoxide as well as NOx gases into the air, and then we sit back and wonder why things are changing, why storms are becoming more intense, why the summers are getting hotter, and the winters are becoming unpredictable, with very little spring and fall in between.

Having a one day gas out is the governments way to make you feel better about how they are screwing us over. They tell us these ridiculous lies about how we should have a one day gas out and put it to the gas companies, when in actuality the government is tied to the money grubbing oil companies.
It would take a significant loss of at least 2 weeks of not buying gas before the gas companies see any impact. My thoughts on how to curb the problem of low efficiency vehicles is that our so called government who is supposedly looking out for us, get up and do something, stop taking money from the oil companies to pass on making tougher emission laws and do something right for our planet. Make strict restrictions on fuel consumption, by mandating that all vehicles meet a stringent efficiency rating of at least 40 miles per gallon, and that the EPA create and enforce laws on emissions from these vehicles, by setting standards as to how much greenhouse gases our cars and trucks and put into our atmosphere.
Also for the government to set up the infrastructure to get away from foreign oil, and start using such fuels as ethanol that can be made stateside, as this would not only help our dependence on foreign oil, but also boost our economy by helping out our farmers in the mid-west by raising corn and soy beans. Also to the car companies, stop making these large gas drinking boat sized SUVs and start focusing more on economical cars with a flex-fuel engine in every vehicle made. Design cars that are more enviro-friendly that are appealing to the eye not something that dropped from outer space.

I think we as Americans should stand up and put it to the oil companies, however I feel that a one day gas out will not put a dent in there deep pockets at Exxon or BP Amoco. I believe America will continue to believe the lies that our government is feeding us by saying "we are planning on getting away from our dependency on foreign oil" it is time to stop talking and planning, and lets get to moving in the right direction. We have one planet lets try and salvage what little bit is left for our future generations.

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