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Did Pope Francis Call for a Gasoline Boycott?

Pope_Francis_at_VargihnaMuch of the media attention on Pope Francis’ recent encyclical focused on its recognition of the causes of global warning and the impact that the Pope might have on international and domestic climate politics,    Less publicized, but possibly more impactful in the long term, is the Pope’s call to consumers to wield their purchasing power as a force for change.

Pope Francis writes:

“A change in lifestyle could bring healthy pressure to bear on those who wield political, economic and social power. This is what consumer movements accomplish by boycotting certain products. They prove successful in changing the way businesses operate, forcing them to consider their environmental footprint and their patterns of production. When social pressure affects their earnings, businesses clearly have to find ways to produce differently. This shows us the great need for a sense of social responsibility on the part of consumers. ‘Purchasing is always a moral – and not simply economic – act.’ Today, in a word, ‘the issue of environmental degradation challenges us to examine our lifestyle.” (Laudato Si, Para. 206)

The education and mobilization of consumers to reduce their carbon purchases has barely begun.   The vast majority of consumers have no idea how much CO2 they emit, nor any sense of moral responsibility to reduce their CO2 emissions, other than perhaps owning a car that gets more than 20 mpg.   Lack of leadership has been a principal driver of consumer apathy.   Until the Pope spoke out, there have been virtually no high-profile persons or organizations calling on citizens to examine their lifestyles and to curtail their carbon purchases.

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Reducing Gasoline Consumption Key to Stopping Arctic Oil Production

platform feeding car Seattle activists’ spirited campaign to stop Shell from exploratory drilling in the Arctic is grabbing world headlines and focusing attention on the climate impacts of exploiting the Arctic’s enormous petroleum resources.  Opponents of Arctic drilling cite sound science projecting that the exploitation of Arctic oil will push global temperatures well over the 2o C threshold for a livable planet.

Shell defends its drilling in the Arctic as necessary to meet growing demand for gasoline.  And demand for gasoline is growing.  According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, Americans used, on average, 375 million gallons of gasoline every day in 2014, and are projected to use even more in 2015, despite a more fuel efficient fleet of cars and a much better selection of electric cars.  In 2013, Americans used more petroleum than China, India, France, and Germany combined.

The consumption of gasoline is ultimately financing the exploration and drilling for oil.  Without the steady cash flow provided by growing consumption of gasoline, enormously capital-intensive projects such as Arctic oil exploration would become financially untenable and grind to a halt.

The reduction of oil consumption scarcely registers for climate activists.  Other than supporting politically unfeasible carbon taxes, the environmental community has essentially no program to reduce gasoline consumption, the real driver behind the quest for more oil production.

What would a program to reduce gasoline consumption look like, especially if carbon taxes are, for now, off the table?

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