Greenpeace protesters successfully stopped the flow of oil to around 46 BP stations in London yesterday. It was an effort to convince BP to “go beyond petroleum.” Yet this does little to solve any real problems, instead it was just a publicity stunt for special interest policies and increased the revenue of BP’s competitors’ for the day.
The means of communication Greenpeace choose may be more infantile than others, but the central idea of the protest is often vocalized in the media. Voters and non-profits worry about our society’s reliance on oil and its harm on the environment. Common arguments mention how we are sucking our oil dry because of our addiction and obsession. The harm the BP spill had on the environment was indeed horrible, however this is not a reason to push policies dictating the amount and quality of oil allowed into a country.
The fundamental fallacy in the argument is the scarcity of oil. Studies and foundations have been predicting when oil will be completely consumed for a long time. However, these dates given are never correct. Critics of oil as a means of energy sometimes look at only scarcity, not the price system. As oil decreases in supply, the price will rise naturally. There is no need to regulate quantity for fear of overuse. As price increases, there will be more incentive to find undiscovered oil. So, the price mechanism will not only decrease consumption if depletion is near, it will increase innovation.
Greenpeace and others also overlook the importance of innovation. There are clearly the technologies to dramatically decrease consumption, as Greenpeace well knows. However, there are various problems with each of these. Electric, wind, and other popular alternatives are expensive compared to oil. There’s virtue in cleaner energy, but its viability can’t come from policy. It must come from actual changes in consumer preferences and relative prices through innovative technology. After all, the reason we use oil and electricity today instead of kerosene, is not because of policy but because innovative technology created a cheaper alternative. So, instead of vandalizing central London BP stations and shifting demand to Shell stations, Greenpeace should search for ways to make cleaner energy cheaper. It certainly has the resources to do so.