How much money do we really need to put into our fuel tanks - and into dirty hands?

Working for Greenpeace leaves me with a predicament each month- I know where petrol comes from, and often campaign against various companies; BP to name but one for obvious reasons. So I am left with the feeling of hopelessness as I pull into the only option I can less-guiltily go to; although, this choice is mostly because it’s directly on my route to and from work and other stations fill me with such a foreboding that I honestly cannot go to them.

But petrol stations have become much more a part of everyday living convenience, that it seems as though filling up with petrol has become such a habitual part of our life, much like waking up or going to sleep, that we often forget to ask ourselves where it is actually coming from, which brand is worse, or indeed, is there even such a thing?

On another note, why are there so many? If I miss the turn off for my first choice, I can comfortably recognise that I have at least three more on my 6kn route home. In fact, I have counted 11 petrol station just blocks from each other- all competing for customers, all offering something else to pull you in. Surely there should be a committee high within the web of the government, dictating how many stations could fit into one specific grid; evaluating the need for them and calculating the environmental impacts?

Late last year I was invited to attend the Human Rights Film Festival at Cinema Nouveau, to watch a film called “Sweet Crude” which documented both the humanitarian and environmental atrocities taking place in the Niger Delta because of oil drilling. Staggering statistics show that more than 6,000 spills have occurred since 1976 and that less than 25% of those are remediated. Because of the companies’ and the governments’ greed, many Nigerians living in the Delta have had to turn to desperate measures to urge the government to listen to them, or to hold the oil companies accountable for the damage they have caused. Of course, this doesn’t mean that anything happens, and the Nigerians are labelled militant terrorists, while the world heaves a breath of relief, their guilt taken away by the reassurance that these are false claims against the companies made by unorganised hooligans.

Driving Oil Spills

Greenpeace activists aim to highlight the role of consumers in the oil markets, and how our dependence on oil essentially drives the quest for oil.

Another shocker, although more common, is the BP oil spill that took place in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010; estimates show that as much as 800 million litres (you may take a step back now, just to fully grasp that) of oil were leaked into the ocean, killing 11 people and causing irreparable damage to the surrounding environment, animal and plant life. Despite the fact they are now in the running for the Public Eye award for the worst company of the year, they have partnered with a Russian firm and are planning to start drilling in the Arctic. I ask myself, how much is our planet actually worth- and when the oil dries up, what will the next step be?

So, again, who am I to hand out moral lectures everywhere I go, issuing facts and statistics, when I also need a car to drive to and from work and play? To attempt putting my mind at ease, I do some research on the oil companies that come to mind, in a quest to find one that in fact seems fairer than the others.

I visit the homepages of BP, Shell, Engen and Chevron and literally Laugh Out Loud at my naivety-of course each brand is going to have a link on their homepage, taking you to their promise of cleaner fuel, better environmental practices, upholding human rights and social responsibility! Chevron’s website tells me that as a consumer I may be inspired to see how many things “we” agree on, like renewable energy and putting their profits to good use. Shell tells me that they are “delivering energy in a way that provides social benefits and considers the environment”; while BP has an entire portal dedicated to the environment and society and, ironically, offers us the chance to calculate our very own carbon footprint. I can hardly bring myself to read on. The question is how much of what they put on paper do they actually put to practice?

Who then is the dirtiest of them all? Perhaps it’s us, the consumers driving the need for fuel. Perhaps it is time for us to follow the likes of the Netherlands, already ahead in renewable energy exploration, the very people who have more bicycles than people in their country. We have the chance to change, and I dare you to try it -- if not for the environment, then to simply save some money!

Take public transport, join a lift club, cycle to work. Imagine South Africa was the first country to win the war against dirty energy? Imagine a country that doesn’t need 11 petrol stations along one route. I would most certainly like to do a lot more than just imaging these things, which is why I am going to take the energy challenge. I’m taking out my long-neglected bike, dusting it off, buying a helmet and declaring my solidarity with my world. Will you take the challenge with me?