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BP: To boycott or not?

There's been a lot of debate recently about whether to boycott BP.  If so, would it be simply a moral victory and nothing more? Or would it be a meaningful signal to BP in particular, and the oil industry in general?

About half a million fans of a Facebook boycott page certainly think it would accomplish something.

But columnist Michael Smerconish put forth an opposing view recently in the Daily News. He said he wants to keep buying fuel from BP so the company doesn't go bankrupt. If it did, he says, the financial burden of the clean-up for the Gulf of Mexico spill would shift to the U.S. government. More to the point: Its taxpayers. You and me.

Mother Jones columnist Kate Sheppard recently took up the question in the Blue Marble column. Ever since the Exxon Valdez spill two decades ago, she's been avoiding Exxon products. But now, as she contemplates not buying from BP, she realized that it might only hurt small station-owners, not the larger company. And, after all, what large petroleum company has NOT been tainted by some spill or other environmental mishap?

I think the debate misses the point. If we want to show our opposition, why don't we just get out of our cars and walk more, bike more, take more public transportation?

Because it's not easy, of course. Rare is the person who indulges in the just-for-fun Sunday drive. Most of us drive so much that the idea of getting in a vehicle just "for pleasure" is ridiculous. And simply bundling errands and driving the speed limit and such, while advisable,  isn't going to make much of a dent.

I thought about all of this last weekend, as my husband and I set out for northern Virginia to visit his brother. The family lives just outside Washington, D.C., and the trip involved taking I-95 south through Baltimore to the I-495 Beltway, then another highway out toward Dulles airport.

I figured public transportation just wouldn't cut it. It would be too long, to inconvenient and too expensive.

That was until the traffic jam caused by the first accident. Then the second. Then the third. Then the congestion on the six-lane highway that seemed attributable to nothing more than sheer congestion. A trip that should have taken e.5 hours took at least an hour more.

When we got home, I checked the Amtrak schedule. We could have driven from our Pottstown home to Wilmington, DE., taken one of the trains that leaves for Washington every hour, on Saturdays, and sat there relaxing or reading a book for a trip that takes only 1.5 hours. Then, two Metro subways later, we'd be close to our destination.

The cost: $244, which is awfully steep, compared to the fuel we bought and the tolls we paid. And it doesn't count parking in Wilmington. But, hmmmm, next time my vote is probably going to be for the train, BP boycott or no.