A cause with no apparent effect

A cause with no apparent effect
So, did you follow the instructions in the e-mail that was widely distributed approximately a week ago?

Did you simply drive past your local neighborhood gas station on Wednesday, May 15, in an effort to show big oil that you're mad about the upward spiral of gas prices and you're not going to take it anymore?

Did you notice the effect of this consumer revolt?


Zip. Nada. A big goose egg.

In other words, zero.

Chalk it up to another good reason why you can't believe everything you read on the Internet. The World Wide Web is such a rich resource of credible information.

But for every bit and byte that is genuine, there's at least an equal amount of junk that comes to us when we log on.

This most recent example came in the form of letter, sent to the masses electronically. It reads:

"Don't pump gas May 15th 2007

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 to not 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, so please do not go to the gas station on May 15th and let's try to put a dent in the Middle Eastern oil industry for at least one day.

If you agree (which I can't see why you would not) resend this to all your contact list. With it saying, "Don't pump gas on May 15th."

According to David Emery, an expert on urban legends and folklore, this week's gas boycott fizzled. But you don't need him to tell you that. The fact that there wasn't even a tiny blip in the price of gasoline speaks volumes.

Emery writes, "Service station operators across the U.S. reported normal or near-normal sales despite the wide circulation of an email calling for drivers to avoid the pumps in a one-day 'gas out' protesting high fuel prices.

The point here is not to say I told you so (though I did); the point is that it's time for all those folks who so zealously forwarded the anonymous, error-laden message to sit up and take notice of one simple fact: passing around Internet chain letters is no way to organize an effective consumer boycott."

He notes that if, say, a hundred million drivers refused en masse to fill up their tanks on May 15, the total of what they didn't spend could amount to as much as $3 billion.

However, it doesn't follow that such a boycott would actually decrease oil companies' revenues by that amount, given that the average sales of gasoline across the entire U.S. is under $1 billion per day in the first place.

Whether the total impact was a half-billion, 3 billion, or 10 billion dollars, the sales missed due to a one-day consumer boycott wouldn't hurt the oil companies one bit.

Think about it. Every single American who does not buy gas on Tuesday is still going to have to fill up their tank on Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday, making up for Tuesday's losses. Sales for the whole week would be normal, or very close to it.

A meaningful boycott would entail participants actually consuming less fuel – and doing so in a sustained, disciplined fashion over a defined period of time – not just choosing to wait a day or two before filling up as usual.

But, let's face it. Fuel prices are climbing because it's a product that, despite its limited supply, we just can't live without. Until we find an effective alternative, or simply decide to stop driving, those prices are going to keep going up.

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