Home Op-eds Activism and Change: Hitting the “Pain Points”

My wife Christie recently asked me whether I thought the Shell No protests and the “kayaktivists” in Seattle who are protesting oil drilling in the Arctic was worthwhile. I responded that I didn’t. When she asked why, I replied that I didn’t think the activists would be successful in accomplishing their aims. While they have brought attention to the issue, I feel people are unclear about how to proceed with this information, because they haven’t been shown how a change in their behavior can address the situation. That is, the activism hasn’t hit the “pain points” for the issue.

What are pain points? They are my term for those facets of the issue that lie within activists’ locus of control. What can the Shell No activists accomplish here? Whose behavior can they change? Can they prevent Shell’s current behavior? No – this is an international company with billions of dollars of annual profit – they have a legal lease with the Port of Seattle and they will move that rig when and where they want to. When that rig starts to move, it won’t matter how many kayaks are in the way. Can the activists change the Seattle City Council’s minds? They already have, but that doesn’t matter, because the City Council has no power to change the situation. The lease agreement was negotiated with the Port of Seattle. So, where are the pain points?

The first pain point is the Port of Seattle. If the kayaktivists can affect Port operations significantly enough, then the Port’s bottom line will be affected, making it more likely that the Port will reconsider leases like this in the future. So far, this has not happened. The second pain point, and this is the big one, is that the kayaktivists can change the public’s mind about where they get their energy, and in so doing affect Shell’s profits. To this end, they have gone about 10% of the way to success, in my opinion. People now see there is an issue here with more than one side. However, there has been no education follow-through, so people don’t know what they can do to help fix the problem.

The solution is staring us in the fact as it has for decades. The only way to break monopolies is with competition. In our economic system, this is the silver bullet.   I recently watched a great documentary called “Pump”, which is available on Netflix and clearly lays out the alternative energy sources currently available to us. Does your car have a yellow gas cap? That means it can run on Flex Fuel, including ethanol/gasoline mixtures, and even pure ethanol or methanol. Raise your hand if you are using E85 (85% ethanol) in your Flex Fuel car. OK, this is online so I can’t see you, but I’m guessing not many of you have your hands raised. And I don’t have my hand raised, either. There are also companies out there that make $200-$300 automotive computers (that you can install yourself) that turn non-Flex fuel cars into Flex Fuel cars. There isn’t any magic to this – it is simply a matter of fuel/air ratios and fuel injector timing. Flex Fuel engines are IDENTICAL to non-Flex engines. Surprised? I was.

Where is this information from the kayaktivists? Why hasn’t this story been told as part of the protests? The way out of this issue is to remove petroleum as our major fuel source, and we have the ability to do this TODAY. This is the pain point that kayaktivists need to hit, and hard.

So, why is this showing up on Living Humane? The concept of pain points carries through to all activism, including animal issues. To hit the pain points for Big Agribusiness, we need to educate people about the alternatives. Don’t just get mad, get educating! Direct your action at the pain points, which are most often the profit margins of the companies mistreating animals. Information is power, and direct action will only be effective if we educate people about their locus of control. We are seeing the beginnings of this now, and the harder we hit the pain points, the faster the change will come.

About Eric Lagally

Eric Lagally has a background in physics and bioengineering and teaches science online at Western Governors University. He is also a vegan, a runner, and a woodworker, sometimes all at once.

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