The original email that was forwarded by Gerry is at the bottom. Its not worth reading.

Hi Gerry

Yes I find this interesting for all sorts of reasons although probably not the ones the authors had in mind!

[this is going to turn into a very long and rambling email so feel free to stop reading now and go and make a cup of tea - but I find things like this (the message you forwarded) quite thought provoking and worth a little effort to work out - what follows is my first thoughts, which are certainly neither correct nor complete, but may help]

Firstly interesting because this exact idea was doing the rounds three years ago when petrol prices last hit £1.30, in fact I think the reference to "last April-May" for the 'alternative' don't buy petrol on a certain day idea actually referred to April/May 2007. Needless to say it had no impact then and there is even less reason to suppose it would have now. There was a similar idea a couple of months ago to punish the bankers by all withdrawing all our cash on a certain day - I'm shamefaced to say that I forwarded that one around a bit, but it was just as nonsensical.

Secondly interesting because of the rhetorical and psychological tools which are used to make the idea seem sensible, logical and potentially successful. In simple terms by presenting the idea as internally logical and self-consistent it encourages us to accept, or at least not look to closely at, the flawed premises on which it is built. Religions work in much the same way - start from a simple unverifiable idea (that the petrol companies are somehow the prime mover, or that a particular god exists) and build a logical consistent set of ideas from that. We admire the beauty and elegance of the structure of ideas and forget that they may be built on air.

Thirdly interesting because of the failure to see the bigger picture either in global or temporal terms. Whilst it seems reasonable to moan about the price of petrol, we do have to recognise that the price, even at current levels of taxation, is very far from the true cost if you take all the externalities into account.

Externalities are all those things that are external to the purely economic view of a particular market. For example the fact that we drive a lot increases the nitrous oxide and particulate pollution of the air around roads and this contributes to the increase in prevalence of asthma and other respiratory disorders - this has both a knock-on economic cost and a social cost neither of which are accounted for in the price of a litre of fuel.

In practical terms there is no such thing as a true free-market in the real world. There are always externalities, and all things are connected. Some people call it the law of unintended consequences. For example boycotting one company's products in the market could very well result in the remaining companies simply putting up prices as competition is reduced and they naturally seek to maximise profit.

Or to take another example in the form of a thought experiment - we know that although it is unlikely to actually run out any time soon, there is only a finite amount of oil, and hence petrol, on the planet and once it is burnt we have no way of getting it back. We also know that over the last 150 years we have used over half of all the 'easy to get' oil - the stuff where you make a hole in the ground and out it flows. We are now having to use oil extracted with great technical challenges (which we are good at overcoming) from very inhospitable places (deep seas and arctic areas) or convert plants into fuel which is much less efficient. So imagine today you are paying £1.30 for a litre - and every litre you burn today is one that cannot be burnt tomorrow. Now imagine in 50 years time, by when at current rates we would have used all of the 'easy-to-get' oil, you, or your child/grandchild needs to get to hospital urgently - a matter of life or death. How much would you then be prepared to pay for the litre of petrol to get the ambulance to Derriford? Somewhat more, I suspect, than the £1.30 I spent using a litre to get myself into Plymouth today.

Fourthly interesting because of the car-centric view of the world. It is true that there is a lot of tax in the price of a litre of petrol - possibly more than any other taxed commodity (although tobacco must be close these days). But we must also remember, for example, that 60 years ago the road into Cargreen was a dirt track (not metalled until immediately post WW2 I understand), and would have been completely incapable of withstanding the current level of traffic. Furthermore if we did not have cars it would not need to be tarmac'd - I'm glad I have a car and the road is tarmac'd, but I am also aware that I am very privileged in being able to use it in this way. The car has become so integral to our way of life that we forget that there are massive subsidies encouraging us to use it.

The world (or at least the humans on it) is currently capable of producing about 90 million barrels of oil every day. There are 7 billion of us on the world and less than one billion of us are using more than half (actually I think it is over 3/4) of the oil that is produced. It appears since about 2005 that we are incapable of producing it any faster - new technology and discovery of new oilfields is now no longer keeping pace with the rate at which we are using up the known oil that we can get hold of. Some analysts say that in a few years we won't be able to produce even as much as today despite increasing demand - others say that that point may be ten or twenty years away, but all agree it is inevitably coming.

If we were to say that the world's oil should be shared fairly among all the world's people alive today then we in the UK would have to get by with less than a quarter of the oil that we currently use. If we were to take into account the fact that new oil is only created on a geological timescale and so it should also be shared with future generations then we are 'entitled' to only a tiny fraction of what we use today.

In these terms the current level of tax on petrol is far too low - that tax revenue has to be capable of compensating our children and children's children for the petrol that they will not have, or we condemn them to return to the life of slavery and poverty of our forefathers.

The energy available from a litre of petrol is roughly equivalent to that available from a human slave working full time for a month. Ancient civilisations built amazing things - henges, pyramids and the like - but we forget that these were built for an imperial elite using pure human energy - a mass of slaves. Today we each individually on a daily basis have more power than Caesar as Emperor of Rome with ten thousand slave working for him personally.

And these people have the effrontery to complain that a litre of petrol is now costing more than 12 minutes of minimum wage. The true cost is at least nearer one month, which at minimum wage, which would make the price of a litre £960

[by the way the numbers quoted above are all made up, but I am pretty confident that they are about right.]

Roger C-O
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07736 741268

On 2 Feb 2011, at 15:40, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. wrote:

Interesting hypothesis


----Original Message----
From: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Date: 28/01/2011 12:52
To: <undisclosed-recipients>
Subj: FW: Petrol Prices remember this.

----Original Message-------
Please see what you think and pass it on if you agree with it.

We are hitting £129.9 a litre in some areas now and soon we will be faced with paying £1.50 per litre. So Philip Hollsworth offered this good
This makes MUCH MORE SENSE than the 'don't buy petrol on a certain day campaign' that was going around last April or May! The oil companies just laughed at that because they knew we wouldn't continue to hurt  ourselves by refusing to buy petrol. It was more of an inconvenience to us than it was a problem for them. BUT, whoever thought of this idea, has come up with a plan that can really work.

Please read it and join in!

Now that the oil companies and the OPEC nations have conditioned us to think that the cost of a litre is CHEAP, we need to take aggressive action to teach them that BUYERS - not sellers control the market place. With the price of petrol going up more each day, we consumers need to take action.

The only way we are going to see the price of petrol come down is if we hit someone in the pocket by not purchasing their petrol! And we can do that WITHOUT hurting ourselves. Here's the idea:

For the rest of this year DON'T purchase ANY petrol from the two biggest oil companies (which now are one) i.e. ESSO and BP.

If they are not selling any petrol, they will be inclined to reduce their prices. If they reduce their prices, the other companies will have to follow suit. But to have an impact we need to reach literally millions of Esso and BP petrol buyers. It's really simple to do!!

Now, don't wimp out on me at this point... keep reading and I'll explain how simple it is to reach millions of people!!

I am sending this note to a lot of people. If all of you send it to at least ten more (30 x 10 = 300)....and those 300 send it to at least ten more (300 x 10 = 3,000) ... and so on.  By the time the message reaches the sixth generation of people, we will have reached over THREE MILLION consumers! If those three million get excited and pass this on to ten friends each, then 30 million people will have been contacted! If it goes one level further, you guessed it.....

Again, all YOU have to do is send this to 10 people. That's all (and not buy at ESSO/BP).  How long would all that take? If each of us sends this email out to ten more people within one day of receipt, all 300 MILLION people could conceivably be contacted within the next 8 days!!! Acting together we can make a difference. If this makes sense to you, please pass this message on.

PLEASE HOLD OUT UNTIL THEY LOWER THEIR PRICES It's easy to make this happen. Just forward this email, and buy your petrol at Shell,Asda,Tesco, Sainsburys, Morrisons, Jet etc. i.e. Boycott BP and Esso