The Emperor’s New Clothes


On Saturday I fueled up my far-from-fuel-efficient SUV and burned my way out to Upham Beach for the Hands Across the Sand demonstration against offshore oil drilling. I’d never been to Upham, but my Droid’s operating software navigated the asphalt-covered roads flawlessly. It was already a scorcher by 10:30am, so I ran the car’s AC while generously applying sunscreen. I grew thirsty, but fortunately I brought my plastic water bottle, and I tipped it to my lips before striking out to the beautiful white beach and shimmering blue water that millions of tourists travel to Florida every year to see.

The Suncoast Chapter of Surfrider Foundation had their tent out, so I stopped in to sign the petition, peruse their marketing material, and find out when we would be lining up and joining hands.  I was a bit early, so I headed out for a swim. I thought, what the hell am I doing here? From the looks of it, a number of Gulf Coast surfers had driven over to the East Coast to take advantage of some rare summer swell. Why hadn’t I done the same? This little demonstration isn’t going to achieve a single thing. And regardless, we’re all hypocrites.

As I swam, I observed large numbers of fish around me and a Snook prowled the shallows. Lately there have been reports from Louisiana to Florida of large populations of dolphin, sharks, and fish closer to shore. In-shore anglers are catching species normally only seen in deeper waters. It is widely believed that these fish are swimming away from the oil in the Gulf.

I could see more people gathering around the Surfrider tent. Just as I was coming out of the water a man walked down to the shore bearing a black sign with white words clearly stating, “No Offshore Drilling.” Brave, I thought, or naive. Doesn’t he know how much oil and petroleum products he consumes in one day, let alone a lifetime? More people followed, and eventually there were 150 individuals lined up along the beach. I overheard a man in the water with his wife say,

“This is the f#$% stupidest thing I have ever seen.”

That is when I got in line and joined hands with them.


Turns out another 500 lined up on the beach next to us, another 200 just south of them, and so on and so on. Thousands of people across Florida, from Pensacola to Naples and Key West to Jacksonville, participated in the event. I don’t know what it achieved, but I was there. Maybe some awareness in those that have never thought about how much oil we consume? Or how offshore drilling is actually conducted? Or how we might possibly discover an alternative solution to our oil addiction?

I think for many people it was just a way to do something, anything, with their frustration. Disappointment over the environmental and economic catastrophe that still looms large. The corners BP has cut. The embedded oligarchy. The corrupt and inept MMS and Department of Interior. The continuing commitment to offshore drilling. The fact that, right now and in the foreseeable future, we need oil.

I participated in Hands Across the Sand because I believe in human innovation and our ability to come up with a better solution – IF IT IS A PRIORITY. Changes to minimum fuel standards, for all new cars manufactured in America, came about only because of the alignment of several key factors: a new president, a dramatic spike in fuel costs, and changes in consumer demand. Clearly, it takes a veritable perfect storm to incite change in American government.

The Gulf Oil Spill will be a catalyst for change. We’ll see improvements in offshore drilling practices, and the ways it is regulated. But what else?

Hands Across the Sand came on the tail end of an interesting week in the news. People were anxiously lining up outside of Apple stores for the new iPhone. I love technology as much as the next guy/girl, but I couldn’t help but think what a waste of time it all was. What these seemingly educated people could better use their time doing. It made me think about the Conan O’brien and Louis CK clip, “Everything’s Amazing, Nobody’s Happy.” [Watch It Now] It is a funny bit that attempts to convey the message of not taking things, especially technology, for granted. But as popular as it has been, I think the message is skewed.

Phones, internet, even travel, are not necessarily indicators of happiness. The technology and human innovation involved is amazing; but so were stone tools, wheels, ships, guns, cars, and rockets to the moon.

Now we consume and throw away more than we ever have – the planet is hot and crowded – and people sit in long lines for iPhones.

Technology is great, but how it is applied is what makes it truly wonderful. I sincerely hope for my son’s sake that we are innovative enough, and capable enough, of keeping a tight grasp on the right priorities to manage this planet going forward.


5 thoughts on “The Emperor’s New Clothes”

  1. Good post. I agree the future is looking rather dim right now and every generation has probably said that since the 1700s. However, with the sure speed of technological advancement, this fear is probably more applicable now then it has ever been before.

    1. Thanks Josh! Technology is the solution. The way humans decide to use it is the potential threat. But I agree, every generation has its fears. In many ways we are more responsible than ever. Cities used to dump raw sewage right in to the ocean and rivers. Landfills had no restrictions. But this oil issue is a mess, and I hope we'll find some good alternatives. People have to care enough though.

  2. Interesting. I don't know that the future looks grim. The oil spill is a big deal, but we can get over it. Imagine if this happened in 2001. would bush's response be to go after off shore oil drilling or launch an all out attack on the contractor who screwed up.


  3. Thanks for your comment, Wolfy. Yes, I think Bush would've been forced to do something. But I really don't want to delve in to party politics. My purpose was to tell a story of my experience and the hypocrisies that I think a lot of us carry around. As I mentioned in the post, I think we are/will see changes in offshore drilling practices and regulations; but it certainly doesn't take our need for oil off the table. I do have hope for the future, don't think otherwise, but I also think there is a great deal of polarization and differing views on alternative energy, as well as general apathy. After the spill is stopped I don't want it to be business as usual again.

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