Chocolate-covered surfer girls may not scream environmental disaster to everyone, but for more than 100 people who gathered at Waikiki Beach yesterday to protest the gulf oil spill and to call for an end to American dependence on foreign oil, the image made sweet, sticky sense.
The event, sponsored by the Hawaii Chapter of the Sierra Club in partnership with Blue Planet Foundation, the Surfrider Foundation and others, was staged in conjunction with other Hands Across the Sand demonstrations, in which people from all 50 states linked hands to draw a symbolic "line in the sand" in opposition to what they see as the environmental threat posed by Big Oil.
"The BP oil spill was a wake-up call and what you’re seeing here is the largest protest against offshore drilling in the world," said Sierra Club Hawaii director Robert Harris.
The event kicked off with a demonstration of what organizers said an oil spill on a Hawaiian beach might look like, with rolls of black tarpaulin covering the shore break and a quartet of young, environmentally conscious beachgoers covered in the most convenient nontoxic, high-calorie stand-in for crude oil: Hershey’s chocolate syrup.
Lyndsay Haywood, 26, of Waikiki consented to the chocolate syrup drenching to drive home the message that America’s dependence on foreign oil is a perpetual threat to fragile ecosystems like those in Hawaii.
She said the thought of exiting the ocean covered in real oil was "more traumatic than anything I could imagine."
At noon, the demonstrators—many holding freshly painted signs emblazoned with "Keep it Blue," "Save Marine Life" and "No Offshore Drilling"—lined up along the shore and clasped hands in a show of unity with their brethren of conscience in other states.
Harris said he hopes the national demonstration will catch the attention of the lawmakers in Washington and convince them of the urgency of addressing the nation’s long-term energy challenge.
"When we decided to put a man on the moon, there was an assembly of the best and the brightest to figure out how to move forward," Harris said. "Our message to President Obama is that’s what we need to do now. We need a collective vision of how to move the U.S. off of oil. We need a 20-year plan."
Harris cited the 1977 incident in which the oil tanker Hawaiian Patriot caught fire 300 miles off Honolulu and dumped an estimated 95,000 metric tons of oil into the ocean. The spill dissipated before it could reach Hawaiian shores, averting what Harris said would have been an ecological and economic disaster for the islands.
State Sen. Mike Gabbard, chairman of the Senate’s Energy and Environment Committee, said Hawaii is uniquely suited to serve as a model for clean energy development.
"If there’s any place on the planet that can get off of foreign oil, it’s this place right here," he said. "We have sun, wind, ocean thermal, geothermal, waves. If we can do this, Japan, Australia and other island states can follow in our example. We just need to gather the political will."