Jonathan Cohn, writing at his new must-read blog, has a fascinating piece on the policy implications of the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The gist of his argument is that the public push for clean energy policy — in the form of marches on Washington and calls to Congress — is more subdued than should be expected in the wake of such a devastating environmental catastrophe, and that this dynamic is largely responsible for the Senate’s slim chances of moving comprehensive legislation this year.
While I think this argument has some merit, Cohn leaves out several key considerations.
First, I disagree with Cohn’s characterization of last weekend’s Hands Across the Sand offshore drilling protests. Using turnout estimates of 400 and 450 from two of the 814 protest locations in the United States, he concludes, “[t]hat probably means a few thousand people participated nationwide.” He continues, “That’s a perfectly respectable figure in normal times. But with the nation’s worst environmental catastrophe–an oil spill, of all things–in progress? Under those circumstances, the numbers seem a little disappointing.”
Those numbers do seem disappointing, but only because they are not accurate. While nationwide numbers have not yet been released, a few minutes of Googling reveals considerably higher turnout numbers. In St. Petersburg, Florida, for example, over 5,000 people turned out for Saturday’s event. Even at an extremely conservative estimate of an average of 50 people per event, the 814 events nationwide would have had over 40,000 people in attendance. Sierra Club pegs the total at tens of thousands. Either way, these numbers are quite impressive for a volunteer-led event that was planned in a matter of weeks, by my standards at least. Dave Rauschkolb, the organizer of Hands Across the Sand, isn’t overly concerned with the raw numbers. To him, the real impact is on a more human level. “Every photograph, every video, every footprint in the sand tells the story of how much Americans care about their coastal heritage,” he told me by phone Wednesday evening.