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Published on August 5th, 2008 | by adamwilliams

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World Naked Bike Ride: Is Anything Gained By Protesting Oil Dependency In The Buff?

World Naked Bike Ride 2007 in LondonThe latest edition of the World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR) rolled through St. Louis, Mo., Aug. 2.

It was the first year for the Gateway City to join the fun that’s been happening around the world since the summer of 2004. There wasn’t a whole lot of nudity, though, at least not by comparison to many of the WNBR rides which have taken place in several dozen cities in 20 countries on six continents.

But such is the evolution of a protest movement. St. Louisans were testing the water – and law enforcement – with the ride. Next year? I’m guessing it will grow, assuming the event coordinators make it a recurring ride.

In other places, hundreds of full-on nekkid riders rail against the machine. They paint their bodies with artistic musings and general messages of protest, not unlike one St. Louisan who’s back was painted in vivid green lettering, saying: My clothing $ went for fuel.

The Idea Behind World Naked Bike Ride

The point of it all, based on the WNBR Web site is to say: Stop the indecent exposure of human beings to automotive emissions; stop the oil dependency.

The ride also voices solidarity among cyclists, who ride city streets clogged with vehicles emitting nauseating toxins, standing up and saying “We’re here, and deserve to be. Share the road; share the air.”World Naked Bike Ride 2008 Poster

As a bike commuter, I dig that a statement is being made. As an observer of society, here are my questions:

Can this naked statement – the larger WNBR movement – make a positive impact? Can something this sensational close the gap between so-called “liberal, bleeding-heart, do-nothing hippies” and so-called “self-absorbed, mind-on-my-money and hand-on-my-bible conservatives” and effect real change?

History shows that protests seem to be easily written off by the powers that be, and by status-quo society. Protesters are often deemed crazies not to be taken seriously – mere noisy nuisances — and their messages fall on ears distracted by the rustle of cash bound for profiteers’ pockets.

ExxonMobil and Oil Companies Reap Record Profits

Last week ExxonMobil reported a record-setting $11.7B in second-quarter profits, which was less than the oil company had estimated, according to Bloomberg.com. Royal Dutch Shell, Europe’s largest oil producer, reached $11.6B in 2Q profit. All while consumers suffer record prices for fuel at the pump – and the domino effect the price of oil has on other costs of living.

The same Aug. 1 Bloomberg article cited ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as saying ExxonMobil spends $52 million a day to search for new oil fields to drill.

So, back to the questions: Can naked bike riding be the statement the Earth needs to stop the current push for off-shore oil drilling and the like, and close the gap between the opposing viewpoints on these issues?

Or is naked bike riding just another bold cry that will be lost on those voting citizens who prefer to fill 15-miles-per-gallon SUVs while blindly reciting the mantra “America is the best country on Earth, America is the best country on Earth, America is the best country on Earth…” while clicking their heels together, trying to dream themselves back to the safe, fuzzy-warm humanity of Dorothy’s Kansas of perfection?

Actions are necessary, no doubt, as dreaming accomplishes little. But how much is accomplished if the opposing ends of the spectrum refuse to communicate understandable terms that draw us all — with solutions — into common ground?

If conservatives are unlikely to respect and appreciate the collective perspective of clothes-free cyclists, then is anything gained by protesting oil dependency in the buff?

Related posts:

Video – Obama on Climate and Energy

My Date with the Giant: ExxonMobil Responds to Global Warming Report and Allegations

Photo credit: Dani Lurie at Flickr, under Creative Commons License

Photo caption: World Naked Bike Ride in London (2007 )



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  • Marilyn

    This is merely a clever stunt. I think it’s funny and and I admire the free-spirit affirmation of humanity but it won’t change any attitudes held by those who deny global warming, hate cyclists, or believe it’s their god-granted right to drive huge SUVs powered by cheap gas.

    I was born in 1970, so I can’t say that I have first-hand experience but it seems like the gay protesters of 1950s Philadelphia were the birth of modern protest culture. They protested silently and well dressed (ties and dresses, according to gender, were required), and well groomed, showing themselves to be responsible, active members of society. I think they made more inroads with mainstream society than any protests of counter-culture since the 1960s.

    Unlike the silent, well-dressed, gay protesters, the naked cyclists are showing themselves to be more interested in flaunting society’s norms and common needs and goals than in helping to solve our obstacles in a constructive manner. Ride naked but don’t expect to change anyone’s mind that way.

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  • http://smartplanet.com Adam

    Hey Adam, enjoyed reading this. Funnily enough I asked exactly the same question after this year’s Naked Bike Rides in the UK:
    http://tinyurl.com/5nv9yl

  • http://gathkinsons.net/blog Allen

    No, this sort of protest isn’t going to change the minds of diehard Rush listeners. Neither is anything else. What it does, though, is get a lot of free publicity for the message and reach a lot of people who are somewhere in the middle. It reminds people who are meaning to cut down on their fuel use that that old bike in the garage could help. It reminds drivers who aren’t total jerks that they need to be a little more careful of cyclists. Considering the cheering crowds along the route, it seems to have been very positively received. And just because people are participating in this somewhat light-hearted protest, it doesn’t mean they’re not also working in a variety of other ways to promote cycling and reduce oil dependence.

  • http://fromflyoverland.com Adam Williams

    I appreciate the comments on this. I hope there will be more discussion, too.

    I asked the questions in the post sincerely as the communication gap between views is something that concerns me. If we never draw it closed, will we ever get along and accomplish the world we can have?

    Maybe, as Allen and Marilyn suggest, though not in these exact words, we just will never agree with people who see the world so differently than us. In which case we should just do things our own ways and enjoy it the best we can.

    I suppose there are some who would say it’s a good thing to have a diversity of world views out there, and that we all get to tackle these issues in our own ways. The issues will possibly never be resolved, but at least we all get to work on them how we think is best.

    I don’t know. I’ll keep pondering, observing and asking questions in hopes more people will join in and add some light.

  • Morris

    It’s rather interesting to note that none of these people bother to think that if it weren’t for oil they wouldn’t be riding those bikes, they’d be walking, barefoot, naked with no glasses! Not to mention the streets would be dirt, not paved. There would be no electric lights, no drinks at the end of the ride, no music. Should I go on? There isn’t any part of any of those bicycles that doesn’t have petroleum used in its production or lubrication. Not to mention helmets, shoes, clothes, glasses! It’s no wonder people don’t pay much attention to displays such as this when it is obvious the people involved don’t really know what they are talking about.

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  • http://palmspringsgreen.com Wesley Cole

    I get SO tired of people trying to compare the oil and electricity to create a several thousand pound automobile to that of an under 50 pound bicycle. My bike probably arrived at a warehouse in a truck with maybe 100 or more bikes. How many cars fit on a transport truck? With their weight how much gas did they cause the transport truck to use?

    If you are going to compare things, make sure it is apples to aplles. Otherwise you really look like a spoiled apple.

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