The Gulf Disaster Is Far From Over

A few weeks ago, I flew over the Deepwater Horizon site and saw what looked like the opposite of all the news reports: it looked more like somebody had spilled water into a Gulf filled with oil.

You don't have to make a personal trip to the Gulf of Mexico to realize the BP disaster has blown the cover off a subject some would prefer to keep quiet: the ongoing damage inflicted by our addiction to oil.

When you see images of blackened beaches, grounded fishermen, and toxic dispersants in the water, you can't pretend that it only costs $35 to fill your gas tank.

There are hidden costs in every drop of oil, and that's why I made this PSA for NRDC about the true cost of a gallon of gasoline.

People in the Gulf are paying a steep price right now. Eleven people lost their lives, but the human cost goes far beyond that. The commercial fishing and tourism economies in the Gulf have been gutted, and local families trying to put food on the table don't know where to turn. They've lost their jobs, wages, cultural traditions, beloved beaches, and security. This is the collateral damage of the disaster.

I didn't grow up in Louisiana, and I can imagine those who did are even more passionate about cleaning up this mess than the rest of us. I grew up in Canada, where we have a similar tragedy being carried out right now: the ancient boreal forest in Northern Alberta is being destroyed to collect dirty tar sands oil. Oil that generates three times the global warming pollution as regular crude. As a result, entire ecosystems and indigenous communities are being devastated.

When you see what's happening in the Gulf and the boreal, you realize we're willing to stop at absolutely nothing in order to get our fix. And it seems to me like it's time we recognize we have a problem. A major, major problem.

What we're doing is literally the same thing cave men did: we set things on fire to produce energy. There are so many viable alternatives. Wind farms and solar plants, for instance, don't explode, destroying thousands of miles of marshlands and oceans. That's something worth focusing on.

I started out feeling angry about the spill, and I think a lot of other people did too. Slowly but surely, I've been trying to redirect that anger into something positive. And you start to think, "How can we change this? How can we turn this into an opportunity?"

I see this whole thing as a wakeup call: a chance to shift to cleaner energy and build a greener economy.

It's easy to vilify Big Oil after a tragedy like this, but there are still hard working people in that industry who need to put a roof over their heads. I firmly believe we can pass clean energy and climate legislation and by doing so, put millions of Americans to work.

But we have to ask for it. We have to petition the government to move this kind of legislation forward. The Senate failed to do it this summer, but we should call on them to do it this fall. If the voices are loud enough, lawmakers will start to listen and (if only in the interests of self preservation) begin to move the country in a new direction.

I think our approach to energy is going to change one way or another. Eventually the Earth will make us change. It would be great if we could get in front of that - and better still, be here to enjoy it.

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