How are you treating the world today?

I don't know about you, but for myself it feels like we are at a critical moment of life on this planet. It seems the world is on fire and so are our hearts inflamed with sadness, anger, disgust — all states that reflect the ongoing destruction in the Gulf of Mexico.

The oil spill could not have come at a worse time for the Gulf's sea life, wildlife and bird species. Late spring is the peak time for neo-tropical songbirds moving from the Yucatan Peninsula to Louisiana. As many as 25 million a day arrive during the northern migration. More than 70% of the country's water fowls frequent the gulf's waters, including the brown pelican, which is in its nesting season. Federally protected marine mammals — whales, dolphins and sea turtles — are among the species at risk. The 400 miles of shoreline near the spill include a national park and more than 20 national wildlife refuge areas. Biologists are concern about the affect on plankton and if fish larvae will not find food. We are talking an entire sensitive eco-system at risk.

We can stop watching the live stream that continues to swirl over the size of this disaster from the 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons) leaking per day from the damaged well, as first acknowledged by BP. More accurate estimates by the USGS of 840,000 gallons a day, the 1.05 million gallons calculated by other experts, or the worst case of 4.2 million gallons spilling into the Gulf every day are a reminder of what we have to do yesterday, an "Energy Plan for the XXI Century."

More than a century and a half after it was first discovered, oil continues to play an essential role in the global economy, despite the fears that reliance on petroleum are fueling rapid "climate change." This, despite the conclusion that world oil production would start its final permanent decline by 2010, as written years ago by Colin Campbell in "The End of Cheap Oil." Others concluded oil would decline before the end of this decade. However, there is an ongoing recognition among experts that peak oil production might indeed be upon us. Certainly as time moves on, the remaining oil reserves become more expensive as drilling and production activities shift to sites that are more difficult to access and that result in increasing liabilities. But we keep living and making decisions based on the assumption that oil and natural gas will remain plentiful and affordable, when in fact it will not.

There is no doubt that 10 years from now we are going to keep driving our cars and drilling for oil. The question is how we are going to mitigate the impacts of the transition from declining fossil supplies to new forms of energy. Unlike fossil fuels, renewable energy resources are inexhaustible and self-regenerating. Solar energy, wind and water power and other natural resources are available; the challenge is capturing and harnessing these resources. The amount of solar energy reaching earth daily far exceeds what the U.S. or even the world could consume for electricity, heat and light. Although it is happening at a growing pace, renewable energy development as a whole remains a drop in the bucket when it comes to our energy supply.

These fuels are literally free of cost, but the technology needed to convert these energy sources into electricity, hydrogen or other fuels require high upfront investment. The high capital costs which need to be invested in the very beginning of the development process have made these resources less attractive to a corporate world only concerned with profits here and now.

The warning signs are all around us and even the most optimistic forecast offers little time to adapt, given the very long lead-time required for such change. What concerns you most: climate change, national security, the potential economic and social distress of peak oil — a critical resource as food is highly dependent on fossil fuels (food production and distribution accounts for 17% of U.S. energy consumption). A transportation system that will need to shift toward a more efficient model, by using, at the personal level more mass transit, walking, bikes and more efficient vehicles, or the freight distribution that will be required to shift from trucks to, probably, rail. These are all issues that require focusing our attention on renewable sources of energy.

What will emerge will be shaped in large measure by whether and how we shape the future.

We can be the country that considers the death of 11 oil rig workers, the injuries of 17 others and the environmental disaster to be an acceptable cost of doing business. Then "drill, baby, drill" and blame the environmentalists for the tragedy, arguing that they are damaging the planet with their efforts to block safe drilling areas.

Perhaps we can be the country of President Kennedy, who, when attempting to make a determination about which road to take the space program, said, "I believe we should go to the moon." Then in a special address to Congress in May 1961, he urged that America pledge itself to the goal "before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth." He demanded of Congress a commitment to a new course of action, saying, "This decision demands a major national commitment of scientific and technical manpower, material and to facilitate their diversion from other important activities. It means a degree of dedication, organization and discipline which have not always characterized our research and development efforts."

This massive oil spill may trigger changes in recent talks about expanding offshore drilling, a concession the White House may have traded for some undecided votes in support of a Climate Bill. The challenge today is one of coming to our senses, taking a holistic approach, building a comprehensive and integrated energy plan that involves utilities, oil companies, financial institutions, and environmentalist groups, but also the federal, state and local government, and you and me. My hope is that this serves as a foundation for a better understanding of the world of energy and making more informed choices when you vote, when you eat, and when you buy.

As Einstein put it, "The problems that exist in the world today cannot be solved by the level of thinking that created them."

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