Skirting the banks of the Mississippi River in the last few miles before it gives itself over to the Gulf of Mexico, it's easy to imagine you're nearing some far end of the Earth.
High tide swamps the roadway. Great grey herons sail weightless across the silhouette of ancient cypress trees against the sky. Alligators bask free and unfettered, much as they have for millions of years, leathery scales wet and shimmering like plates of steel in the morning sun.
Over the past year, though, there's been one thing more: thick crude oil, brown and black, making its way onto beaches, into wetlands, mangroves and mud flats, the leading edge of 170 million gallons of toxic crude oil the BP blowout gushed into some of the richest, most diverse waters anywhere in the world.
One year after the worst oil spill in our history, it's time to ask why we put more and more of this kind of natural treasure at risk.
Fertile Gulf waters, home to blue whales and bottlenose dolphins, marlin, sea turtles and amberjack. Tidal estuaries, the foundation of life, cradle of shrimp, crabs, oysters and speckled trout. And the deltaic wetlands, nourished for tens of millions of years by the organic and mineral wealth running off from the broad middle of the country, vital feeding and nesting grounds for brown pelicans, egrets, terns and gulls.
Why do we push to the ends of the Earth -- in the Gulf, in the Arctic, from the tropical forests of Ecuador to the boreal forests of Canada -- rolling the dice with irreplaceable habitat and life, to feed our insatiable demand for oil? We need, instead, to create an energy future that is safer, cleaner and more sustainable,
We now use, in this country, 800 million gallons of oil each day -- enough to fill the Empire State Building three times. We use 26 percent of all the oil produced everywhere in the world.
Drill, baby, drill is not the answer. We have less than 2 percent of the world's known oil. That's not a political statement; it's geology.
Besides, we've been drilling in this country for 150 years. No country in the world has been more aggressive. That's why, today, nearly 60 percent of the world's producing oil wells are in the United States.
Of the 914,000 working oil wells worldwide, more are in the United States - 526,000 - than in all other countries combined, according to the Oil & Gas Journal, the gold standard of industry data.
Rather than going to greater extremes -- to the ends of the Earth -- until we've drained the last drop of oil, we need to do what presidents going back to Richard Nixon have asked us to do, and reduce our reliance on this costly and dangerous fuel.
These leaders, from both political parties, have understood that we simply cannot afford to have our economy, our security and our very future forever held hostage to global oil price and supply spikes we cannot control. We have to find a better way.
This, I believe, is one of the great callings of our generation, to chart the course to a 21st-Century energy future that makes sense for us all.
We know we can create millions of American jobs, making our country more secure and create a healthier future for our children by investing, as a nation, in renewable power like solar and wind, sustainable communities that give us greater choices in how we live and the next generation of energy efficient cars, workplaces and homes.
President Obama has laid out a plan for doing just that, one that can cut our oil imports by one-third over just the coming decade. This plan needs and deserves our support.
It has taken us a century and a half to build an economy around oil. We won't change that overnight. By investing in efficiency, renewables and sustainable communities, however, we can cut our oil consumption over time.
In the months since the BP blowout, the people of the Gulf of Mexico have paid a grievous price. 11 men died. Their families will never be the same. Thousands of fishermen, hotel staff, cooks and others were thrown out of work. The livelihood and the way of life for much of the region were put at risk.
We must work, as a nation, to restore the Gulf and make its people whole. We must strengthen the safeguards we rely upon to keep our workers and waters safe. And we must make sure the people who enforce these protections have the tools they need to do the job.
We also, though, must do one thing more. We must break our dependence on oil. One year later, that's the message we must take from this devastating national disaster all the way to the ends of the Earth.