06/17/2010 04:41 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Somewhere Over the Gulf Coast: A "Glee" and BP Oil Disaster Mashup

After decades of inaction, this may be the single most important moment in America's search for clean energy. Starting with Richard Nixon, the last eight U.S. Presidents have promised to end our addiction to imported oil and develop our own domestic energy resources. We're now on the verge of unprecedented progress.

All 59 Democratic U.S. Senators met on Capitol Hill to talk about passing a climate and clean energy bill this year (the House passed one last year). Several different and bipartisan energy bills have already been unveiled in the Senate - and in some cases, already analyzed by outside experts -- so lawmakers have plenty of ideas at hand and can adopt the best aspects of the different measures. And the President is making the issue a priority -- calling the sponsors of the different bills, summoning key lawmakers to the White House, and planning a bipartisan meeting next week to move a bill through the Senate.

If we're now seeing unprecedented movement on clean energy legislation, it may be because we're also seeing unprecedented environmental damage from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. There are plenty of reasons for fast action on clean energy -- a billion dollars a day going overseas for imported oil, millions of tons of pollution going into our air, and threats to our health. But the oil spill may be the ultimate catalyst toward action. Americans who have seen pictures of the disaster are frightened or outraged. And rightly so.

From a comfortable distance -- in our classrooms, around our water coolers, through pictures on TV or newspapers -- the BP oil disaster is depressing and horrific.

But up close where every breath you take fills your mouth, nose, and lungs with the toxic mix of oil and industrial chemicals, where you talk with resilient and proud locals and hear their frustration, anger, and concern, where the disturbing and unforgettable scenes of a precious and fragile ecosystem in crisis are just seared into your mind - all of it is just so bad, so repugnant, so wrong in the most profound way.

Two days in the Gulf of Mexico left me enraged - and deeply resolved. Both the widespread damage and the inadequacy of the response effort exceeded my worst fears.

Seeing terns and gulls sitting on the oil-soaked booms that were supposed to be protecting their fragile island marshes - booms that had been blown or washed ashore - may have been the ultimate symbol of the devastation unfolding in the Gulf.

Or maybe it was the lone shrimp trawler, aimlessly circling off the coast, dragging a saturated gauze-like boom behind it, accomplishing nearly nothing.

Or maybe it was the desperation of the fishermen whose livelihoods had been snatched away by BP's recklessness - and yet want nothing more than to see the moratorium on drilling lifted so their economies don't dry up, as well.

I'd spent a full day on the Gulf and we ended up soaked in oily water and seared by the journey into the heart of ecological darkness.

By Tuesday night, I was home. My throat burned and my head was foggy and dizzy as I showed my pictures and my flip-camera video to my wife, Fran, and my 13-year-old daughter, Nicole, on the TV in the family room.

Images of the gooey peanut-butter colored oil and the blackened wetlands flashed by. Pictures of dolphins diving into our oily wake and Brown Pelicans futilely trying to pick oil off their backs popped on the screen. And, out of nowhere, Nicole put on the music from the season finale of Glee.

With all these horrific images on the screen, she had turned on the show's final song of the year, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." The song, a slow, sweet, ukulele and guitar-driven version, couldn't have added a deeper sense of tragic irony.

I choked up. And then that resolve kicked in: I wanted anyone/everyone to see what our addiction to oil had done to the Gulf and to contrast that with the sense of hope and possibility that "Somewhere" exudes.

Long story short, last weekend, Peter Rice, Chairman of Fox Networks Entertainment, gave Environmental Defense Fund the green light to use the song. The pictures you'll see were shot by two incredibly talented EDF staffers, Yuki Kokubo and Patrick Brown -- and a few are mine.

The inspiration was Nicole's. This is for her, and for all of our kids -- and theirs to come. And for all Americans who are now moved to act -- to call their Senators and tell them to do more to stop the spill, to clean up the Gulf, and to finally, finally, get us a clean energy bill.

David Yarnold is executive director of Environmental Defense Fund.