As someone who worked for more than 20 years in Louisiana's oil fields and petrochemical industry, I am sad to say I was not surprised by the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
During my youth, I saw bayous contaminated by toxic chemicals that destroyed the fish and other wildlife that should have been living there.
As an adult, I saw the health of my fellow workers and community members jeopardized by polluted air and water.
Now, as more than 200,000 gallons of crude oil pour into the Gulf of Mexico each day, I see the jobs that will be lost, the families and communities that will suffer and the impending devastation of our $2 billion seafood industry.
Think about the fishermen, the truck drivers, the restaurant owners and so many others who depend on this industry. Think also about the fish, birds, sea turtles and other marine life whose ecosystem has just been turned on its head.
There is a better way: clean energy.
While many countries have already embraced clean energy and adopted national policies to increase energy efficiency and the use of renewables, the United States continues to suffer from a reactive, outdated energy strategy. It's been nearly a year since the U.S. House of Representatives passed its energy and climate bill (the American Clean Energy and Security Act), but the Senate has yet to begin serious debate on its own legislation.
Our policymakers are fiddling while Rome burns - or rather, while oil rigs burn and pollute our oceans and coasts.
Not only is America's refusal to embrace clean energy endangering human health and wildlife, it is also costing us jobs, which are precious commodities in this time of economic hardship. Several energy companies, including GE and BP Solar, recently announced plans to invest millions of dollars to develop and expand clean energy facilities - not in the United States, where such investments and the jobs they bring are desperately needed - but in Europe and China. We need incentives for green energy jobs here at home.
Now is the time for the Senate to act. With photos of the oil spill on the front pages of newspapers across the country, Americans are starting to grasp the dangers of our country's dependence on oil and other dirty sources of energy, and this awareness is being transformed into support for a new energy direction for our country.
What is happening in the Gulf of Mexico is a tragedy, plain and simple. But it will be even more tragic if we fail to learn from the oil spill and if we refuse to adopt new energy policies that will increase public health and safety while creating a new generation of clean energy jobs.
Let's not wait for the death of another oil worker or the image of one more oil-drenched bird or the announcement of one more business shutting its doors before we commit to making the United States a clean energy leader.
Jerome Ringo, former president and current board member of the Apollo Alliance, is senior executive for global strategies for Green Port, a private company that focuses on establishing sustainable green ports around the world. He wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues.