My Greatest Hope…

By Leilani Munter

[Leilani, “Carbon Free Girl,” is a Race Car Driver who competes at NASCAR]

After spending a week in Venice, Louisiana getting an up close view of the
BP gulf coast oil spill disaster, talking with locals whose livelihoods
are over, and seeing dead wildlife, I am trying my best to look at the
positive side. Keep in mind that I just got off the phone with one of my
boat captains in Louisiana and he told me he saw six dead dolphins and ten
dead turtles in the past few days. So the idea of looking on “the bright
side” is nearly impossible, and most days I fail, but I think it is human
nature to try to find something positive in the face of a catastrophe. The
only positive thing that can possibly come from this — the largest
environmental disaster in American history — is if it causes us to change
the way we are living on this Earth.

When Dale Earnhardt Sr. died on the last lap of the Daytona 500 in 2001,
it devastated NASCAR. He was their biggest star and a hero to most of
their audience. The one positive thing that came from his death is that
racing took a good hard look at safety and they made some really big
changes. After his death, all drivers were required to wear full face
helmets (Earnhardt wore an open face helmet) as well as a HANS device, a
head and neck restraint system. SAFER barriers, or soft walls, were
installed in the speedways so that when we crashed, the racetrack wall
would help absorb some of the impact. It cost millions of dollars, but it
has also likely saved many lives. I have since had wrecks at nearly 200
mph (one impact was so intense it put a crack through my motor) and I have
walked away with nothing but bruises and a sore back. I don’t know for
sure that I would have walked away from those crashes if many years
earlier, Earnhardt hadn’t passed away and changed the safety rules of
racing. His death marked a permanent change to the way motor sports safety
was conducted, NASCAR drew a line in the sand and never looked back. That
fateful moment made racing safer for all drivers that have strapped
themselves into a race car since, including myself.

Perhaps one day we will look back at this oil spill and think “If the Gulf
Coast oil spill hadn’t happened, we wouldn’t have kick started our clean
energy economy back in 2010. We wouldn’t have made such great strides with
solar pv and thermal technology, geothermal energy, wind and tidal
turbines, green buildings, hydrogen fuel cell and electric cars,
alternative fuels like cellulosic ethanol and algae based biodiesel, and
we might not have passed the American Power Act.” Perhaps we would look
back and incredulously say “Imagine if the gulf coast oil spill hadn’t
happened, we might actually still be running our country on dirty fossil
fuels and spending billions of dollars buying oil from foreign countries!
Wouldn’t that be awful?!”

Charles Darwin once said, “It is not the strongest of the species that
survives. Nor is it the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that
is most adaptable to change.”

And so our time has come — this is the 11th hour. We either change the
way we are living on the planet or relegate ourselves to eventually having
our planet covered with oily water, polluted air, dead coral reefs, and
cattle pastures where there were once rain forests. I hope that this
disaster will wake us up and make those in charge realize that now is the
time for us to turn over a new leaf. To check ourselves into rehab to get
off our addiction to fossil fuels and start a new sober life with clean,
renewable energy.

I am a race car driver; my career is currently based around an internal
combustion engine
, and yet even I can see the importance of energy
and the move towards the use of clean, renewable energy. We
are at a crossroads and I hope we take the right turn — or maybe it’s a
left? Let’s take a step — or even better, a leap — in the right
direction. Let’s pass the American Power Act and start putting a real
effort into capturing clean energy from the wind, the sun, and the ocean.
Let’s put Americans to work building our new green energy economy. We’ve
been talking about it for years, the technology is already here — all we
have to do now is to make it happen.

What in the world are we waiting for? Millions of gallons of oil to spill
into the Gulf of Mexico?

My greatest hope in the wake of this ongoing tragedy is that this is our
clean energy wake up call. My biggest fear? That we won’t answer.

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