We’re delighted to announce the winners of The Nation’s seventh annual Student Writing Contest. This year we asked students to send us an original, unpublished, 800-word essay detailing what they think is the most important issue of Election 2012. We received close to 1,000 submissions from high school and college students in forty-two states. We chose one college and one high school winner and ten finalists total. The winners are Tess Saperstein of Dreyfoos School of the Arts in Boca Raton, Florida, and Andrew Giambrone of Yale University. The winners receive a cash award of $1,000 and the finalists, $200 each. All receive Nation subscriptions. Read all the winning essays today. —The Editors

As I have watched the news, listened to the radio and read the newspaper, I have learned about many issues (some more important than others) that are being debated in the election of 2012. I have heard a lot about the economy, which everyone agrees is important but no one agrees how to fix. People engage in heated debates about birth control, pro-life vs. pro-choice and gay marriage. Some of the debates and comments have gotten ugly. The Supreme Court is trying to decipher immigration and has made its decision on healthcare. Headlines scream about foreign policy. While all of these issues matter, the most serious one has been virtually ignored: How can we provide the energy our country needs, without destroying our world?

We need power so our country can function. While there are some people who might want to go back to a time before people became dependent on technology, most of us realize that technology is here to stay. And why shouldn’t it be? In the last century, Americans invented the telephone, light bulb and airplane. Americans should be proud of the things that were invented here in America. However, in this century, America is growing weak and gaining a poor reputation because it is unable to provide power for its technology. Unless our country can solve the energy crisis and determine a safe way to power our homes and cars, all our innovations will lead to our downfall.

There are a lot of ways to obtain energy. But the hard part is acquiring energy without destroying the environment. Domestic drilling can pollute pristine natural areas. Hydraulic fracturing decreases property value and pollutes our ground water. Nuclear power plants can be extremely dangerous if something goes wrong (as we have seen in Japan, due to the earthquake of 2011). We do not want air pollution or water pollution or radiation. And we definitely do not want it here. But there have been a lot of problems with foreign oil. As tensions in the Middle East rise, and oil spills into our oceans from transport tankers, foreign oil becomes more and more problematic. The environment is getting worse and worse before our eyes. Even in the last few years, global warming has changed our climate noticeably. Hurricane Irene took lives and led to the loss of over a billion dollars in repair costs. This year alone, on the East Coast, there were snow storms in October, a mild winter and then more snow in the spring. Now fires are raging in Colorado. Freezing weather devastated crops in Michigan. In my hometown in California, we had an eerily cold June (much gloomier than the usual June gloom). The repercussions of not having sustainable power affect every American, and everyone in the world.

Ultimately, Americans need to find a safe way to power our society before it is too late. If we do not move to solve our energy problem right away, we may lose our chance at a solution. If Americans continue to do what we are doing, the problem will only become worse and worse. Yet, hardly a word about energy is discussed by either candidate for the presidency. We, the American people, need a president who can lead America to find a safe, clean and renewable energy source, to reduce carbon emissions, and to conserve the energy we have. We need that president right now, in 2012.

The problem is more solvable than one might think. Our government needs to stop giving corporations so much power and needs to start doing what is best for the American people. We need to invest in energy efficiency and conservation. We also must work towards using wind, geothermal, solar and photovoltaic energy.

Historically, the word “power” referred to words like “authority”, “control” and “strength”. Ultimately, the United States will lose its world-wide authority, control and strength, if it is unable to find a way to provide power for our technology, appliances and vehicles in a sustainable and environmentally correct way. If America can find the solution to our power problem, other countries will follow our lead. The gains will be tremendous. It isn’t too late to solve the problem now. However, it cannot wait until the next election in 2016. If we do not stop ignoring the elephant in the room, our world will be unable to support elephants, along with all other life forms. Our candidates need to bring new energy ideas into this year’s campaign, and they need to do it now.