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 This year we asked students to send us an original, unpublished, 800-word essay detailing what they think is the most important issue of Election 2012.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 here. —The Editors

Oil is the most dangerous resource in the world. It dictates economies, catalyzes wars and controls governments. It powers almost everything we have in America—cars, planes, power plants and more; the very tractors we use to grow our food run on oil! Our dependence on it, however, makes us reliant on other nations, like those in the volatile Middle East, because they control much of the world’s oil. To stabilize our economy, protect national security and preserve the environment, the next United States president must take an aggressive stance on weaning the US off of oil dependency by focusing on the development of sustainable alternative energy sources.

The link between oil prices and the economy is irrefutable. Statistics from the Bureau of Economic Analysis show that GDP is sharply curtailed by spikes in oil prices. Therefore, the countries with access to more stable oil reserves have more stable economic growth. However, oil reserves are getting more and more depleted every year. It is estimated that by 2050, the world will reach peak oil, and world oil production will sharply begin to peter out, resulting in soaring gas prices, widespread disregard of environmental regulations, and the relentless exploitation of previously protected drilling sites. That means that we have thirty-eight years—only one generation—to build a completely new energy infrastructure in the US without oil. Even if we can continue to drill oil from depleted reserves after peak oil, skyrocketing costs would make the switch to alternative energy imperative. By decreasing our reliance on oil, and adopting alternative energy, the United States can ensure that its economic growth and stability is no longer at the mercy of oil prices.

In addition to threatening our economic stability, our dependence on oil threatens our national security. Countries that export oil to America have major leverage against us. Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, and Kuwait, hold almost 45 percent of the world’s oil reserves; however, they have unstable and/or repressive governments. Nonetheless, we are dependent on them. Our reliance leaves our economy, and therefore our country, at the clemency of other countries, some of which currently have very strained relationships with the United States. In order to secure oil, we have staged coups in Middle East countries since the 1950s that have been extremely unpopular with their people, creating bellicosity and sparking the growth of terrorist groups like Hezbollah, who have enough power and political connection to shape policies of Middle Eastern countries. More recently, there have been multiple threats by Iran to close the Strait of Hormuz, cutting America off from 40 percent of its oil, which would ruin our economy and leave us without transport. This gives Iran the power to affect American politics and jeopardize our economy and national security. We must limit the usage of oil to keep our country and economy safe, stable, and self-sufficient.

Finally, and most importantly, oil’s impact on the environment, is not only an issue of national importance but of global consequence. Oil and various other fossil fuels emit over 90 percent of greenhouse gases in the United States. Growing emissions from greenhouse gasses and environmental toxins, with over 33 million metric tons of CO2 released into the air every year, threaten the earth’s biodiversity, cleanliness and fitness for all natural life forms. America must lead the world in the discovery of economically superior, environmentally friendly alternate energy sources for the benefit of humanity. Long-term, dire consequences of continual use of fossil fuels include: widespread malaria due to warmer climates, more hurricanes in more places (e.g., California) due to warmer waters, increased probability and intensity of severe droughts, the destruction of the global ecosystem due to ocean desalination and climate change, and the submersion of half of Florida due to ocean levels’ rising. It is imperative that our country and our president lead the way to stopping world oil dependence.

There are many important issues in this year’s election, but oil is the most important, as it impacts every aspect of the social and natural world, not only in the United States but throughout the globe. The dependency of the US on oil weakens its economic position and makes it susceptible to terrorists and unstable regimes alike. In 2012, we need a president who will galvanize the people of America and the divided Congress towards ending fossil fuel dependency. We need a president who can look past special interests and protect America and the world. It is time to take care of our planet, so we can grow up in a healthy environment free of toxins and full of healthy plant and animal life, and we need to do it now, because we’re running out of time and oil. What could be more important?