Ten Years After 9/11, American Oil Addiction Persists

Yesterday America reflected. We collectively remembered the terrorist attacks of September 11, and examined the country we’ve become.

A memorial to the lives lost on 9/11 displayed yesterday at the Pentagon. Photo: Zimbio.com

There’s no denying that 10 years later, our country has irreversibly changed. We’ve been through a decade of costly and humbling warfare. We’ve suffered economic upheaval and stagnation.

But in many ways, we’re still the same country we were. One troubling constant is our addiction to oil.

And reducing oil dependence, writes Matthew Meltzer of Network blog Transit Pass, should have been a key strategy to achieving a more secure future:

As I look back, not just as a citizen, but as a transportation lover and advocate, I am saddened and dismayed. I am demoralized by what has been termed a lost decade. That day, ten years ago, the United States was attacked by men from the Middle East. America has had a strategic interest in the Middle East for decades for many reasons, but the first has always been the oil on which the American economy depends.

Instead of seeing the attacks as the kick in the pants we needed to change our joint energy and transportation policy, we doubled down on oil. We did not invest in infrastructure to reduce our dependence through vehicles with better mileage, denser cities, better regional planning, more public transportation, and research into new technologies. We did not see the irony that the oil inside the planes caused the destruction of the two towers. Instead we went to war with an oil producing nation and were told to just keep on acting as we had been. This was a moral failure of leadership, but we as Americans also failed to look in the mirror.

Today, we can do better. With the benefit of hindsight, knowing how little we have accomplished in the past decade, and understanding that we may have actually fallen behind – now is the time to start working towards change. We should not rethink energy and transportation system because of terrorism, but we should now understand that our foreign oil dependence can come with consequences that hit close to home.

Imagine what our country would be like today if our Homeland Security strategy had focused on reducing the need for American involvement in the Middle East altogether. If we had invested in rebuilding our towns so that people could live comfortably without worrying about every jump in gas prices caused by events in distant countries.

Maybe then we could have said with confidence yesterday that we were truly more secure.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space looks at the way communities change when Whole Foods comes knocking. Straight Outta Suburbia reviews the new book “Visualizing Density,” which explains strategies for building attractive, tightly-knit communities. And the Chicago Bicycle Advocate displays a simple chart comparing bike commuting movements in the country’s leading cycling cities.