On September 11th, 2001 I was a junior in high school, living in a New Jersey suburb of New York City. My father was working in the city that day. When I was told that a plane hit the World Trade Center, I assumed it must have been a small plane, like the one that flew into the Empire State Building decades earlier. I was wrong.
The decade since has been the decade in which I have come of age and begun to understand the world around me. As I look back, not just as a citizen, but as the transportation lover and advocate who writes this blog, 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 reason, but the first has always been the oil on which the American economy depends on.
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.
Today the kick in the pants should be the rising price of oil. America was built on cheap oil. There are real questions about where our economy will go without the presence of cheap oil. We cannot continue to sprawl and drive everywhere, cool our buildings to arctic temperatures, consume plastics as if they are renewable, and just hope that gas gets cheaper.
On September 11th we should remember that our love of cheap oil contributed to our situation. A decade later we have not changed that love, but we have all the proof we need to know we cannot keep doing the same things we are currently doing. On this September 11th we should be committed to ensuring that the next decade is not lost as well.