BENZONIA, MI — The morning that two jetliners destroyed the World Trade Center 14 years ago today I was in Manistee, Michigan shopping for a new car. If you recognize, as I do, that among the primary Al Qaeda justifications for the attack was America’s late 20th century appetite for Mideast oil, and the meddlesome regional interest we displayed for securing our petroleum supply, then you might also consider that my search for an affordable vehicle was a portion of the problem.
At the time the United States was consuming over 20 million barrels of oil daily, nearly 60 percent of it imported. Vehicles capable of 30 miles per gallon, especially those roomy enough to transport children, were not widely available.
There’s good reason to consider the 9/11 attack as the murderous opening act in a new century of political risk prompted by the rise of inflexible orthodoxies. That’s certainly the case in the U.S., where an unarmed insurgency of legislative ideologues, backed by millions of anti-government religious fundamentalists, shut down the federal government in 2013, and are preparing to try to do so again this year.
In my mind, though, that terrible September day was the close of a century of planetary waste and abuse, an assault on our ecological endowment, and the start of a new era of reckoning and correction. If the 20th century was a river of unevenly distributed wealth and treachery that left too much of the planet in ruins, then the 21st century could well promise safe steerage through very difficult channels. Though much of our attention is still directed to the blood spilled by terrorists, or the inanities of national election candidates, fifteen years into the 21st century there are embryonic signs of useful evolution.
Some are bigger than others. The Pearl River, which empties into the Pacific Ocean in southeast China, supports over 50 million people in the largest urban megalopolis on Earth. Chinese national and municipal authorities are preparing for even more intensive population growth in a region no larger than Delaware with simultaneous and expensive projects to build rapid rail transit networks, energy efficient high-rises, water and air pollution control infrastructure, and clean energy electrical generation. Continue reading “1039 Miles Per Tank; 86 Miles Per Gallon”