So there’s this major, slow-motion environmental catastrophe underway, and we’re three weeks in. My parents are celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary – the family all pulled together and chipped in on a Caribbean cruise, for which they leave on Thursday. Now I wonder if they were going to see any evidence of the sheen getting into the loop current when they slip past the Keys. So there’s that.
It’s difficult to think of much else when something like this going on and, by all evidence, worsening by the day. But in terms of dismantling the system that got us here there’s actually plenty to talk about, think about and prepare for. But just thinking about it, how would we begin to lessen our dependence on deep-sea oil drilling? Maybe we think about pricing gasoline to reflect the true cost of taking it out of the ground, much less burning it. Maybe we try to discover how to use less oil on a per capita, per day basis. Well, how do you start down that road do that? Build more highways?
The umbrella group for America’s state DOTs, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, has started a major new push for, you guessed it, more highways. The new campaign argues for highway expansion in urban areas as if fifty years of similar policies hadn’t led to a dead end of sprawl, pollution, and oil dependence.
As described in an important post onMobilizing the Region by Ya-Ting Liu of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, AASHTO has released a series of reports and a new website making “the case for capacity.” The website is filled with friendly explanations of “what’s so great about an interstate” and promises that “urban interstates are the new ‘Main Street.'” As unbelievable as those claims must be to anyone living next door to the Bruckner Expressway or parked in traffic on the Cross-Bronx, AASHTO’s stated intention to massively expand the urban highway system is all too real.
Does this make sense? In a certain kind of way it would, if we were looking for further rationales to continue drilling for oil anywhere we could find it – because we need all we can find – and we need to fulfill the other side of this feedback loop. But we’re not. In fact, that’s not actually our problem at all. At the moment, our problem is finding a way to cap an out-of-control oil well a mile below the surface fifty miles out in the Gulf of Mexico, the result of an exploded rig that was built without the proper safety precautions envisioned for just such an incident. So you could say our problems are a little more acute than merely finding the budget to dispassionately build more highways, to grow, as it were. Oh the once-upon-a-time whimsy of such a luxury, right now.
This disaster is testing our resolve and ability to ignore it, and I truly hope our indifference carries the day. But after just a short while now, and it hasn’t really been that long, it seems like we’re beginning to fight something else, something taking the shape of an ocean-borne oil slick you might see during a once-in-a-lifetime vacation on a twelve-story cruise ship. At first it may appear to be out of place; but in the end, it has as much right to be there as you do.