If we failed to learn anything else from the recent ravages of Katrina and Rita, we should at least have figured out two things. One is that this country desperately needs a viable and affordable mass transit system linking major cities.

The second is that this country must invest and commit to using alternative, renewable fuel sources.

Anyone who watched televised depictions of evacuees stranded in New Orleans, unable to leave because of poor health, lack of transportation and too little money to afford to go anywhere, should appreciate the need for systems to move a lot of people from one place to another quickly.

And anyone who saw the clogged highways out of South Texas hours before Rita came ashore should appreciate how much more smoothly that evacuation could have been handled with an adequate mass transit system.

In New Orleans, officials (You can blame local, state and federal and not miss the mark.) should have brought in buses to get people out. A good rail system would have come in handy as well and with people in peril it would not be too much to presume that fees could be waived to get the poor out of harm’s way.

Most of us, and I include myself in the criticism, so revere our independence and so love our automobiles and pick-up trucks, that we hesitate to put our travel plans in the hands of someone else. We fly when we have to, but if confronted with the possibility of taking a leisurely trip on a train or, heaven forbid, a bus, we recoil in horror and continue to burn fuel and clog highways.

They don’t do that everywhere. On a business/pleasure trip to Italy last fall, we relied on trains to get around and found the experience most enjoyable. We could do that here. But the real lesson we should take away from these disastrous hurricanes is how dependent we are on petro-fuels.

As recently as early summer I never would have expected to be pleased at finding regular gasoline for a mere $2.49 a gallon. I paid it and felt encouraged that it was no longer $3.09, a level it is once again rapidly approaching.

And I wonder how many working people can afford to get to and from jobs if they have to shell out that much every time they fill their tanks. We need more fuel-efficient vehicles, but we also need to begin tapping our natural resources to increase the fuel supply.

We can grow our fuel, at least a good percentage of it. Unfortunately, even with current price escalation and spot shortages and the dire prediction that we’ll pay as much as 50 percent more to heat our homes this winter, few folks in power are pushing to produce more bio-diesel and ethanol.

Why not?

Are we so obliged to the oil industry or so reluctant to change that we can ignore our vulnerability? I remember waiting in long lines back in the 1970s to buy gas during the oil embargo, and we weren’t having to pony up nearly as much as we do today to fill up when we finally got our turn.

The world is a more dangerous place than it was then. And we’ve just learned that our fuel supply need not be threatened by some OPEC dictator who has a beef with us. Natural disasters do quite a good job of putting us afoot.

It’s time we took control of our energy needs and break our dependence on petroleum. Home-grown energy makes more sense during these unsettled (by war and weather) times than it ever has. We have the natural resources and the skilled farmers to meet much of our energy needs. We lack only the commitment to get it done.

e-mail: rsmith@primediabusiness.com