We can have an effective and comprehensive energy policy only if the government takes responsibility for it and if the people understand the seriousness of the challenge and are willing to make sacrifices.

Our energy problems have the same cause as our environmental problems — wasteful use of resources. Conservation helps us solve both at once. Conservation is the quickest, cheapest, most practical source of energy.

Prices should generally reflect the true replacement costs of energy. We are only cheating ourselves if we make energy artificially cheap and use more than we can really afford.

Hat tip: Common Dreams

[T]his is the greatest challenge our country will face during our lifetimes. The energy crisis has not yet overwhelmed us, but it will if we do not act quickly.

It is a problem we will not solve in the next few years, and it is likely to get progressively worse.

We must not be selfish or timid if we hope to have a decent world for our children and grandchildren.

We simply must balance our demand for energy with our rapidly shrinking resources. By acting now, we can control our future instead of letting the future control us.

One choice is to continue doing what we have been doing before. We can drift along for a few more years. Our consumption of oil would keep going up every year. Our cars would continue to be too large and inefficient. Three-quarters of them would continue to carry only one person — the driver — while our public transportation system continues to decline. We can delay insulating our houses, and they will continue to lose about 50 percent of their heat in waste.

We will feel mounting pressure to plunder the environment. We will have a crash program to build more nuclear plants, strip-mine and burn more coal, and drill more offshore wells than we will need if we begin to conserve now. Inflation will soar, production will go down, people will lose their jobs. Intense competition will build up among nations and among the different regions within our own country.

If we fail to act soon, we will face an economic, social and political crisis that will threaten our free institutions.

Of course, this was a serious President speaking (18 April 1977). He has been maligned for supposedly bringing a mood of despondency and weakness to the country, and being hopelessly naive, but that’s not what I see in that speech, nor in the infamous “Crisis of confidence”  speech (15 July 1979):

Intolerable dependence on foreign oil threatens our economic independence and the very security of our nation. The energy crisis is real. It is worldwide. It is a clear and present danger to our nation. These are facts and we simply must face them.

I am tonight setting a clear goal for the energy policy of the United States. Beginning this moment, this nation will never use more foreign oil than we did [two years ago] — never. From now on, every new addition to our demand for energy will be met from our own production and our own conservation. The generation-long growth in our dependence on foreign oil will be stopped dead in its tracks right now and then reversed as we move through the [next decade], for I am tonight setting the further goal of cutting our dependence on foreign oil by one-half by the end of the next decade —

To give us energy security, I am asking for the most massive peacetime commitment of funds and resources in our nation’s history to develop America’s own alternative sources of fuel — from coal, from oil shale, from plant products for gasohol, from unconventional gas, from the sun.

These efforts will cost money, a lot of money, and that is why Congress must enact [a] windfall profits tax without delay. It will be money well spent. Unlike the billions of dollars that we ship to foreign countries to pay for foreign oil, these funds will be paid by Americans to Americans. These funds will go to fight, not to increase, inflation and unemployment.

We often think of conservation only in terms of sacrifice. In fact, it is the most painless and immediate way of rebuilding our nation’s strength. Every gallon of oil each one of us saves is a new form of production. It gives us more freedom, more confidence, that much more control over our own lives.

I do not promise you that this struggle for freedom will be easy. I do not promise a quick way out of our nation’s problems, when the truth is that the only way out is an all-out effort. What I do promise you is that I will lead our fight, and I will enforce fairness in our struggle, and I will ensure honesty. And above all, I will act.

This is a President who has vision,  who has the best interests of his country and of ALL his citizens in mind, who has ambitious goals and did not shy from asking for all to contribute to them. In essence, he was launching a “Manhattan Project” for energy (and that was after having already created the Strategic Oil reserve, launched house insulation efforts, kickstarted solar energy development, and reinforced CAFE standards). He said it would require efforts and sacrifices from all, but that it would be worth it in terms of efficiency, quality of living and jobs – and freedom.

That was almost 30 years ago. 30 wasted years (well, 20. The early 80s saw the results of Carter’s efforts to reduce consumption, before it was all wiped away in a new orgy of consumption and waste, the “American way”.

If Carter had been listened to, maybe it would not have been necessary to waste thousand of lives, hundreds of billions of dollars and the worldwide reputation of the USA in a reckless foreign adventure, maybe GM would not be in the crisis it is now, maybe the USA would be the world leader in wind and solar energy instead of Germany and Japan, maybe sprawl would not have extended so far as to make public transport totally impractical.

But no, he was “naive” and “weak”. I say he was right. He was a visionary. He will stand the test of history a lot better than his successors. But it’s still time to follow his lead, to dust off his policy proposals and act on them NOW. It’s going to be harder than it would have been 30 years ago, but it will still be easier than if we wait longer. It is still possible, barely, to be in control of events rather than being pushed around by them.

He is the only President to have succeeded in reducing wasteful consumption and energy dependence, and his successor blew that “windfall” pretty quickly instead of making it permanent. It is high time to rehabilitate him and his proposed policies instead of being ashamed of them.

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