Sunday, August 03, 2008

Americans and their refusal to sacrifice

Jimmy Carter is generally regarded as a lousy president. He only served one term, and his presidency involved rampant inflation and difficult foreign relation problems.
But in some respects he was quite wise. Consider Carter's statement after the oil shortages:
"Beginning at this moment, this nation will never use more foreign oil than we did in 1977 -- 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."
He realized that such a promise would cost money--but unlike the money given to Saudi Arabia (homeland of the majority of the 9/11 terrorists) for oil, this money would go to Americans.
He supported pouring money into alternative energy sources and building extensive public transportation systems. He even put up solar panels on the White House.
Carter's plans were realistic. He wanted US car-makers to reach a fuel-efficiency of 48 mpg by 1995, and he wanted the US to get 20% of its energy from solar power by 2000. We had plenty of time to get there. Decades.
But Americans don't like to sacrifice. They didn't want to conserve energy. They didn't want to spend money on research and public transportation.
In 1980 Reagan moved in, ripped the solar panels off of the White House, and did away with Carter's far-sighted energy plans.
Now, ironically, Republicans are blaming Democrats for the high gas prices. Americans still (largely) refuse to conserve energy. We're still reluctant to sacrifice. And we're paying the heavy price for failing to make the right decision 30 years ago.


John Robinson said...

President Carter certainly did call for increased investment into alternative energy sources, increased expenditure on public transportation, and decreased dependence on foreign oil.

However, the United States had already diverted all funds from new highway construction to public transportation by that point. In fact, the President of the United states had already called for decreased dependence on foreign oil; his exact words were "At the end of this decade ... the United States will not be dependent on any other country for the energy we need to provide our jobs, to heat our homes, and to keep our transportation moving"

The plan he spelled out is contained in a series of speeches in November 1973 (found here: The good parts version of the November 7, 1973:

"In World War II, America was faced with the necessity of rapidly developing an atomic capability. The circumstances were grave. Responding to that challenge, this Nation brought together its finest scientific skills and its finest administrative skills in what was known as the Manhattan Project. With all the needed resources at its command, with the highest priority assigned to its efforts, the Manhattan Project gave us the atomic capacity that helped to end the war in the Pacific and to bring peace to the world.

Twenty years later, responding to a different challenge, we focused our scientific and technological genius on the frontiers of space. We pledged to put a man on the Moon before 1970, and on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong made that historic "giant leap for mankind" when he stepped on the Moon.

The lessons of the Apollo project and of the earlier Manhattan Project are the same lessons that are taught by the whole of American history: Whenever the American people are faced with a clear goal and they are challenged to meet it, we can do extraordinary things.

Today the challenge is to regain the strength that we had earlier in this century, the strength of self-sufficiency. Our ability to meet our own energy needs is directly limited to our continued ability to act decisively and independently at home and abroad in the service of peace, not only for America but for all nations in the world.


Let us unite in committing the resources of this Nation to a major new endeavor, an endeavor that in this Bicentennial Era we can appropriately call "Project Independence."

Let us set as our national goal, in the spirit of Apollo, with the determination of the Manhattan Project, that by the end of this decade we will have developed the potential to meet our own energy needs without depending on any foreign energy sources."
-Richard Nixon [In case you hadn't already guessed]

But, like you said, "Americans [didn't] like to sacrifice. They didn't want to conserve energy. They didn't want to spend money on research and public transportation." So nothing really happened other than national speed limits and ultimately the Department of Energy.

So it certainly is ironic we have politicians pointing fingers across the aisle when presidents from both parties were calling for energy independence a long time ago. I guess it hurts too much to point at yourself.

Tim said...

Thanks for the good info.