Carter Tried To Stop Bush's Energy
Disasters - 28 Years Ago
by Thom Hartmann
www.commondreams.org/, May 3,
In his recent news conference, George
Bush Jr. suggested that our nation's "problem" with
high gasoline prices was caused by the lack of a national energy
policy, and tried to blame it all on Bill Clinton. First, Junior
said, "This is a problem that's been a long time in coming.
We haven't had an energy policy in this country."
This was followed by, "That's exactly
what I've been saying to the American people -- 10 years ago if
we'd had an energy strategy, we would be able to diversify away
from foreign dependence. And -- but we haven't done that. And
now we find ourselves in the fix we're in." As is so often
the case, Bush was lying.
Consider President Jimmy Carter's April
18, 1977 speech. Since it was given nearly three decades ago,
when many of the reporters in Bush's White House were children,
it's understandable that they don't remember it. But it's inexcusable
that Bush and the mainstream media (which, after all, has the
ability to do research) would completely ignore it. It was the
speech that established the strategic petroleum reserve, birthed
the modern solar power industry, led to the insulation of millions
of American homes, and established America's first national energy
policy. "With the exception of preventing war," said
Jimmy Carter, a man of peace, "this is the greatest challenge
our country will face during our lifetimes."
He added: "It is a problem we will
not solve in the next few years, and it is likely to get progressively
worse through the rest of this century. "We must not be selfish
or timid if we hope to have a decent world for our children and
"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." Carter bluntly pointed out that: "The most important
thing about these proposals is that the alternative may be a national
catastrophe. Further delay can affect our strength and our power
as a nation." He called the new energy policy he was proposing,
"[T]he 'moral equivalent of war' -- except that we will be
uniting our efforts to build and not destroy."
When Carter had become president three
months earlier, the nation was still recovering from the "oil
shock" of the 1973 Arab oil embargo, and scientists were
realizing our nation was just then hitting the point of domestic
peak oil production predicted more than a decade earlier by scientist
M. King Hubbert. (The rest of the world is hitting the Hubbert
Peak right now.) As Carter noted in his speech, "The oil
and natural gas we rely on for 75 percent of our energy are running
out. In spite of increased effort, domestic production has been
dropping steadily at about six percent a year. Imports have doubled
in the last five years. Our nation's independence of economic
and political action is becoming increasingly constrained."
Hubbert had predicted that the peak of oil production for the
USA would come in the 1970s, and it did, hitting us with a shock.
"The world has not prepared for the
future," said Jimmy Carter. "During the 1950s, people
used twice as much oil as during the 1940s. During the 1960s,
we used twice as much as during the 1950s. And in each of those
decades, more oil was consumed than in all of mankind's previous
history." Hubbert said we must begin to conserve. Carter
"Ours is the most wasteful nation
on earth," he said, a point that is still true. "We
waste more energy than we import. With about the same standard
of living, we use twice as much energy per person as do other
countries like Germany, Japan and Sweden." Carter directly
challenged the fossil fuel and automobile industries. "One
choice," he said, "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 can continue using
scarce oil and natural gas to generate electricity, and continue
wasting two-thirds of their fuel value in the process."
But that would be unpatriotic, anti-American,
and essentially wrong. Who but a traitor sold out to special interests,
or an idiot, would countenance such insanity?
The year 1977 was a turning point for
America. If we didn't make clear and rapid progress, we would
face painful times ahead. The Saudis would have their fingers
around our necks. We'd face war in the Middle East to secure future
oil supplies. "Now we have a choice," Carter said. "But
if we wait, we will live in fear of embargoes. We could endanger
our freedom as a sovereign nation to act in foreign affairs."
Failure to act in the 1970s and 1980s
would inevitably lead to a time when the only way to maintain
our lifestyle would be to rape our planet and seize control of
oil-rich nations in the Middle East. If we didn't begin to develop
alternatives like solar power, and dramatically reduce our consumption
of fossil fuels, then, Carter said, even our cherished personal
freedoms would be at risk. If we continued to simply follow past
policies that enriched the oil industry and the Saudis, instead
of becoming energy independent, Carter said, "We will feel
mounting pressure to plunder the environment."
If we failed to develop alternative sources
of renewable energy and conserve what we have, the alternative
could be nasty. As Carter pointed out: "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."
Carter's speech drew a strong reaction
from the Saudis and the oil industry. Think tanks soon emerged
- many whose names are today familiar - to suggest there was really
no energy problem, and they led the charge to establish a permanent
right-wing media in the US. Within two years, Saudi citizen and
oil baron Salem bin Laden's sole US representative, James Bath,
would funnel cash into the failing business of the son of the
CIA's former director, political up-and-comer George H. W. Bush.
With that money from the representative of Osama Bin Laden's half-brother,
George Bush Jr. was able to keep afloat his Arbusto ("shrub"
in Spanish) Oil Company. And he would be in the pocket of the
bin Laden and Saudi interests for the rest of his life. But Carter
"We can be sure that all the special
interest groups in the country will attack the part of this plan
that affects them directly," he said. "They will say
that sacrifice is fine, as long as other people do it, but that
their sacrifice is unreasonable, or unfair, or harmful to the
country. If they succeed, then the burden on the ordinary citizen,
who is not organized into an interest group, would be crushing."
But that would be wrong. It would be un-American. It would lead
to future oil shocks, and the probable death of American soldiers
in Middle Eastern oil wars. Instead of caving in to the Saudis
and the oil industry, Carter said: "There should be only
one test for this program: whether it will help our country."
Two years later, as the bin Laden family's
sole US representative was bailing out George Bush Junior's failing
oil business, Jimmy Carter gave another speech on energy, further
refining his national energy policy. He had already started the
national strategic petroleum reserve, birthed the gasohol and
solar power industries, and helped insulate millions of homes
and offices. But he wanted to go a step further. "I am tonight
setting a clear goal for the energy policy of the United States,"
Carter said on July 15, 1979. "Beginning 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 and then reversed as we
move through the 1980s..." In addition, we needed to immediately
begin to develop a long-range strategy to move beyond fossil fuel.
Therefore, Carter said, "I will soon
submit legislation to Congress calling for the creation of this
nation's first solar bank, which will help us achieve the crucial
goal of 20 percent of our energy coming from solar power by the
year 2000." But then came the Iran/Contra October Surprise,
when the Reagan/Bush campaign allegedly promised the oil-rich
mullahs of Iran that they'd sell them missiles and other weapons
if only they'd keep our hostages until after the 1980 Carter/Reagan
presidential election campaign was over. The result was that Carter,
who had been leading in the polls over Reagan/Bush, steadily dropped
in popularity as the hostage crisis dragged out, and lost the
election. The hostages were released the very minute that Reagan
put his hand on the Bible to take his oath of office. The hostages
freed, the Reagan/Bush administration quickly began illegally
delivering missiles to Iran.
And Ronald Reagan's first official acts
of office included removing Jimmy Carter's solar panels from the
roof of the White House, and reversing most of Carter's conservation
and alternative energy policies.
Today, despite the best efforts of the
Bushies, the bin Ladens, and the rest of the oil industry, Carter's
few surviving initiatives have borne fruit.
It is now more economical to build power
generating stations using wind than using coal, oil, gas, or nuclear.
When amortized over the life of a typical mortgage, installing
solar power in a house in most parts of the US is cheaper than
drawing power from the grid. (Shell and British Petroleum are
among the world's largest manufacturers of solar photovoltaic
panels, which can now even be used as roofing shingles.) And hybrid
cars that get 50-70 miles to the gallon are increasingly commonplace
on our nation's highways. Instead of taking a strong stand to
make America energy independent, Bush kisses a Saudi crown prince,
then holds hands with him as they walk into Bush's hobby ranch
in Texas. Our young men and women are daily dying in Iraq - a
country with the world's second largest store of underground oil.
And we live in fear that another 15 Saudis may hijack more planes
to fly into our nation's capitol or into nuclear power plants.
Meanwhile, Bush brings us an energy bill
that includes eight billion dollars in welfare payments to the
oil business, just as the nation's oil companies report the highest
profits in the entire history of the industry. Americans struggle
to pay for gasoline, while the Bush administration refuses to
increase fleet efficiency standards, stop the $100,000 tax break
for buying Hummers, or maintain and build Amtrak. George Bush
Jr. is arguably right that gas prices are spiking because we don't
have an energy policy. But instead of blaming Clinton, he should
be pointing to the Reagan/Bush administration, and to his own
abysmal failures over the past four years.
Thom Hartmann's bestselling book on peak
oil is titled "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, published
by Random House/Three Rivers Press. His articles archive is at