Jimmy Carter’s 1977 Unpleasant Energy Talk, No Longer Unpleasant

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On April 18, 1977, President Jimmy Carter addressed the American people by saying, “Tonight I want to have an unpleasant talk with you about a problem unprecedented in our history. With the exception of preventing war, this 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.”

From there, President Carter presented a new national energy plan based on ten fundamental principles.

Carter said, “The first principle is that 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.”

Further he said, “I can’t tell you that these measures will be easy, nor will they be popular. But I think most of you realize that a policy which does not ask for changes or sacrifices would not be an effective policy.”

He set goals for us to reach by 1985 that would require sacrifice by Americans.The goals were as follows:

-Reduce the annual growth rate in our energy demand to less than two percent.

-Reduce gasoline consumption by ten percent below its current level.

-Cut in half the portion of United States oil which is imported, from a potential level of 16 million barrels to six million barrels a day.

-Establish a strategic petroleum reserve of one billion barrels, more than six months’ supply.

-Increase our coal production by about two thirds to more than 1 billion tons a year.

-Insulate 90 percent of American homes and all new buildings.

-Use solar energy in more than two and one-half million houses.

Energy efficiency has been successful in keeping electricity growth down. But many of the other goals really were sacrifice, sacrifice that Presidents since have not been willing to undertake. But things are different today.

Fuel consumption has come down each year since 2005, by more than 10%. People are choosing fuel-efficient cars, fuel choice, car sharing like ZipCar, and smartphone apps like Uber and Sidecar. Yet, today we think of these technologies as ones that improve, not hamper our lives. Solar used to be expensive, almost unattainable. Now people can get solar installed in a home for no money down and just pay for the use like any other energy bill – plus the bill will be less for most Americans. President Carter’s sacrifices have become the largest wealth creation opportunity of our generation.

So, now, thirty-seven years later, we no longer have to make sacrifices – rather we need to seize the moment for new economic opportunities through climate wealth. The fact is that we have proven clean energy technologies because of President Carter’s tenth principle. His tenth principle was an urging that “ we must start now to develop the new, unconventional sources of energy we will rely on in the next century.”

Since 1977, we discovered “unconventional” sources of energy and conservation methods including wind, solar, hydropower, electric vehicles and more. And, we are applying these methods to energy supply, agriculture, transportation, buildings, industry forestry, waste management, and agriculture.

Starting in 2003, my colleagues and I at SunEdison used proven solar technology to start the solar services industry. By the end of 2012, there were 119,000 solar jobs in the United States. And, in 2013, there was significant growth in solar as the U.S. recorded its second largest growth in solar ever. Plus, 2013 is “likely to be the first time in more than 15 years that the U.S. installs more solar capacity than world leader, Germany,” according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

Further, the wind industry, according to Energy.gov, has surpassed enough to power more than 15 million homes, and employs more than 80,000 Americans. More importantly both the solar and wind industries have agreed to transition off its federal subsidies after 2016 – something the coal, oil, and gas industries have yet to do.

All of these jobs cannot be outsourced. Job creation is certainly no sacrifice – and our energy and carbon emissions solutions are creating jobs, not sacrifices. As I noted, today this sector represents the largest wealth creation opportunity of our generation.

So, as we look forward to 2014, we can look back at Carter 1977 speech and take action. As Carter says, “The energy crisis has not yet overwhelmed us, but it will if we do not act quickly.”

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(As reference, I have included an excerpt from his speech citing all 10 of President Carter’s principles below, as well as his stated energy goals by 1985.)

…But we still have another choice. We can begin to prepare right now. We can decide to act while there is time.

That is the concept of the energy policy we will present on Wednesday. Our national energy plan is based on ten fundamental principles.

The first principle is that 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.

The second principle is that healthy economic growth must continue. Only by saving energy can we maintain our standard of living and keep our people at work. An effective conservation program will create hundreds of thousands of new jobs.

The third principle is that we must protect the environment. Our energy problems have the same cause as our environmental problems — wasteful use of resources. Conservation helps us solve both at once.

The fourth principle is that we must reduce our vulnerability to potentially devastating embargoes. We can protect ourselves from uncertain supplies by reducing our demand for oil, making the most of our abundant resources such as coal, and developing a strategic petroleum reserve.

The fifth principle is that we must be fair. Our solutions must ask equal sacrifices from every region, every class of people, every interest group. Industry will have to do its part to conserve, just as the consumers will. The energy producers deserve fair treatment, but we will not let the oil companies profiteer.

The sixth principle, and the cornerstone of our policy, is to reduce the demand through conservation. Our emphasis on conservation is a clear difference between this plan and others which merely encouraged crash production efforts. Conservation is the quickest, cheapest, most practical source of energy. Conservation is the only way we can buy a barrel of oil for a few dollars. It costs about $13 to waste it.

The seventh principle is that 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.

The eighth principle is that government policies must be predictable and certain. Both consumers and producers need policies they can count on so they can plan ahead. This is one reason I am working with the Congress to create a new Department of Energy, to replace more than 50 different agencies that now have some control over energy.

The ninth principle is that we must conserve the fuels that are scarcest and make the most of those that are more plentiful. We can’t continue to use oil and gas for 75 percent of our consumption when they make up seven percent of our domestic reserves. We need to shift to plentiful coal while taking care to protect the environment, and to apply stricter safety standards to nuclear energy.

The tenth principle is that we must start now to develop the new, unconventional sources of energy we will rely on in the next century.

These ten principles have guided the development of the policy I would describe to you and the Congress on Wednesday.

Our energy plan will also include a number of specific goals, to measure our progress toward a stable energy system.

These are the goals we set for 1985:

-Reduce the annual growth rate in our energy demand to less than two percent.

-Reduce gasoline consumption by ten percent below its current level.

-Cut in half the portion of United States oil which is imported, from a potential level of 16 million barrels to six million barrels a day.

-Establish a strategic petroleum reserve of one billion barrels, more than six months’ supply.

-Increase our coal production by about two thirds to more than 1 billion tons a year.

-Insulate 90 percent of American homes and all new buildings.

-Use solar energy in more than two and one-half million houses.

[Photo Credit: The Elders on Flickr via Creative Commons 2.0]

This post appeared on the LinkedIn Influencer page of Jigar Shah on January 21st, 2014 and can be viewed there by clicking here.
Jigar Shah is founder of SunEdison, the largest solar services company, and was the first CEO of the Carbon War Room (CWR), where he is a board member today. CWR is a nonprofit that harnesses the power of entrepreneurs to implement market-driven solutions to climate change and create a post-carbon economy. As chief executive of Jigar Shah Consulting, he works with global organizations on business solutions to solve climate change. He is the author of Creating Climate Wealth (ICOSA 2013).