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Jimmy Carter on Energy: 1977

An historical document:

Jimmy Carter: 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.... We must not be selfish or timid if we hope to have a decent world for our children and grandchildren.... By acting now, we can control our future instead of letting the future control us.

Two days from now, I will present my energy proposals to the Congress. Its members will be my partners and they have already given me a great deal of valuable advice. Many of these proposals will be unpopular. Some will cause you to put up with inconveniences and to make sacrifices.... Our decision about energy will test the character of the American people and the ability of the President and the Congress to govern. This difficult effort will be the "moral equivalent of war" -- except that we will be uniting our efforts to build and not destroy.

I know that some of you may doubt that we face real energy shortages. The 1973 gasoline lines are gone, and our homes are warm again. But our energy problem is worse tonight than it was in 1973.... [D]omestic 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....

Twice in the last several hundred years there has been a transition in the way people use energy. The first was about 200 years ago, away from wood -- which had provided about 90 percent of all fuel -- to coal, which was more efficient. This change became the basis of the Industrial Revolution. The second change took place in this century, with the growing use of oil and natural gas.... [W]e must prepare quickly for a third change, to strict conservation and to the use of coal and permanent renewable energy sources, like solar power....

[W]e do have a choice about how we will spend the next few years.... We can drift along.... 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 to generate electricity, and continue wasting two-thirds of their fuel value in the process....

But we still have another choice. We can begin to prepare right now. We can decide to act while there is time.... [W]e 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.... [H]ealthy economic growth must continue... we must protect the environment... we must reduce our vulnerability to potentially devastating embargoes... we must be fair. Our solutions must ask equal sacrifices from every region, every class of people, every interest group.... [T]he 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.... [P]rices 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.... [G]overnment policies must be predictable and certain.... [W]e must conserve the fuels that are scarcest and make the most of those that are more plentiful.... [W]e must start now to develop the new, unconventional sources of energy we will rely on in the next century....

I cant 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.... Whether this plan truly makes a difference will be decided not here in Washington, but in every town and every factory, in every home an don every highway and every farm.... There is something especially American in the kinds of changes we have to make. We have been proud through our history of being efficient people. We have been proud of our leadership in the world.... And we have been proud of our vision of the future. We have always wanted to give our children and grandchildren a world richer in possibilities than we've had....

I am sure each of you will find something you don't like about the specifics of our proposal.... We can be sure that all the special interest groups in the country will attack the part of this plan that affects them directly. 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....

Other generation of Americans have faced and mastered great challenges. I have faith that meeting this challenge will make our own lives even richer. If you will join me so that we can work together with patriotism and courage, we will again prove that our great nation can lead the world into an age of peace, independence and freedom.

Jimmy Carter, "The President's Proposed Energy Policy." 18 April 1977. Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XXXXIII, No. 14, May 1, 1977, pp. 418-420.

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