…what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man. ~John F. Kennedy January 20, 1961
Close to two decades after this speech was made the concept of American self-sacrifice took hold in the form of a speech delivered by then president, Jimmy Carter. On April 18, 1977, Carter had an open and honest discussion with the American people about the ensuing energy crisis that would threaten our national security and well-being as a nation.
He warned us that in this century the energy crisis would likely get “progressively worse” and that, “we must balance our demand for energy with our rapidly shrinking resources.”
Over thirty years ago, this was the message from our President and what have we done as a nation? We have annually increased our oil consumption and dependence on foreign oil. In spite of Carter’s calls and efforts to wean Americans off Middle Eastern oil dependence, European nations began conservation efforts that surpassed those of the Carter Administration…and some countries like Brazil and Sweden have either completely weaned themselves from oil dependence or have offered bold proposals to do so, proposals that are sustainable and do not continue the patterns of environmental degradation of nuclear and “clean coal” technologies.
Regardless of these blaring mistakes, no politician to date has addressed this issue as substantively as Carter has. This is not a partisan issue; under the administration of Clinton, we saw an encouragement to use more fuel through the simple act of raising the speed limit.
In his speech, Carter set out clear and obtainable goals…
–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.
…in reaching these goals, President Carter laid out ten principles guiding energy policy…most notable, are Carter’s fifth and sixth principle where he states,
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.
…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 time has come for Americans to make small sacrifices in order to conserve; perhaps drive slower to work every day, take public transit or carpool once a week, buy food from local farmers, (in other words read the label of your food, was it produced in Mexico or China? Put it back!), buy your children’s clothing at a second hand store or look for that Made in America label, shop in small local businesses rather than shop online where your product is hand delivered using more fuel, reduce the amount of meat you eat, turn off the lights, take shorter showers, turn your refrigerator down, wash in cold water, buy energy efficient appliances, turn down your thermostat and put on a sweater, cook more using fresh fruits and veggies that do not require lots of unnecessary packaging, and if possible utilize alternative energy sources like solar power to power your home.
Certainly as Carter pointed out some thirty years ago, we as a nation will surely perish if we do not look to alternatives and conservation. Thirty years have been wasted in blood and national treasure and his promise, “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…” has gone unrecognized and held in contempt by many, especially those in the oil industry.
This brings us back to the request from John F. Kennedy, the idea of personal sacrifice for the well-being of our country, and the world, where violence has now become the accepted means to secure energy resources. From Africa to the Middle East, people die and suffer needlessly in order to quench our bloody thirst for oil.