1979, Energy Needs and the Future

A little jaunt down memory lane is in order to provide some context to the continued promise of “alternative energy” as the panacea to all of our energy problems. The following quotes are from an energy speech which was never delivered by Jimmy Carter, but reflects the reality and promises of the time.

Compare it to the rhetoric you hear today.

The year: 1979

The situation: OPEC manipulates pricing of oil by cutting production and causing prices to rise.

The plan:

But the general outline of a strategy for winning the energy war has now emerged — and I feel it is important for me to brief you without delay on the steps we must now take.

First, I have ordered the preparation and submission to Congress of a bill creating a federally chartered private corporation to develop alternative energy sources to imported oil, such as synthetic liquid fuels. This corporation can be just as successful as the corporation the United States established in World War II to produce synthetic rubber. It will be funded at a multi-billion dollar level. It will accelerate our ability to turn our plentiful domestic resources — such as coal, crops and organic products — into gasoline and alcohol.

Second, we will accelerate the development and use of coal, unconventional oil and gas resources such as geopressurized methane, Eastern shales, tar sands, and heavy crude oils.

We have already tripled our investment in solar energy and I have set a goal of using solar energy for twenty percent of our energy within the next twenty years.

Third, I have ordered the development of a massive new conservation program to increase, on a greatly accelerated basis, the energy efficiency of our homes and buildings.

Fourth, I will seek the rapid creation of an Energy Mobilization Board, modeled on the War Production Board of World War II, to cut through the red tape and delays that are holding up crucial energy projects such as pipelines and refineries.

The details of these crucial projects will be hammered our [sic] in close consultation with the Congress. They will be submitted during the course of the next month. Congress has so far failed to deal with the oil imports problem. This inaction must now end.

The promise:

Before this month is over, I will be talking to you again about the specific steps that we as a country must take to ensure our independence.

The result:

[cue the sound of crickets chirping]

The same as the speech – undelivered.

Today solar, of course, comprises .1% of the power used, not the promised 20% by 1999 (and we still see headlines like that in the link wondering if by 2025 solar will supply 10% of our power). And that, essentially, is the status of all the alternative energy sources that were supposed to help us break the dependence on foreign oil.

But notice something else in this undelivered speech. Even in 1979, Carter realized that in order to make the US self-sufficient in the production of energy, resources such as coal and oil must be exploited and refineries expanded (although strangely, the nuclear engineer never mentioned nuclear power).

Of course, not long after this, Congress decided, instead, to put most of the OCS and the vast majority of other federal lands off limits to drilling, nuclear energy was all but abandoned, and we’ve not seen a new refinery built here in 30+ years.

And where do we find ourselves today?

Well, unsurprisingly, our energy situation is worse now than then. Our dependence on foreign oil is much higher, alternatives remain as elusive now as they were then, and the part of the plan which would have actually put us in shape to weather this particular crisis was never acted upon. Instead, as noted, Congress did precisely the opposite of what the plan called for and prohibited the exploration and exploitation of our own natural resources. Remember, that was well before the “climate change” nonsense was even a glimmer on the political horizon.

Ironically the only “alternative” with any viability (and it is somewhat questionable concerning energy produced vs. energy consumed producing it) is crops for fuel, and we all know what that has done to commodity prices world-wide.

Reading through that litany, it isn’t particularly difficult to break out the primary reason we’re where we are today in terms of energy. It is the result of one of the most enduringly stupid and short-sighted energy policies of which any government could have possibly conceived. And it is the fault of both parties.

So rather than belabor that obvious point, let’s use the same argument I use when talking about Iraq. It really doesn’t matter how we got there, we’re therewhat are we going to do about it?

Well, in the case of energy, it seems fairly simple given this is an election year. Look at which candidate and which party has the most reasonable plan for increasing our energy base.

The obvious best plan, one that even Jimmy Carter understood, is to exploit readily available petroleum based assets, along with nuclear, while stepping up the pursuit of the continuingly elusive alternative energy sources that have been mostly nothing more than promise since 1979.

We know, for instance, that if we drill today we’ll have oil in 10 years (although the industry disputes that number and says, depending on where they drill, the oil can be in production in much less time than 10 years).

What we don’t know is where we’ll be on alternative fuels or energy in 10 years. And Carter’s speech of 1979 drives that point home in no uncertain terms.

It is time to sanction reality, not “hope” that somehow, some way, alternatives to domestic petroleum will suddenly become viable, find their way into mass production and save us at the 11th hour. This is one of those critical subjects which can’t be waved off. We need to exploit what we have, and we need to do it now!

And the only way that is going to happen is by supporting the candidate and party which has stated its intent to do precisely that if given the opportunity.

Crossposted at QandO.

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