30 Years Later, Finally Time for Change?

Jimmy CarterI was really struck by the piece by Gordon Stewart in the New York Times today, Carter’s Speech Therapy. Stewart reminds us that it was 30 years ago today when President Jimmy Carter spoke from the Oval Office to 100 million Americans and called for “the most massive peacetime commitment” in our history to develop alternative fuels.

Thirty years ago! Stewart tells us that the speech was “extremely popular” and the White House was “flooded with calls.”

Two years earlier, President Carter had spoken to the nation about an energy plan he would soon propose to Congress. In that speech, he said:

We have been proud of our leadership in the world. Now we have a chance again to give the world a positive example … We have always wanted to give our children and grandchildren a world richer in possibilities than we’ve had. They are the ones we must provide for now. They are the ones who will suffer most if we don’t act.

Imagine … how different our world would be if we had acted then. Carter announced a goal of 20 percent of our electricity from solar power by 2000!

And so here we are, at another choice point for the country and our children’s future – indeed, “they are the ones who will suffer if we don’t act.” As Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said so eloquently during the House debate on the American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) Act, “Our children will either be the benefactors of our stewardship, or the victims of our neglect.”

President Carter’s words are even more true today than 30 years ago when he said, “The people are looking for honest answers, not easy answers; clear leadership, not false claims and evasiveness and politics as usual.”

Joshua Green, in The Atlantic this month, makes the same connections back to President Carter’s vision. (The Atlantic ran a cover story in 1977 on the promise of renewables!) Green notes that in the mid-1980s, United States was “the overwhelming leader in clean technology, with more than 80 percent of the world’s wind capacity and 90 percent of solar.” Unfortunately, “the United States has fallen back dramatically since then, both in a moral and an economic sense … with the benefits of the developments that emerged in the 1980s mostly accrued to others.”

President Carter knew that our energy crisis had to be addressed – and today – when you add to his conclusion the overwhelming evidence about the climate crisis, this should only reinforce the call to develop a new energy policy in this country that creates true energy security, a more secure economy and a healthier planet.

It can also be the rallying cry the country needs to unite around a common purpose. As President Carter told us 30 years ago: “The solution of our energy crisis can also help us to conquer the crisis of the spirit in our country. It can rekindle our sense of unity, our confidence in the future, and give our nation and all of us individually a new sense of purpose.”

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Published: July 15, 2009