The year was 1979 and the United States was in the middle of an Energy Crisis when Jimmy Carter gave what was to become known as his Malaise Speech.
In his now famous speech, he asked the question "Why have we not been able to get together as a nation to resolve our serious energy problem?"
What President Carter realized, and what I was too young to understand at the time, but have come to realize also, is that we were then, and are now, having a crisis of concision. He went on to explain:
"It's clear that the true problems of our Nation are much deeper — deeper than gasoline lines of energy shortages, deeper even than inflation or recession. And I realize more than ever that as President I need your help. So, I decided to reach out and listen to the voices of America."
The president polled a number of people, from top government officials to the man on the street, and here are some of the things that they had to say:
- "Mr. President, we are confronted with a moral and a spiritual crisis."
- "We can't go on consuming 40 percent more energy than we produce. When we import oil we are also importing inflation plus unemployment."
- "Our neck is stretched over the fence and OPEC has a knife."
- "There will be other cartels and other shortages. American wisdom and courage right now can set a path to follow in the future."
- "The real issue is freedom. We must deal with the energy problem on a war footing."
- "When we enter the moral equivalent of war, Mr. President, don't issue us BB guns."
Do these sound like statements from 30 years ago, or do these sound like some of the things that many of us are saying and thinking?
President Carter continued his speech by saying that we were in the midst of "A crisis of confidence."
"In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we've discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We've learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose."
He then speaks about two paths that the American people can take. Unfortunately, we took the wrong path.
"There are two paths to choose. One is a path I've warned about tonight, the path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others… All the traditions of our past, all the lessons of our heritage, all the promises of our future point to another path, the path of common purpose and the restoration of American values."
The President then went on to lay out some pretty straight forward goals, which never came to fruition.
- Point one: I am tonight setting a clear goal for the energy policy of the United States. Beginning this moment, this Nation will never use more foreign oil than we did in 1977 — never.
- Point two: To ensure that we meet these targets, I will use my Presidential authority to set import quotas. I'm announcing tonight that for 1979 and 1980, I will forbid the entry into this country of one drop of foreign oil more than these goals allow. These quotas will ensure a reduction in imports even below the ambitious levels we set at the recent Tokyo summit.
- Point three: To give us energy security, I am asking for the most massive peacetime commitment of funds and resources in our Nation's history to develop America's own alternative sources of fuel .
- Moreover, I will soon submit legislation to Congress calling for the creation of this Nation's first solar bank, which will help us achieve the crucial goal of 20 percent of our energy coming from solar power by the year 2000.
- Point four: I'm asking Congress to mandate, to require as a matter of law, that our Nation's utility companies cut their massive use of oil by 50 percent within the next decade and switch to other fuels, especially coal, our most abundant energy source.
- Point five: To make absolutely certain that nothing stands in the way of achieving these goals, I will urge Congress to create an energy mobilization board which, like the War Production Board in World War II, will have the responsibility and authority to cut through the red-tape, the delays, and the endless roadblocks to completing key energy projects.
We will protect our environment.
- Point six: I'm proposing a bold conservation program to involve every State, county, and city and every average American in our energy battle. This effort will permit you to build conservation into your homes and your lives at a cost you can afford.
And here is where he started running into trouble:
"You know we can do it. We have the natural resources. We have more oil in our shale alone than several Saudi Arabias. We have more coal than any nation on Earth. We have the world's highest level of technology. We have the most skilled work force, with innovative genius, and I firmly believe that we have the national will to win this war."
He closed his speech with:
"Let your voice be heard. Whenever you have a chance, say something good about our country. With God's help and for the sake of our Nation, it is time for us to join hands in America. Let us commit ourselves together to a rebirth of the American spirit. Working together with our common faith we cannot fail."
But fail, we did. We allowed consumerism and greed destroy our economic system, our environment, and our health. We allowed the iconic representation of material goods and the energy needed to create and use those goods, to catapult us to this place in history.
Millions of jobs lost, houses ripped from under us, shattered lives and a fractured, polluted planet where clean air, soil and water fall second to our own sensualist greed.
Perhaps at last, we have come to the understanding (not by choice but by force) that its not the size of the TV, but the people around it, who matter. It's not how much our car cost, but whether it will get us to where we are going. It's not the designer name on our bag, but what's inside it. It's not how much we take, but how much we give. See the video (with President Jimmy Carter speaking)