The moral equivalent of war: America continues to say “who, me?”

When I was a freshman in college, President Jimmy Carter, in a televised speech to the nation on April 18 1977, warned of rapidly increasing dependence on foreign oil and the resulting out-of-control trade imbalances and loss of freedom to act in foreign affairs. He declared the effort to respond to this threat “the moral equivalent of war.”

The subsequently oft-ridiculed Carter said “Ours is the most wasteful nation on earth. We waste more energy than we import. With about the same standard of living, we use twice as much energy per person as do other countries like Germany, Japan and Sweden.” He also said “We simply must balance our demand for energy with our rapidly shrinking resources. By acting now, we can control our future instead of letting the future control us.”

Carter’s austerity plan and commitment to energy conservation and renewable energy didn’t sit well with the American public, and he was blown away by Ronald Reagan’s “morning in America” appeal in the 1980 election.

Thirty-one years later:

  • We continue to use about twice as much energy per person as Germany, Japan and Sweden.
  • We now import about 60% of our oil, compared to 46% in 1977.
  • We’re on track to spend about $600 billion on imported oil in 2008. Most of this money will be sent to Canada, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Nigeria, Venezuela, Algeria and Iraq.
  • The US economy is generally in the tank.
  • The federal budget deficit for 2009, according to the Bush Administration, will be about $482 billion (and is likely to be much higher according to independent analysts, not even including the cost of the war in Iraq, which remains “off-budget”). Since 1977 our foreign policy and military expenditures have been strongly influenced by our dependence on foreign oil.
  • We have spent about $543 billion on the war in Iraq; estimates of its ultimate cost (including medical/disability costs for injured/psychologically damaged vets and other long-term costs) are in the range of $3 trillion. This war would never have been fought had Iraq not controlled the third largest oil reserves in the world (trailing only neighboring Saudi Arabia and Iran).

It seems safe to say we have let the future control us.

While we whine about $4 a gallon gas and demand expanded off-shore and ANWR drilling, we’re not even willing to drive slower to save a bit of gas. We’d rather delude ourselves into thinking we can keep the good times rolling until the SUV flies off the edge of the cliff and the world economy comes to a screeching halt, I guess.

While there are a million and three things we can and should be doing to fight “the moral equivalent of war,” one of the simplest and most effective would be to reinstate the national 55 mph speed limit, and enforce it vigorously. Why do we have to be in such a hurry all the time??? Such a measure would immediately reduce national petroleum demand significantly, and reduce petroleum, gasoline and diesel fuel prices. I’ve been a slow (55 or as slow as I feel I can safely drive without being a total road hazard) all my life.

Recently, I put a Green Slow Moving Vehicle bumper sticker on both of my family’s cars in an effort (likely vain, I know) to educate road-ragers. I ordered a bunch of these stickers-if you’d like one, I’d be happy to give you one. Give me a shout if you’d like to scheme about how to wage the moral equivalent of war right here in Northfield, buy me a cup of coffee, and it’s yours!

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