40 years after the Middle East Oil Embargo and Energy Crisis; We‘ve Come a Long Way

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What were you doing 40 years ago? If you were an adult, you were driving a car that averaged 13 miles per gallon of gas, and the gas cost roughly 36 cents per gallon— that is, until October 1973, when gas prices spiked to about 40 cents per gallon. That‘s when the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) decided to create an oil embargo against nations that supported Israel in the Yom Kippur war. The US (and other western nations) experienced a shock to the energy economy; gas stations rationed gas, and there were long lines at the pumps.

A few years later, in a speech on April 18, 1977, then-President Jimmy Carter delivered a televised speech to the public, “Proposed Energy Policy,” in which he explained that Americans and our economy would face unprecedented energy and environmental crises if we did not come up with innovative energy solutions to increase efficiency and reduce oil and gas consumption.

Many Americans remember only that Carter was ridiculed because he ordered thermostats lowered in the White House, and donned a sweater to ward off the chill. But Carter was way ahead of his time, and his energy forecast was, for the most part, accurate. Furthermore, Carter was wise to work with Congress to sign The Department of Energy Organization Act of 1977, which created the Department of Energy. Carter‘s energy policy speech outlined ten fundamental principles, and set several goals for 1985, which included (but was not limited to) the following:

  • Reduce gasoline consumption by ten percent below its current level.
  • Insulate 90 percent of American homes and all new buildings.
  • Use solar energy in more than two and one-half million houses.

While the nation probably fell short of those ambitious goals for 1985, we are getting on the right track now. More and more Americans are hopping on the efficiency bandwagon because it‘s getting cheaper to buy hybrid and electric cars or install solar panels, and weatherization programs (often backed by utility incentives) are popular and easy. If you have photovoltaic panels installed on your roof you can even charge up your electric car at home, using the surplus energy produced by your home! And we‘ve only just begun; building science has evolved to go way above and beyond weatherization and solar electricity. See Green Energy Money case studies here.

We still have a long way to go, especially in terms of reducing carbon pollution/global warming, but we‘ve made great strides in terms of overall efficiency. According to this blog by the American Council on Energy Efficiency, the average car gets 25 miles per gallon, and “U.S. energy consumption increased by just 26%, from 75.6 quads in 1973 to 95.1 quads in 2012, while population grew by more than 50% and GDP (in 2009 dollars) grew from $5.4 trillion to $15.5 trillion. Consequently, energy intensity (energy use per dollar of GDP) dropped by more than half.

And this Natural Resources Defense Council blog, “Amazingly Good Energy News: U.S. Energy More Secure and Reliable than Ever, Thanks to Efficiency,” chimes the good news too: “Our businesses and industries are producing and selling more stuff, and using less energy to do so. We used less energy last year than we did in 1999-despite running an economy that‘s 25 percent bigger.”

The truth is, if we didn‘t feel the pain of high gas and oil prices we probably wouldn‘t be as efficient as we are today. The silver lining to the 1973 energy crisis is that we Americans and other global citizens had to get creative and come up with solutions to reduce gas and oil consumption. It may have taken four decades, but it‘s gratifying to see that scientists and engineers have come up with so many solutions to conserve energy and water, and reduce carbon pollution. Just think what we can do in the next 40 years… on second thought, I can‘t wait; let‘s do it now!