Volume 13, Issue 39 ~ September 29 - October 5, 2005
Burton on The Bay
By Bill Burton

We’ve Failed Our Energy Exam
Two problems of our country: energy and malaise.
—Jimmy Carter: 1979

We’ve had four other presidents in the catbird seat since the 39th to take the reins made that observation in a summertime town meeting in Bardstown, Ky., 27 years ago. I was no great fan of the Georgian, but he was the first, if not the only, occupant of the White House in recent decades to appreciate the pickle we were getting into energywise.

Methinks George W. might do this nation and himself a big favor by calling on Jimmy Carter to cease for the time being his globe trotting on behalf of Habitat for Humanity and other non-partisan laudable issues in favor of staying home to sort out energy issues.

If ever we needed an Energy Czar of stature — who’s willing to call the shots and step on toes, politics and special interests aside — that time is now. And Jimmy Carter is the man. He can speak about energy with understanding and authority.

Since he left office in 1981, his successors have considered energy issues in much the same way as those who drive about in big gas-guzzling SUVs and other vehicles that burn fuel almost as fast as it can be pumped into the tank: Ignore it, it will go away.

Paying at the Pump
But it didn’t go away, as I was reminded the other day. At the Shell station just down the road, I was like the man whose mother-in-law drove his Mercedes over the cliff. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

I wanted to cry as the meter on the pump passed $30 for regular to fill the 12.5-gallon tank on my small Saturn station wagon. I wanted to laugh at the lady pumping high test into her big Dodge Durango; the meter on her pump read past $60 — and was still whirling.

Maybe, I thought, enough of these scenarios will make more of the citizenry energy-conservation conscious, for it’s hitting in the pocketbook. They weren’t concerned when their fuel hogs were pressing refineries to capacity and fuel was still below a buck and a half a gallon. Then they never thought about the economy, our nation’s balance of payments, our dependence on foreign oil — or that they were pushing up the price not of just vehicle fuel but also heating oil, whose consumers have few alternatives.

I’ve nothing against those with legitimate needs for a bigger and more powerful mode of transportation for their work, to tow a boat or RV and such. But take a drive these days and note all the lumbering SUVs — and speculate how many of them really need that mammoth energy-burner.

We’ve Failed the Test
More than a few of these drivers probably weren’t around, or weren’t old enough to understand, when in 1979 a much younger Jimmy Carter said “Energy will be the immediate test of our ability to unite this nation — and it can also be the standard around which we can rally. On the battlefield of energy we can win for our nation a new confidence, and we can seize control of our common destiny.”

We’re losing on the battlefield of energy, and it’s equally obvious we are not in control of our destiny — not with the possibility, if not probability, of fuel prices continuing upward, maybe to four or five bucks a gallon. Think of the havoc that can wreak on the economy.

Keep in mind, energy is what makes the wheels go ’round. Not just the wheels on the family jalopy; the wheels of the entire economy of our nation. It’s a bumpy and uphill road for both. What we need is a map, but first someone like Jimmy Carter to draw that map.

Paying Across the Board
So here we are, paying not a little more, but a lot more, for our wheels, and we’re about to pay a lot more to heat the house. The fuel in our homes — whether it be oil, natural gas or electricity — is tied to the trend and availability of the fuel we pay for at the pump. September was a relatively balmy month; let’s hope October follows suit. But no way around it, winter is coming with its cold weather, and we have to keep warm.

In the meantime, other energy users are also paying much more to make our necessities and the frivolous things we think we need. Of course because a much bigger chunk of our income goes to energy, we have less income left to spend on them.

Bottom line: It’s hitting the whole economy.

Just glimpse the marine industry. Go fishing, and where are the boats? At the docks. It costs too much for many to leave their slips. Boat salesmen are twiddling their thumbs, as are those in auto dealerships loaded with the big, powerful and fast vehicles everyone once wanted — and are now stuck with.

All of this is not to suggest those driving the gas-guzzlers are responsible for the mess we’re in. But their attitude is typical of what got us into this pickle. Of late, just about everyone has been thinking about energy as did Lewis Lichtenstein Strauss, who in a 1954 speech on atomic energy said, “Our children will enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter.”

Have you looked at your electric bill lately?

Hidden Costs Still to Be Collected
Relatively few inhabitants on this globe seem concerned about global warming, a woe fed in great part by burning oil and coal. Its consequences are too far off; that’s for another generation to cope with. But do they realize that already warmer oceans create not only more hurricanes, but more violent ones? Jimmy Carter reminded us of that just the other day.

Who pauses to wonder while filling up at the pump, how much of the black gold remains beneath the earth’s crust? An alternative fuel? That also is for another generation to worry about.

What about our dependence on foreign oil now that we’ve burned most of ours, other than in Alaska, which is another story? Japan learned what happens when oil imports are cut off.

China is not only taking our jobs but is becoming our biggest competitor on the world oil market. The more it needs to make goods that cost us jobs, the higher oil costs us. In the end, we pay more for domestic goods, and those made in China become even more attractive.

Jimmy Carter might have known a lot more about peanut farming than he did about running a country, but he had common sense and foresight when it came to energy. He wouldn’t have allowed us on the path to bankruptcy in that department.

Call me Chicken Little if you like, but if our leaders (and our drivers) continue to ignore the ramifications of our energy policy, we won’t be screaming at the price of gas at the pump. It will be empty.

Enough said.

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.