Wednesday, July 15, 2009

American Cassandra

In my last post, I wrote that Ronald Reagan was the worst disaster to befall the United States since the civil war. I just found out that today is the thirtieth anniversary of Jimmy Carter's speech on the OPEC oil embargo caused energy crisis of the late seventies, a perfect opportunity to give another reason for my low opinion of Ronald Reagan, one of America's worst presidents.

I've always thought of Jimmy Carter as the American Cassandra. In Greek mythology, Cassandra was the daughter of the king of Troy. The gods gave her the gift of prophecy, but also cursed her. She could see the future, but no one would ever believe her. Looking back, Carter was right on so many things, but he lacked the political skill to convince the American electorate of the need to change the way we lived, for the long term good of the country.

Thirty years ago today, President Jimmy Carter gave a speech on an energy crisis, caused by the OPEC oil embargo. In it, he noted that the United States was so dependent on foreign oil, that we had lost our foreign policy independence. He laid out an ambitious, Manhattan Project type plan to make us energy independent. While he could have limited his remarks to freeing ourselves from OPEC oil, through conservation, higher efficiency standards for cars, and alternative fuel production, he also talked about the need to move from a carbon based energy system to clean, renewable sources. Thirty years ago today, Jimmy Carter was laying out a plan to increase solar, wind, and geothermal energy production. If only we had listened.

And then Ronald Reagan became president, with his hostility to government and his belief that markets solve all problems. Well, markets don't solve all problems, markets make money, and if money can be made by making things worse for the majority of Americans, so be it. If we had followed through on the Carter, energy initiatives, today, we'd probably be the world's largest producer of solar energy, as well as the world's leading manufacturer of solar generating equipment. Ditto for wind. We'd probably be driving around in a mixed automobile fleet, powered by oil, natural gas, electricity, hybrid technology, and very likely the first generation of hydrogen cars. And as a bonus, we'd probably be living in a much cleaner environment, and a world far less threatened by global warming.

But, of course, we didn't. In the end, OPEC folded when it became evident that Carter was willing to push energy independence, no matter what the oil producing countries did. Ronald Reagan hailed it as the market solving problems, when in fact it was government's willingness to use direct action to remake the world into a more energy diverse world, that weakened OPEC. Reagan, as only a doctrinaire conservative could, misidentified the problem, and, in the long run, made us more dependent on foreign energy sources, while doing, very likely, irreversible damage to our environment.

So thank you Ronald Reagan. Thank you for a world where we fight wars for oil. Thank you for global warming. Thank you for permanent drought, rising sea levels, and dependence on oil companies, foreign and domestic. You really did screw the American pooch.

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