Opinion L.A.

Observations and provocations
from The Times' Opinion staff

« Previous Post | Opinion L.A. Home | Next Post »

Energy: Jimmy Carter, a president for our time

Jimmy Carter Where have you gone, Jimmy Carter. A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

Every time I pull in for gas these days I think of Carter, and what might have been.

Oh, sure. Go ahead and laugh. Worst president ever, right? Thank God for Ronald Reagan, right?

Well, it's not Carter's fault that you're pumping $4-a-gallon gas into a car that gets about the same mpg as the Datsun I owned in 1975.

Ah, Carter was a wimp, you say. Wouldn't stand up to the Iranians. Told us to turn down the thermostat; told us to take the bus; put solar panels on the White House roof. 

Who wanted that? We wanted what Reagan was selling -– we still do, at least if you listen to most Republican leaders. And we got it, with Reagan, and George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton (who was such a beaten-down Democrat, he was practically a Republican) and then George W. Bush.

But imagine if we'd heeded Carter's advice on energy. Imagine where this nation would be, more than three decades later, if we'd accomplished what Carter laid out in his "Crisis of Confidence" speech  on July 15, 1979:

The energy crisis is real. It is worldwide. It is a clear and present danger to our nation. These are facts and we simply must face them …

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. From now on, every new addition to our demand for energy will be met from our own production and our own conservation…

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% of our energy coming from solar power by the year 2000…

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 -- from coal, from oil shale, from plant products for gasohol, from unconventional gas, from the sun…

 I will urge Congress to create an energy mobilization board which … 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. But when this nation critically needs a refinery or a pipeline, we will build it…

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. To further conserve energy, I'm proposing tonight an extra $10 billion over the next decade to strengthen our public transportation systems. And I'm asking you for your good and for your nation's security to take no unnecessary trips, to use carpools or public transportation whenever you can, to park your car one extra day per week, to obey the speed limit, and to set your thermostats to save fuel. Every act of energy conservation like this is more than just common sense -- I tell you it is an act of patriotism.

Didn't happen. Carter was out after one term. Reagan brought back the good old days. He took down those stupid solar panels on the White House roof.

And while North Korea, which doesn't sit on a pool of oil, developed nuclear weapons, America fought two wars in the Persian Gulf against Iraq, which does sit on a big pool of oil -- but wasn't developing nuclear weapons. 

And in 2005, just four years after Saudi-bred terrorists attacked us on 9/11, George W. Bush strolled hand in hand with Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, which also sits on a big pool of oil. Heck, President Obama even bowed, sort of, to the Saudi king in 2009. 

Energy independence is still talked about. Just last month, for example, New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman argued for a gasoline tax as a way to encourage conservation and pay down the deficit.

But I didn't hear anyone on Capitol Hill signing on, nor anyone at the White House, and certainly no one who hopes to replace Obama in 2012.

Jimmy Carter is still with us -- a good, decent man who keeps trying to make the world a better place.

And as for our energy policy, all I can say is this: Carter's 30-year-old ideas sound a lot more thoughtful than "Drill, baby, drill!"


Sen. Dianne Feinstein: Robbing California of energy

California's renewable energy push: It's time for a state law

Dirtying the Clean Air Act

Gasoline prices: Round up the usual suspects!

Trivia: How much do you know about U.S. presidents?

--Paul Whitefield

Photo: A wax sculpture depicts the 39th President, Jimmy Carter, standing beside a Shell gasoline pump to illustrate the late-1970's oil crisis in the U.S. Presidential Gallery at Madame Tussauds wax museum in Washington. Credit: Michael Reynolds / European Pressphoto Agency


Comments () | Archives (52)

The comments to this entry are closed.


I think Mr. Whitfield should have his head examined.


Jimmy Carter is an anti semite. He was the worst president of modern times, until we elected our current president. Mr. Whitfield, are YOU an anti semite?


Jimmy Carter President? Are you serious? He is not even allowed into Israel!


President Carter was right at the time and is still right now! I have worked with him on two Jimmy Carter Habitat for Humanity Projects here in LA and he is a fantastic human being and model for all former presidents. He is absolutely not anti-Semetic even if he does criticize the Israeli government (so do a lot of Jews.) I guess some people don't like hearing the truth about the way Palestinians are treated. I was shocked in 1996 when crossing from Bethlehem (Palestine) to Jerusalem (Israeli administered.) It was definitely like going from Soweto to Jo'berg so I don't think apartheid is too strong a word!


Yes, and he was a nuculer (sic) engineer on a submarine under Admiral Rickover. And if I recall correctly he wanted to sit down with North Korea and discuss their nuclear weapons program.

Robert Fiori

If he had only had faith in the nuclear industry. He was a nuclear engineer. In the thirty years since he was president the only real clean energy source of any magnitude is nuclear power. Hydo power also provides a good amount of clean energy, ut it can't expand.

We should have followed the french and become nuclear electric. How do you think they can afford the socialist government? They do it by not importing their energy.


Did you commenters even read the article? It is not about whether or not Carter was a good president. It has nothing to do with anti-semitism. It's about the fact that we have wasted the last thirty years when we could have done something about our addiction to an energy source that is found primarily in countries that either hate us (Venezuela), are ruled by dictators (Saudi Arabia), or both (Iran). If we actually had implemented the program Carter had proposed, we would be in much better shape today. The price of gas per gallon is not the problem--it's the fact that we have so few alternatives. Please don't lose the message because you have some sort of knee-jerk reaction to an article than mentions a President you happen to either love or hate.

Long Memories

For those who might long for these good old days with Pres. Carter, you would do well to look at the record of his administration on various subsidies for energy projects. For the most part, they were inefficient, ineffective and wasted large amounts of taxpayer money. We should learn from the policies and programs that worked in his era, and even more important, from the ones that did not work.


President Carter is the best president during and after his term. He believes in long term growth for this country. He was screwed by Reagan, the worst president for this country until GW Bush took this title away, hopefully for good. Imagine what this country would be if we only follow his plan. We would be living in the clean environment and mideast will be in peace. Our boys would not be sent to die in vain there.

He also wants the best for Israel. To live in peace with neighbor Palestinian and Arab. Treat them the way you want to be treated. You can never ever kill all of them anyway.


To: Long Memories. Excellent point. Like me, you must be happy we have learned so much from the follies of our predecessors. That is why we have eliminated such idiocies as subsidies and protective tariffs. For example, how silly would it be to use oil energy growing corn and processing it into ethanol for a fuel that provides less energy than was used to manufacture it? I'm sure happy we're so much smarter than we were back in the 1970s.


Actually, Nixon was the first president to espouse the benefits of energy independence.


Indeed, Carter could have prevented wars, energy crises, and so much more. But my fellow Americans decided bluster and swagger trumped intelligence and sacrifice. And Carter bashers watch way too much Beck.


Peter Parrott I would suggest you stop parrotting Israeli comments. Jimmy Carter called Israel as it is - an artificially created apartheid.

The tirckery of trying to shut down critics of the state of Israel as Anti-Semites does not work in this day and age when Israeli war crimes are well proven and public.

James Andrews

The state of Alaska could be the 8th biggest producer of oil if drilling were allowed. The gulf is full of oil and so are both sides of the US coast. We have chosen not to produce oil, nuclear, or hydro electricity.

Public Advocate

On the energy issue, JC was right then and he's right now and he's the best ex-President ever. The guy is constantly helping his fellow man.


This article really shows how out of touch the LA Times really is.

Jimmy should stick to building affordable housing.


We all miss home mortgage rates of 22%, inflation at 17%, hundreds of thousands out of work, foreclosures rampant.

Yes, we miss Carter, like we miss cancer.


My car is much larger than that crappy little Datsun that you had back in '75. I can pack my family of five in mine and head to the beach with all of the necessary accessories. Could you have done that?

But do you know what has NOT changed since then?


Damn Newton and his Reich Wing laws of motion.


The author has zero credibility. With respect to his 1977 Datsun, it was a tin can that had zero safety features, no power features, and probably no A/C.

If we got rid of all safety features, with today's more fuel efficient engines regular compact cars (not hybrids) could get well over 50 MPG. But the government mandates safety features.

So why bother reading the rest of the article?

Joe Astroturf

Carter definitely was not the dumbest President. Obama thinks there's 57 states. Can't pronounce corpsman. Can't spell Syracuse (Sycacuse). Appoints a Secretary of State that thinks little girls with flowers were actually showering her with machine gun fire in Bosnia. Thinks people that strangle dogs or electrocutes them and hangs them should have a President takes up for them while letting Robert Krentz and Brian Terry killed by illegals not even have a word mentioned about them. Hopes that he can get more people like the Philly black panthers to stop whites from voting. Thinks sneaking in his death panels over Christmas wouldn’t get noticed and he backed down again on this one. Thinks that taking out 500 billion dollars from medicare and adding 30 million more people into Obamacare including illegals and we’ll believe it’s cheaper (PS he knows the truth but has to make pretend this would work).

Please Check out song called teapartiers I can’t hear you at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJfboOindCo

Here’s a verse

Doctors are retiring earlier but we’re getting 17000 new IRS
This is how Obama creates health care jobs I guess
For 234 years this country’s been God’s blessing.
Now he’s following Cloward and Piven’s to bankrupt the country I’m guessing
If Obamacare gives Grandma and Grandpa a scare
Think how when their rationed and die earlier we’ll save on healthcare

Hey guys if you fought at Iwo or the Chosen
when they stop giving your wife her meds and her last breath comes over her face
you’ll find comfort knowing Nancy’d gladly take her place.


Carter was and is a complete and utter failure - though I do agree with his main point from the speech - Drill, baby, drill!

harry lovis

It may be true that we're longing for the days of Jimmy Carter. But, that has alot more to do with Barack Obama than Ronald Reagan.

Nick Machiavelli

Pray tell, how does wind or solar or geothermal energy power cars or trucks on a wide scale basis? It can't because there is no battery to store such energy. So natural gas powered cars would be a solution. But Carter, and his Party of Government, don't want natural gas drilling or fracking. The point of the above article is moot.

Mike Kreusch

Baloney, so much baloney ... The simple FACT is that there exists NO SUBSTITUTE for fossil fuels ... Fossil fuels BY FAR deliver more energy for the effort than any other form of energy. THIS IS WHY THEY ARE NOT BEING REPLACED.

Go ahead and watch as oil climbs ... $125/bbl, $150/bbl, $200/bbl ... And gasp as SUV's and low mpg autos just keep on truckin' ... Sure, we could all don sweaters drive smart cars ride bikes carpool and mass transit but that won't change the engineering reality ... and, in fact, DOPES, if we ALL scale down into less efficient alternatives guess what?


Jimmy Carter shoulda stuck to peanuts.


"..imagine if we'd heeded Carter's advice on energy."

Goodness, what drivel. Jimmy C. gave us a Dept of Energy, supposed to find additional sources of energy; what, pray tell, has is DOE produced in 30 plus years? NOTHING! It isn't even mentioned by Dems anymore!

So, Jimmy was right about the need for more energy but a blind simplton knew that in the 70s, question is what did he do about it? Answer is, zilch.

(The Dems and Obamma's actions have served to compound America's politically manufactored oil shortages, leading to the current very high fuel prices that could easily have been avoided if he and his administration were not so ideologically opposed to it.)


This Op/Ed is just chock full of bad ideas; along with a few good ones. The simple fact is that 70% of all petroleum is used on transportation (so sun and wind does not replace that) and that we do not get enough sun for solar power to cost effectively produce 20% of our society' electrical needs. But, drilling more and developing shale oil was and still is a good idea. Too bad, this President (who looks like Jimmy C's second term) is not doing any of that.


The DOE since its inception under Carter has spent more than $400 billion. It's alleged goal was energy independence. It has routinely denied nuclear reactor permits, energy star appliances that don't live up to the hype, CO2 mitigation (shouldn't that be the purview of the EPA?), maintaining the safety of our nuclear weapons (idk the military's responsibility), environmental management.
If you want to write an article, why not write one on the failings, the overlap of responsibilities, and the misguided mission of the DOE instead of telling us that Carter was brilliant because he also mismanaged the middle east and the economy and gave us devastating fuel costs? just asking.


One day the author might get his wish. The non-elites will behave like good little sheep, waiting in lines, freezing in the dark, allowing the government to tell them how much energy they can't use. The journalists, professors, and others who preached collectivism all these years will of course be rewarded with all the trappings of a lifestyle forbidden to the people in "flyover country". And the Chinese will be free to buy up all the oil they want with no price competition from the U.S. and siphon off whatever's left of our economy. I've been behind the Iron Curtain in the bad old days. When the government tells you how much energy you can use, it buys a whole lot of obedience.

Mark Stracka

Jimmy Carter --- Profile in Weakness

Mark Stracka

Opinion L.A. --- L.M.A.O.

Mark Stracka

Paul Whitefield, how did you like the high unemployment, high taxes, high "misery index", long lines at the pump, high interest rates, weakened military, hostages held by madmen in Iran, and other aspects of the Carter years? Thank God he was thrown out after four years!


Jimmy Carter is and always be a buffoon screaming lets freeze together in the dark with our sweaters on.


I'm no Reagan fan, but this is pretty obtuse.


It didn't happen that way. Carter's war on energy dependence was a nice PR stunt, and I imagine that he genuinely wanted it to work. The trouble is, while he was talking a good game and founding the Dept. of Energy and all, he did a lot of other dumb things to the exact opposite effect. He eliminated government funding for fusion research and he allowed the lunatic fringe to stop the development of nuclear power after Three Mile Island, for example. To the best of my knowledge, not a single nuclear power plant has been started in the US since then. Setting down the thermostat is a semi-useless stopgap, but as far as actually developing new domestic sources of energy, President Carter... well, he created a new cabinet-level department, didn't he?

Jimmy Stewart

Wrong. Supposed "green" energy will not replace oil. Imagine where we could be if we had been drilling all this time, increasing our refining capabilities! We would be energy independent and we would have more money to invest in research of other energy options. But oil, coal etc...is still the best energy option. God put oil into the earth for us to use! Did you ever think about where we get oil from? The earth!!! If it's so dirty, then why did the earth create it? Same with coal. Environmentalism needs to die a quick death politically. I hope that 2012 will continue to bring more and more common sense into our lives, instead of this knuckleheaded environmentalist wackos.

Suresh Parikh

Everybody PLEASE, stick to President Carter's energy saving ideas and proposals. THEY ARE MORE "TRUE" TODAY THAN THEY WERE IN 1979.
Give the man the credit that is HIS.

Dan Short

When I read this opinion, I was first shocked. Then I got it, it's a satyr, right?

Jimmy Carter has only one thing that will even cause his remembrance as a president—a comparative to measure the total incompetency of what we have today.

How do we measure what is good or bad policy? Should we not look at the results of what programs were initiated during his term? Let's do that.

Let's start with the “Department of Education”—now how has that worked out?
Let's see we've watched an exponential expansion of the cost of education in this nation. Now if one is an advocate of the doctrine of lib-idiotcy, then perhaps that's an objective.
While we have watched the measurement of academic achievement remain constant. We watch nations without our foundation, or educational system roaring past. Our dropout rate for high school age children is the only thing growing upward; escalating to levels never known in this nation, while creating more and more that are either incarcerated, or jobless.

We shall not go on. This is one of the successes, so let's not deal with the failures.

Jules Vernon

How come the article never mentions how the environmental lobby, particularly in California, killed the US domestic oil industry, and inhibited development of the nuclear energy industry? If we had moved forward on both fronts, we would have had more than enough domestic fossil fuel and nuclear energy to enable sensible development of alternative energies


hate to break this to you but solar tech is still not up to speed

at the time Carter made that speech, solar has made great strides through the years and the costs are now down to about $9000 a watt. For some cost comparison

Energy Comparison
1 ton of coal = 6,182 KWH
1 barrel of oil = 1,699 KWH
1 cubic foot of gas = 0.3 KWH

Energy Costs
1 ton of coal costs $36 = $0.006 per KWH
1 barrel of oil costs $70 = $0.05 per KWH
1 cubic foot of gas $0.008 = $0.03 per KWH

Average system costs = $95 per square foot
Average solar panel output = 10.6 watts per square foot
Average solar energy system costs = $8.95 per watt

teh best thing the US can do right now is exploit our natural gas reserves ( yes drill baby drill) and re energize our nuclear power programs which Carter brought to a screeching halt after the 3 Mile Island incident


"From now on, every new addition to our demand for energy will be met from our own production and our own conservation…" All Libs heard here was CONSERVATION (i.e. stone age), not production. We have access to over 200 years worth of coal/oil shale, and plenty of oil here, if the Libs would open upo Alaska, and allow more drilling off the coast. Yeah that's right ... Drill Baby Drill. If we had started only a very few years ago, we'd be riding out th erecent increases in oil costs.

"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% of our energy coming from solar power by the year 2000…"

Wind and solar generate 1% of the state's electricity at 20 times the price of coal or natural gas. These left-wing geniuses are going to engineer a state-run system that will end pollution and create tens of thousands of jobs, all based on even bigger subsidies and even higher taxes. All this for a Global Warming hoax that is more and more discredited every day. The only way for these social fascists to achieve their utopian environmental goals is to reduce the number of autos in this state by 50%, at least.


Nonsense and I (god forgive me ) voted for Carter. In 2011 we still do not have workable solar power technology for anything other than a few hobby projects. We still do not have workable wind power In the winter it stops (only when you need it). No other green technology will withstand a rational cost benefit analysis. Ethanol is simply a farm subsidy and pits food against fuel. It was not Carter wishful thinking that would have given us the energy we need. In fact it has been the enviro/ commies who have stopped oil drilling,coal and nuclear. Oh yeah Obama is making good news for Carter. Obama clearly is strongly in the lead to be the worst, most harmful, incompetent President in history. Sorry former president Carter it looks like you will be the second worst.

Byron Johnson

Wow, are you mixed up or what? Carter's policy was, at least in part, "Drill, Baby, drill!" He wanted the US to eschew FOREIGN oil. And considering how many square miles of solar panels it takes to power one 18-wheeler, the Gulf of Mexico and the ludicrously sacred ANWAR would have to be pillaged to make that happen.

Randy Adcox

So Carter was a "wimp"...didn't stand up to the "powers that be", and fight for his "visionary" policy proposals. And neither did Reagan, Bush 1, Clinton, Bush 2, nor Obama. So where does that leave us now? Facing the exact same problems we faced 30 years ago! And at the top of the list is dependence on foreign oil. I would submit that this country faces no more serious threat to our national security, than the very real possibility that one day, those in the middle east (who hate us anyway!) will attempt to "cut us off" from our supply of oil. And if that happens, where do we turn? Will we (as some have proposed) just go and TAKE the oil? With our military already strategically situated throughout the region, it's not impossible to think that we could simply invade/take over/nationalize any one of several "oil rich" countries in the middle east, and - for awhile anyway - ensure a steady supply of oil.
Or perhaps we could negotiate new alliances with other oil rich nations and - for awhile anyway - keep our supply lines flowing. In either case, we're looking at a very "temporary" solution! The only real "fix" to this problem, is to END this country's dependence on foreign oil! And the sooner the better! Oil is only the "cheapest" energy source right now, because it's available! When the time comes when it's no longer available, then all the other "too expensive" energy sources, will suddenly appear as real bargains! Let's all hope we can finally begin to explore ALL other energy sources currently available to us (wind, solar, nuclear, etc.) and begin the absolutely critical transition - before it's too late!


epic fail; nuclear power is the only real viable option for a non oil dependent economy.


Here again government is the problem. Simply let the free market decide what is the most efficient, effective energy source. You don't have to use government force or government subsidies. Tax energy companies at the same % regardless of which energy source they use and the consumer will decide which is the best deal for them.

Zachary Green

The majority of the comments on this article are alarming. Most of you seriously think that clean energy can't compare to oil? You think drilling more is a solution? Anyone with these views obviously does not care about future generations no matter how much you say you do. Oil is harmful to the environment in every way possible. I worked the gulf oil spill and I know first hand the devastation a spill can cause. You say fracking is the way to go......you obviously don't know or don't care or don't believe that the wastewater produced from this is incredibly harmful to the environment and the lack of regulation on containing this wastewater is astounding. It contains a number of harmful substances that are polluting our nations' water (radioactive water isn't to refreshing). If we, as a nation, invest our time and energy into creating and further developing clean energy we can become an exporter, not an importer, of energy. This is job creation, not loss. This is investing in something that would give us independence, something that would allow us to cease paying another country for fuel, especially countries that dislikes the US. Deregulation is not the answer when it comes to the environment. Deregulation says "I care about ME only, not the future". Saying regulation costs jobs is a flat out lie that only morons buy and unfortunately morons are prevalent. Anyone who thinks climate change isn't real and doesn't buy the science is a simpleton, a pawn, or perhaps mentally impaired. I can't even argue with some people because I feel sorry for how uneducated they are and pity their arrogant ignorance.

Et g

Dhimi carter saved the USA by lossing the 1980 election. He was and is a disgrace.


Can people really be so blind, ignorant, gullible while lacking memory to the point that they blame our current President for oil prices when out of the last 30 years we had a Republican in the Oval Office for 22 of them? And then go on to say that he can't spell but I counted at least 10 spelling errors not to mention grammatical errors in his comment? Yes, I'm referring to "Joe Astroturf (for brains)". It's those 22 years that are the reason the DOE hasn't been able to do much. It really boggles my mind how so many of my fellow countrymen and women never paid attention to history in school, rarely read a newspaper, let alone different ones to get the whole picture, never watch news programs like the NewHour or Frontline on PBS or the other non-biased news source, BBC World, but instead choose to listen to morons like Limbaugh, Beck, O'Reilly then just regurgitate the crap that spewed out of their mouths. I bet some of them would even say that the U.S. lost the Vietnam War because of Obama considering how out of touch with reality and history they truly are.


Yea, I can imagine, China would have passed us up as the worlds largest economy in the 80's instead of 2016. Thats what.
All you green tree huggers should realize, your NOT eliminating pollution, your just moving it from America to China, and since it's one big happy planet, the air is effected either way. All you have done is put 80 million American people out of work and employed 300 million Chinese. Crashed the dollar, made energy needlessly more expensive, food more expensive, and transportation more expensive, which hurts the poor disproportionally, the very people you profess to care so much about. If you were HONEST for just once in your life, you would donate more of your OWN money to the poor, put solar on YOUR OWN ROOF, drive a little piece of crap car and shut up.


Pres. Carter had some good ideas about developing energy sources domestically, I believe. I suspect it would be relatively easy to move to a 4-day workweek, for example, and "leave our cars at home 1 day each week." Building newer refineries would probably be cleaner than keeping the ones that are 4 decades old.

However, he seems to lack understanding of the fundamental religious perspective of many Middle Easterners. One common philosophical/messianic belief system over there, is that Israel is a spiritual "dead end" that contaminates the Middle East and misleads people away from Mohammed. Putting a Palestinian state in place is not going to change that viewpoint.

So, there would still be wars in the Middle East under a Carterist president.... as there are under one today.

1 2 | »



In Case You Missed It...



Recent Posts
Reading Supreme Court tea leaves on 'Obamacare' |  March 27, 2012, 5:47 pm »
Candidates go PG-13 on the press |  March 27, 2012, 5:45 am »
Santorum's faulty premise on healthcare reform |  March 26, 2012, 5:20 pm »


About the Bloggers
The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.

In Case You Missed It...