What we knew about the energy crisis back in 1977

A friend of mine found this yesterday in one of her folders from college.  If seems like even more Americans are ignorant and blindly techno-optimist today than they were 40 years ago.  The last item of how we might proceed offers 4 suggestions, and we appear to have chosen the most repugnant: “Hang the environmentalists and plunder the environment”.  Lamar certainly was prescient…

The energy crisis: Some human considerations. Fall 1977.
From an outline prepared by William Fred Lamar, Jr., for a talk before a National Conference of Rural Electric Cooperative Directors

I. The Energy Crisis is Real

A. There are no easily available sources of fossil energy to supply our expanding needs.

  1. We are rapidly running out of oil and natural gas.
  2. While we have a 200 year supply of coal, there are pollution and other environmental (greenhouse) problems we have not solved.
  3. We have not come up with satisfactory and safe means for using nuclear reactors on a large scale.
  4. Our resources of geothermal, wind, and tidal energy either are limited or have limited applicability.
  5. Solar power is probably a generation away from application to our current needs.

B. According to a recent Gallup poll 50% of all Americans do not believe we have an energy problem, and/or believe that we have the technology available to meet our present and future energy needs.

II. A Description of the Problem

A. We are in danger of exhausting our economically recoverable oil resources

B. We are currently using non-renewable resources for the wrong ends.

  1. Most of our oil and natural gas is used for transportation and low temperature space heating, where other sources of energy would suffice
  2. At this time there is no substitute for the petrochemically related hydro-carbon molecule in: a. the production of agricultural fertilizers and chemicals, b. the production of drugs, c. the production of plastics, wash and wear fabrics, paint polymers,

III. Suffering caused by the Energy Crunch

A. On an international scale, the suffering will not be equitable

1. The major powers will probably be able to survive much as they are, but with some inconvenience

2. The economies of western Europe and Japan may be destroyed by the $30/bbl of oil predicted by the end of the 1980’s

3. Such an increase in oil price will mean total disaster for the developing nations who are:

a. dependent on petrochemically produced fertilizers to maintain the green revolution
b. petroleum products to begin the production of energy for industrial production and transportation

B. The suffering will not be equitably distributed within the United States

1. the rich will get by
2. The middle class will lose its long vacations, second cars, and possibly its free-standing homes
3. The poor and those on fixed incomes will face a bleak future as transportation and fuel costs increase fourfold, and as food costs double

IV. Some Issues that the American People will have to face in working through the Energy Crisis

A. Credibility

1. Currently 50% of the population and many of our leaders still believe that there is no crisis, or that the crisis is a manipulative activity of the energy producers

2. Some crazy things will happen to rate structures

a. artificially priced commodities (oil and natural gas) will either soar in price, be drastically rationed, or be rapidly depleted
b. A radical increase in price will suddenly make some petroleum reserves available (economically feasible to exploit), e.g. shale oil, tertiary pumping of abandoned wells, oil from coal, oil from “deep sea” wells
c. people may be asked to pay more if they conserve energy than if they waste it, e.g. experience of Union Electric Co of St. Louis in 1973
d. The use of solar assisted heating systems (installed at great expense of $6-10,000 may not result in a lowering of the consumer’s electric bill, e.g. University of North Dakota engineering survey of solar assisted electric heating costs

B. Equity

1. Energy allocation

a. in the event of energy rationing, how shall the rationing be accomplished?

1. Shall all be asked to take a uniform cut?
2. Shall certain groups be exempted from rationing?
3. Shall rationing be accomplished by an “economic model” (let people use what they can pay for)?

2. Expense of Energy

a. as energy costs rise, shall we
1. deny energy to the poor
2. guarantee lifeline rates
3. provide energy stamps backed by a regressive income tax
4. require all persons to live in apartments or condominiums which use 1/3 heat of freestanding home
5. place a severe tax on homes with unused space (rooms above the minimum of 2 per family member), and a prohibitory tax on second homes

b. Basic question—is a minimal entitlement to energy an “inalienable right”? What is minimal?

C. Social Dislocation in a time of crisis

1. Since the close of World War II the American people have created a world of unbelievable luxury and ease based upon the false belief in an unending supply of cheap petro-energy

2. How shall we face the possible dislocation caused by:
a. A move away from the automobile economy which employs 16% of all Americans
b. the inability of our economy to support the energy consumption (for space heating) of freestanding homes, and the energy consumption (for transportation) of the commuters who live in these homes
c. currently our entire economy is based upon an assumption of transience:
1. gasoline powered mobility for people
2. throw-away or convenience items for all
3. with planned obsolescence, rather than quality as the goal of production
d. A radical move toward stewardship of our resources, toward quality craftsmanship, and toward foot-powered mobility could make 1933 look like a very good year

D. Energy Production

1. As the gap between our energy needs (desires) and the available level of energy production that is not hazardous to the environment becomes more acute, shall we:

a. practice radical conservation—at the possible cost of a world depression
b. mount a research program equal to that of the Moon landing or the Manhattan project—at the cost of decreasing other governmental problems
c. follow Edward Teller’s recommendation and move instantly to the mass production of thorium fission reactors so that oil and natural gas may be saved to provide precious fertilizer for the third world
d. hang the environmentalists and plunder the environment


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