10/17/13 : Kateri Callahan

40 Years After Oil Crisis, It’s Time to Be Bold on Energy Again

Man reading newspaper article on gas shortage 1973 oil embargo crisis

Four decades ago this week, an energy crisis began that would change America. It would eventually lead to cars and trucks across the country forming double lines at every gas station, customers waiting hours to get to a pump, prices skyrocketing 300 percent, and drivers limited in how much gas they could buy. And infamous signs reading “NO GAS” and “Sorry No Gasoline” became regular sights on the road.

This was the 1973 OPEC Oil Embargo. And it made every American realize that their energy is not unlimited.

But this was also the week that shaped the future of American energy policy. We could no longer ignore where our energy came from and how it got used (or rather, wasted). We had to take action and confront the reality of growing demand and resource scarcity.

We’ve come a long way since then.

The oil crisis spawned the formation of the Department of Energy (and the Alliance), led to the first fuel efficiency and appliance standards, and advanced R&D efforts for vastly more efficient technologies we’re reaping benefits from today. It motivated Americans to care about their miles-per-gallon and inspired the first PSAs that popularized energy efficiency as a key solution (Gregory Peck starred in the Alliance’s first in 1978). 

Now America’s energy future is not only stronger, it’s brighter than ever.

2012 oil use was lower than in 1973 despite the economy being three times larger. Cars can now travel double the miles on a tank of gas; and soon will double even that. Total energy used per dollar of good is lower. Today’s refrigerators use 25 percent less energy than their 1973 counterpart, all while being 20 percent larger and costing half as much. It’s so much brighter in fact, that we would actually need 50 percent more energy to power our current economy without the advances of the past 40 years.

But these amazing strides are not the finish line. As much fun as it is to look back and pat ourselves on the back for how far we’ve come, the legacy of 1973 should be a reminder that America cannot not simply wait for another crisis to act.

We still heavily depend on foreign sources of energy and still waste more than 50 percent of the energy that comes into our economy. Is that good enough? I don’t think any American would say it is.

No, the lessons of 1973 must inspire us to be bold again. That’s what we did in our Energy 2030 plan that mapped out how we can double our energy productivity and cut that waste in half.

Today may mark 40 years since America started taking control of its energy, but it’s really only halftime and we’ve got to get back on the field and make our next play.