When President Obama recently ordered the White House to be fitted with solar panels, he was following the precedent set by President Jimmy Carter in 1979. After the OPEC cartel’s decision to limit oil production in order to drive up oil prices, Carter had recommended a series of measures designed to conserve energy and limit US dependence on oil imports. An aggressive plan to develop solar energy was one of those measures. To promote his plans, Carter ordered the installation of solar panels on the White House.
But when Ronald Reagan defeated Carter in 1980, one of his first actions was to order the panels, which he called “a joke”, removed. He also set about reversing all of Carter’s other energy-saving measures.
As a result of Reagan’s short-sighted decisions, the development of solar energy in the US was set back decades. While European nations and China continued the development of solar and other alternative energies, the US redirected all of its subsidies and resources toward oil exploration and ensuring access to foreign oil.
One could argue that Reagan’s decision culminated in a series of oil wars intended to protect the supply of oil from the Middle East. The US fought Desert Storm in order to secure Kuwait’s oil wells and keep them out of Iraqi hands. Despite the Bush Administration’s statements to the contrary, oil was at the heart of Operation Iraqi Freedom. That fact was made clear when then Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, and his assistants stated that the invasion of Iraq would pay for itself (it didn’t) through profits from Iraqi oil reserves. And since American oil interests had long sought an oil pipeline across Afghanistan in order to deliver Balkan oil onto the world markets, oil was likely part of the equation that led to the invasion of Afghanistan.
Imagine what might have happened if the trillions of dollars used to pursue war had been invested in alternative energy that would free us from oil imports. Imagine where we might be had the Carter administration’s energy conservation initiatives been followed to their conclusion.
In all likelihood, we would not have sent our troops into endless wars. We would have greatly decreased our dependence on oil, especially oil imports from the Middle East. We would not have an enormous federal debt. And, perhaps most important, we would have contributed far less to carbon emissions which have led to climate change.