When President Carter finished his energy message Monday night, a friend of mine turned off his set and said, "I'm getting awfully tired of these phony crises."
"Why do you think it's a phony crisis?" I asked.
"Are you serious?" he said. "Remember the big crisis during the Arab oil embargo? At first, there was no gasoline to be had for love or money.But as soon as the price get boosted up high enough, there was plenty of gasoline. Who does Carter think he's kidding?"
My friend's reaction dismayed me, and I set out to find out whether it was shared by others. I began asking people what they thought of the President's message.
The answers I received were mixed, but generally unfavorable. One woman said: "We've been lied to so often I don't believe anybody any more. I've heard all this stuff before."
"The little guy is about to be squeezed again," was another comment. "We're going to be ripped off for our gas and electricity and gasoline, and all those millions of dollars we'll shell out are going to run right into the pockets of the rich, as usual."
A white collar union member said: "If the auto industry is disrupted, what will happen to the people who now work in the factories that make those big gas guzzlers? And what will happen to the country that supply parts for Detroit? I think Carter had better realize that if he disrupts the auto industry he'll be disurpting the whole economy. I can tell you right now that if the purpose of that speech was to convince me that the situation is so bad that we have to turn everybody's life upside-down by tomorrow morning it was a failure. I just don't buy that."
Most of the people I talked were well aware that the earth's resources are not infinite, but whatever danger they perceived was off in the distance somewhere. One man said: "We waste too much, and I can see where that's going to lead to a problem somewhere down the road, maybe 50 years from now. We probably ought to start making some plans pretty soon, but I just don't like the scare tactics they're using on us. There's no crisis now, that's for sure, and I refuse to get excited about a crisis that won't appear until after I'm dead and gone."
Only three of the people I talked to shared my firm conviction that the crisis is all too real - a clear and present danger to which we should have reacted long age.
It takes a long time to change a nation's lifestyle, so action must be initiated as soon as a need for change is entablished. Yet we are now arguing about whether tomorrow would be too soon to start something we should have done yesterday.
Simple common sense tells us that sooner or later our resources will run out. Simple arithmetic indicates that it will be sooner rather than later. Isn't it self-evident that the time for a serious reappraisal of our resources and priorities is now, not "somewhere down the road?"
We must produce more, waste less, put more emphasis on efficiency, and push ahead with new vigor on improving technology and research. If we fall to do these things, and do them quickly, we will very likely put our standard of living in jeopardy, and with it our democratic system of government.
The prposals that President Carter will lay before the Congress later today will put us to the kind of test we face in wartime, but with one significant difference. It is relatively easy to respond to a threat from a visible enemy. It is not so easy to make sacrifices when the danger is posed by a vague concept - an invisible possibility that some day, maybe, perhaps, if we're unlucky, our resources may run out.
I hope that the opinions I heard during my unscientific inquiry were not typical of the nation's reaction to Mr. Carter's message. If they were, we are in deep trouble.