President Carter, three months after he called the energy crisis "the moral equivalent of war," has concluded that "the public is not paying attention" to energy shortages and is wasting fuel at an ever increasing rate.

Carter says increased fuel usage threatens to cause a trade imbalance, and he fears it will take "a series of crises" to make the American people "quit wasting so much fuel."

He says this has already been demonstrated on two or three occasions, including the natural gas shortage last winter and the Arab oil embargo in 1973.

"I think these are just predictions of what is to come." he warns.

Cartersees some indications of oil stockpiling in anticapation of a proposed wellhead tax, but he says the public is oblivious to the impending oil shortage.

"I am concerned that the public has not responded well [to calls for conservation], and I think voluntary compliance is probably not adequate at all," he says.

Carter made his remarks in an interview Friday with 26 editors and broadcasters. Transcripts of the 30-minute session were released yesterday.

On the matters, Carter said "we still have a lot of difficulties to overcome" in trying to arrange a Mideast peace settlement, but "my own belief is that they can be overcome."

Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance, slated to begin a 12-day Middle Eastern trip today, outlined to the Soviet Union yesterday U.S. proposals on reconvening the Geneva peace conference.

Vance and Vladillen Vasev, charge d' affaires at the Soviet embassy discussed American suggestions on both the procedures and substance of a peace conference at a State Department meeting, a spokesman said.

Carter, in his interview with editors. said Vance will try to put together some sort of framework on which the United States and the Soviet Union could jointly call for a Geneva conference in the fall.

He said he was "upset" with Israel's decision to legalize three Jewish settlements on the occupied West Bank of Jordan, calling them "an additional obstacle we had not anticipated."

During recent talks with Israeli Prime Minister Menahem Begin, Carter said he made clear that the United States feels the settlements are illegal.

"We think it is wrong to establish these settlements." the President said. "It is wrong to insinuate they are legal and it is certainly wrong to ever claim they are permanent. And to establish new settlements would be even more unsettling to their Arab neighbors."

The President devoted almost one third of the session to the energy issue. In answering one question, the former Georgia governor said he favors "a rapid increase in oil the Eastern Seaboard," adding jokingly. "I hope they find oil near the Georgia coast first at all."

He said his visit to a drilling rig off the Louisiana coast last week convince him "we need not fear, to the extent we did not in the past, environmental consequences of offshore oil exploration and production."

Offshore production is opposed by environmentalists, and some congressmen and oil company spokesmen have accused the Carter administration of discouraging it, particularly off the Atlantic coast. Carter, however, told the editors:

"One of the major impediments to increased drilling in the Atlantic seaboard has been the oil companies themselves. They don't like the legitimate constraints that are placed on them by the Department of Interior, and the Federal Energy Agency, and others."