DOUBLE nickel was a sign of the times in the 1970s, a literal expression of the speed limit imposed on most Americans. The 55-mile-per-hour limit was just one of the responses to the October 1973 Arab oil embargo.
Forty years on, legal speed limits have crept closer to 90 than 55. Drivers reach their destinations more quickly but burn less gasoline, thanks in part to fuel economies that are also partly due to the embargo. Forty years ago, two nickels times three (30 cents) would buy you a gallon of gas. The embargo changed that forever. Oil sold for $3.89 a barrel in 1973, scarcely more than the average price of a gallon of gas today.
USA Today, in a retrospective of the embargo's lasting effects, likens the energy shock of 40 years ago to the threat from climate change today. Not mentioned, oddly, is that a switch to coal for power generation was itself an outgrowth of the embargo. President Jimmy Carter in 1977 called the energy crisis the “moral equivalent of war.” Domestic sources of fuel, particularly coal, were mandated for making electricity.
President Barack Obama today sees coal as the moral equivalent of a disease. The switch to natural gas is embraced but only in lukewarm fashion. Carter and his predecessor, Gerald Ford, reacted to the embargo's effect with automobile fuel-efficiency standards and pledges to replace imported oil with domestic coal and gas. Obama reacts to climate change with pie-in-the-sky policy favoring heavily subsidized renewable energy.
In 1973, the top supplier of imported oil to the U.S. was Canada. It still is, but Obama has blocked a pipeline that would facilitate more Canadian supplies. In 1973, Saudi Arabia was the fourth-largest supplier of oil imported into the U.S. Today, Saudi Arabia is No. 2.
In 1973, Henry Kissinger was secretary of state in a country reeling from the sudden curtailment of oil supplied from the Mideast. Today, Kissinger told USA Today's Wendy Koch, “We're better prepared now, by far.” The Saudis have “lost the opportunity to blackmail us.”