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How Did the '70s Energy Crisis Affect the United States?

The energy crisis gave rise to the search for alternative fuels and methods of delivering energy, which led to experiments with electric cars.
U.S. gas exploration increased following the energy crisis.
Gas prices rose sharply during the energy crisis.
During the 1970s energy crisis, the order by which automobile owners were allowed to purchase gas was determined by the license plate numbers of their vehicles.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 11 April 2014
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The oil crisis of the 1970s had a tremendous political, social, and economic impact on the United States, and its reverberations continue to be felt to this day. This event dramatically illustrated American dependence on fossil fuels, and raised a lot of questions about the country's energy policy and the security of its energy supply.

Several events combined to bring about the energy crisis of the '70s. The first was a dramatic rise in energy consumption, with the United States consuming a huge percentage of the world's energy in proportion to its population. Domestic oil production declined at the same time, leading the country to lean heavily on foreign oil, and in 1973, the US was placed under an OPEC embargo for political reasons. Middle Eastern members of OPEC wished to protest American involvement in an ongoing conflict with Israel, and these nations struck the country where it hurt, depriving them of oil in 1973 and again in 1977.

One of the most immediate effects of the embargo was skyrocketing energy prices as a result of limited supply and heavy demand. Rationing went into effect, with supplies of petroleum products being carefully doled out with ration cards and flag systems, in which people could take turns buying gas and other fuels on the basis of license plate numbers. At the same time, the stock market contracted radically, an event that foreshadowed future stock market instabilities linked to the price of oil.

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The 1970s was also an era in which environmentalism was becoming mainstream. Environmentalists went from what many considered the "lunatic fringe" to the heart of social consciousness as they argued that high energy consumption was damaging the environment and crippling the United States. The energy crisis, combined with more interest in environmentalism, brought about a rise in interest in alternative sources of energy and fuel efficiency.

Politically, the government struggled to deal with the crisis. The Watergate scandal erupted at about the same time, making it difficult for the Nixon administration to make productive policy decisions. Once Ford and later Carter took over, they struggled to make sense of the problem. A number of government agencies, including the Department of Energy, were founded during this period in an attempt to formulate policy and shift the way in which Americans used energy.

A national 55 mile per hour (90 kilometers per hour) speed limit was imposed to increase fuel efficiency, and daylight saving time was moved to reduce demand for fuel. These imposed austerity measures fed into a more general examination of US energy policy, with some Americans protesting such measures under the argument that they infringed on the rights of the people or posed undue hardship.

One of the most far-reaching effects of the energy crisis was a growing awareness of the need to secure the nation's energy supplies. Concerns about energy led the United States to become heavily involved in Middle Eastern politics, since it feared a repeat of the 1970s embargoes, and the country also started more aggressive oil and gas exploration within its boundaries in an attempt to increase domestic production. This period in American history highlighted the fact that energy was a critical political issue, and that the United States could not afford to be caught unaware in the future.

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Discuss this Article

anon334407
Post 9

I have to do a presentation on this event and I have to answer the following questions:

When did this event take place and where?

Why is this event important?

How did this event shape American history?

Is there any lasting impact of this event that can still be felt today?

anon330575
Post 8

I personally feel that it was a significant even in history of the United States because it changed our economy and our budgeting on our supply and demand system.

serenesurface
Post 6

Use of automobiles was definitely one of the hardest hit areas from the oil embargoes. I think Congress had even banned gas stations from selling gas on Sundays in addition to rationing.

Businesses were affected too. Government asked businesses to close shops earlier to save energy. Many industries had to switch to coal at this time and there was the cost of switching over. Homes also switched to electricity heating to save energy.

I think we can say that the energy crisis affected every aspect of American life.

ddljohn
Post 5

Does anyone have information about what gas prices were like in the 70s? Of course, the prices need to account for inflation, otherwise I won't know how it compares to prices today. I was not born then but I'm sure some people out there remember.

Gas prices went up suddenly several years back and haven't really come down since then. The situation is not as bad as it was in the 70s, thankfully rationing is not required. But I wonder if we will see the same kinds of effects in the near future as we saw with the 70s crisis.

bear78
Post 4

Is there any link between the energy crisis of 1970s and the US Invasion of Iraq? Some say that the invasion had to do with oil.

Georgesplane
Post 2

Parmnparsley, your comments are interesting. I never knew so many environmental agencies and laws were rooted in the 70's energy crisis. I did a little more reading on the Department of Energy's website and found out that it has its roots in the manhattan project and only became the modern Department of Energy in 1977. They run 20 labs across the country that research everything from renewable energy, and national security to nuclear technologies, and toxic waste disposal.

parmnparsley
Post 1

The sourcing and securing of energy is only one aspect of the energy crisis of the 1970's. The Clean Air Act, The Department of Energy, OSHA, The EPA, and the National Environmental Policy Act were all directly and indirectly related to the energy crisis during the '70s. What people must understand is that these policies and regulations concerning energy need to be progressive to meet the ever evolving needs of a growing and changing population. The energy crisis of the '70s helped to shape the study of sustainability; establishing a link between energy and other social, environmental, and security issues.

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