(TELEGRAPH) — On the evening of April 18 1977, President Jimmy Carter invited television cameras into the Oval Office and portentously announced to the American people that “tonight I want to have an unpleasant talk with you about a problem unprecedented in our history. With the exception of preventing war, this is the greatest challenge our country will face during our lifetimes.”

The unprecedented problem was energy. Or rather, the lack of it. “We simply must balance our demand for energy with our rapidly shrinking resources,” said the 39th President of the United States. “The oil and natural gas we rely on for 75 per cent of our energy are running out.”

Carter’s talk was poorly received. Americans didn’t appreciate the apocalyptic message, still less his vision for tackling the situation, with its rather schoolmasterly demand for a collective show of moral backbone. But hardly anyone questioned his facts. And yet he was about as wrong as he could be. Far from running out, oil and natural gas reserves were, if not inexhaustible, then unfathomably vast. Nobody knew that then, but they do now.

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