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Carter’s Crisis and the Road Not Taken

Carter’s Crisis and the Road Not Taken

(p.169) Eleven Carter’s Crisis and the Road Not Taken
Seeing Green
Finis Dunaway
University of Chicago Press

This chapter considers the popular memory of Jimmy Carter as an environmental president in relation to media images and environmentalist critiques of his policies. Ranging from solar panels on the White House roof to the “Crisis of Confidence” speech and a new Advertising Council campaign on energy conservation, the chapter explains how popular framings of the energy crisis too often emphasized individual culpability for wasteful consumer habits but failed to outline a broader social ethic or envision structural changes to the nation’s energy systems. Environmentalists and alternative energy advocates tried to inspire hope, to present their movement as offering solutions to the age of limits and to the cynicism and alienation of public culture. Instead, Carter and the Ad Council propagated a privatized vision of energy conservation that constrained popular meanings of environmentalism. The popular memory of Carter as an environmental president obscures the alternative energy future imagined by environmentalists and wrongly conflates the discourse of individual responsibility with the political vision of American environmentalism. The chapter closes with the election of 1980, in which Ronald Reagan mobilized frontier imagery to deny environmental limits and offer a privatized vision of abundance and hope.

Keywords:   Jimmy Carter, White House, solar panels, crisis of confidence, Advertising Council, individual responsibility, Ronald Reagan

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