A Free-Market Energy Blog

Clean Energy, Energy Conservation, ‘Planetary Destiny’: Richard Nixon 1972

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- February 8, 2021

“… to a significant extent man commands as well the very destiny of this planet where he lives, and the destiny of all life upon it.”

“In order to have both environmental quality and an improving standard of living, we will need to develop new clean energy sources and to learn to use energy more efficiently.”

– President Richard Nixon (February 8, 1972)

Government grows with emergencies, real or imagined. There have been wartime emergencies, such as World War II. And there have been Malthusian ’emergencies’–as in resource exhaustion in the 1970s and climate change today.

Forty-nine years ago today, amid a natural gas shortage (from long-standing price controls), and with tightening oil markets (from his price controls), President Nixon gave a “Special Message to Congress Outlining the 1972 Environmental Program.” Substitute ‘climate’ for ‘energy’ and a half-century of time comes together.

President Biden’s “existential threat of our time” rings the same bell as Richard Nixon’s “energy crisis,” President Ford’s Comprehensive Energy Strategy, and President Carter’s “moral equivalent of war.”

Excerpts from Nixon’s 1972 Special Message follow:

To the Congress of the United States:

From the very first, the American spirit has been one of self-reliance and confident action. Always we have been a people to say with Henley “I am the master of my fate . . . the captain of my soul”–a people sure that man commands his own destiny. What has dawned dramatically upon us in recent years, though, is a new recognition that to a significant extent man commands as well the very destiny of this planet where he lives, and the destiny of all life upon it. We have even begun to see that these destinies are not many and separate at all–that in fact they are indivisibly one.

This is the environmental awakening. It marks a new sensitivity of the American spirit and a new maturity of American public life. It is working a revolution in values, as commitment to responsible partnership with nature replaces cavalier assumptions that we can play God with our surroundings and survive….

On the first day of this decade I stated that “it is literally now or never” for true quality of life in America…. I urgently solicit the continuing cooperation of the Congress and the American people….

[Priorities include] Clean energy research and energy conservation measures … Expanding international cooperation on the environment … Establishment of a United Nations… Fund for the Environment … Enlisting the young …


Ours is an energy-based economy, and energy resources are the basis for future economic progress. Yet the consumption of energy-producing fuels contributes to many of our most serious pollution problems. In order to have both environmental quality and an improving standard of living, we will need to develop new clean energy sources and to learn to use energy more efficiently.

Our success in meeting energy needs while preventing adverse environmental effects from energy generation and transmission will depend heavily on the state of available technology. In my message to the Congress on energy of last June, I announced a series of steps to increase research on clean and efficient energy production. But further action is needed.

As part of my new commitment to augment Federal research and development and target it more effectively on solving domestic problems, I have requested in the 1973 budget an additional $88 million for development of a broad spectrum of new technologies for producing clean energy.

In addition to carrying forward the priority efforts I have already announced the liquid metal fast breeder reactor, pipeline quality gas from coal, and sulfur oxide control technology–the budget provides funds for new or increased efforts on fusion power, solar energy, magneto-hydrodynamics, industrial gas from coal, dry cooling towers for power plant waste heat, large energy storage batteries and advanced underground electric transmission lines. These new efforts relate to both our immediate and our future energy problems, and are needed to assure adequate supplies of clean energy.

My message on energy also announced several steps that would be taken by the Federal Government to use energy more efficiently and with less environmental harm. One of these steps was issuance by the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development of revised standards for insulation in new federally insured houses. The new standards for single-family structures, which have now been issued through the Federal Housing Administration, reduce the maximum permissible heat loss by about one-third for a typical home. The fuel savings which will result from the application of these new standards will, in an average climate, exceed in one year the cost of the additional insulation required.

I am now directing the Secretary o! Housing and Urban Development to issue revised insulation standards for apartments and other multifamily structures not covered by the earlier revision. The new rules will cut maximum permissible heat loss by 40%. The savings in fuel costs after a 5-year period will on the average more than offset the additional construction costs occasioned by these revised standards.

These stricter insulation standards are only one example of administrative actions which can be taken by the Federal Government to eliminate wasteful use of energy. The Federal Government can and must provide leadership by finding and implementing additional ways of reducing such waste.

I have therefore instructed the Council on Environmental Quality and the Office of Science and Technology, working with other Federal agencies, to conduct a survey to determine what additional actions might be taken to conserve energy in Federal activities.

This survey will look at innovative ways to reduce wasteful consumption of energy while also reducing total costs and undesirable environmental impact…..


Our destiny is one: this the environmental awakening has taught America in these first years of the seventies. Let us never forget, though, that it is not a destiny of fear, but of promise. As I stated last August in transmitting the Second Annual Report of the Council on Environmental Quality:

The work of environmental improvement is a task for all our people . . . The achievement of that goal will challenge the creativity of our science and technology, the enterprise and adaptability of our industry, the responsiveness and sense of balance of our political and legal institutions, and the resourcefulness and the capacity of this country to honor those human values upon which the quality of our national life must ultimately depend.” We shall rise to the challenge of solving our environmental problems by enlisting the creative energy of all of our citizens in a cause truly worthy of the best that each can bring to it.

While we share our environmental problems with all the people of the world, our industrial might, which has made us the leader among nations in terms of material well-being, also gives us the responsibility of dealing with environmental problems first among the nations….



February 8, 1972.


  1. Peter Z Grossman  

    Excellent, albeit somewhat discouraging, post. Nothing changes, as I wrote in 2013 in my book U.S. Energy Policy and the Pursuit of Failure,

    “Policy failures [with respect to energy policies] are not a recent phenomenon.Nevertheless,for the past forty [now 49] years, it appears that policy makers have learned nothing from the past. That [energy-climate] policy has always failed has seemed irrelevant to each new Congress, to each new presidential administration, and to each new agency head. It is as if officials are saying that they know their ideas will fail, but they will pursue them anyway because they cannot think of anything else to do…They will willfully pursue failure. Finally, that has been the story of U.S. energy [-climate] policy, the pursuit of failure, a story that has seemed impervious to facts and remains mightily resistant to change.”


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