War breaks out in a distant land. It dominates the front pages of newspapers and TV news, and as a result the prices of petrol, heating oil and electricity are skyrocketing.
Inflation becomes an obsession as the cost of living soars.
For younger generations, the energy crisis triggered by the war in Ukraine seems unprecedented, but for those in their 50s it has a familiar ring to it.
It’s reminiscent of the 1970s – the era of glam rock, impossibly high platforms and flared trousers.
Then, when the heating went out, our elders and betters told us to dress warmly, wear more clothes, and if there was no gas, walk or take the bus.
Who were we to question our elders and better off who survived the state of emergency (known elsewhere as World War II) when there was no gas at all?
“It’s, it’s a ballroom blitz” was the chorus of the song by Sweet that topped the Irish charts when war broke out in the Middle East on October 6, 1973. Egyptian and Syrian forces launched on Yom Kippur, a holiday in the Jewish calendar, hoping to regain lost territory.
Eventually, Israel triumphed with some US support – and this prompted the region’s oil-producing states to impose a fuel embargo.
The eventual result in Ireland was chaos at the pumps – with long queues forming and many drivers running out of fuel.
A lasting memory of my childhood is walking down country roads to gas stations with a can in my mother’s hand after she’s gone out.
On November 19, 1973, the Irish Independent reports: “The panic buying petrol is gripping the nation. Across the country, motorists have created an artificial shortage by filling up, and now hundreds of gas stations have run empty.”
Petrol stations rationed petrol – with a value of just £1 per car allowed.
According to economist Dan MacLaughlin, oil prices shot up 250 percent during the 1973-74 crisis.
There was a similar oil price shock in 1979 triggered by the Iranian revolution – with even more violent price increases.
During the current oil crisis, Transport Secretary Eamon Ryan was roundly ridiculed for his outlandish green ideas when he suggested motorists could save fuel by slowing down.
But that was precisely the response from Local Government Minister Jim Tully in the Cosgrave Fine Gael/Labour coalition of 1973.
Slowing down became mandatory. In December of the same year, motorists were asked to “happily accept” a speed limit of 80 km/h.
Tully said there’s evidence that high speeds are associated with higher gas mileage, and he advised motorists to drive at a steady pace, avoiding hard braking and “accelerating gently”.
“In particular, racing-style acceleration should be avoided,” warned the Department of Local Government.
In 1979 the speed limit was lowered to 85 km/h, a move introduced by Energy Secretary Des O’Malley when the oil tanks were almost empty again.
It’s unclear whether these measures worked, as a law-abiding journalist who religiously pushed himself to the limit complained of being overtaken 10 times on a short stretch of road.
Just as Eamon Ryan advised motorists to walk in the current crisis, the head of the Petrol Retailers Association told RTÉ in 1979: “You may need to walk a little more than before.”
Our attitude towards gasoline was so obsessive that by the 1970s it summed up our entire character.
Those hoarding fuel were injured in one Irish Independent leadership pillar as “greedy” and “short-sighted”.
the Irish Independent The December 14, 1973 women’s page had the headline, “How To Tell If Your Husband Is A Cad!”
The true test of a man’s character, according to the article, was the man’s attitude toward gasoline. Among the guys classified as cads in the feature was “the guy who silently hands you the car keys – knowing damn well the gas tank is empty.”
And next on the list of how to identify a stingy partner is “the man who
asks you to do his snake for him”.
The polar opposite of a cad, according to the guide, is “that one guy in a million who gives you half of what’s in his tank so you don’t have to run.”
Even officials were given energy-saving tips as early as the 1970s when costs were skyrocketing.
According to 1979 state papers, guidelines for officers suggested that electric fires should only be used in “special circumstances” and that one pole should be used instead of two when possible.
All employees “should wear an appropriate amount of clothing – wearing extra clothing makes lower temperatures tolerable”.
To paraphrase Monty Python, “You’re trying to tell today’s young people that…they won’t believe you.”
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/wrap-up-warm-turn-off-electric-fire-and-walk-or-take-the-bus-how-we-dealt-with-energy-crisis-in-the-1970s-41512825.html Dress warmly, turn off the electric fires and walk or take the bus – how we dealt with the energy crisis in the 1970s