Rising gas prices and consumer inflation have taught us a hard direct lesson for the future: the age of excess is done. While America had proved viable as its own resource since the pioneers charted West and South, and the promise of new enterprise helped the cause of innovation, we stopped pressing for invention. With gold, bison, vast swathes of lush land, free press and indomitable spirit, we were charged with nurturing those valuable but finite riches. But lavishing ourselves with shiny SUVs offset the hunger and water crisis. As long as we had our Tickle Me Elmos, MAC Cosmetics and high-powered toys we could shrug off that there was no payment into our continuing energy sources bank. The cultural attitude of Americans has been of greed and corruption at the expense of the outer world. Fittingly, our entangled global economy demonstrates how damaging that recklessness can be. When oil reserves in our own nation took a backseat to scouting the countries who could provide the most volume at the highest rate, we bought even more of a fuel that could only lead on the path to nowhere. Worse still, we bragged about it, revved our engines, took our plane trips and expected nothing to change. But as T. Boone Pickens, a billionaire oil tycoon, has noted, the same futuristic outlook that created the steamboat and the automobile must spur us to new heights as an industrial force. The president-elect has made filled our minds with the promise of a “green economy” using hippie-era idealism and terminology to drive home a larger point.

Earth Day is a redemptive concept, no doubt, but having a series of commemorative days for the planet while insistently destroying it with our actions is an essential contradiction. Realistic options for the nation, however, still abound. Barack Obama, and Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have joined league with the Alt-Energy pundits by offering to revamp the auto industry on the hope that General Motors will become a leader in accepting the new energy challenge. For us to see the true consequence of claiming this a New Generation, or a new anything, production and the humble dignity of work must be restored in kind. The newfangled symbol of a green culture should go hand in hand with its cousins equal rights, and gender fairness. That’s to say, Barack Obama brought with his speeches a sense of the nation’s potential power if it could learn to motivate its citizens to work to one greater cause. Individualism has been a hallmark of American identity for more generations than one campaign could address. In asking to adopt a sense of conservation regarding plants, animals and (perhaps most immediately) finances, Obama is asking us to reject the Americanism that stipulates the preservation of self and clan is the highest priority.

T. Boone Pickens has been fomenting his clean coal plan since the main presidential race took hold in the summer. Pickens’s latest book The First Billion Is The Hardest acts as his salvo to the American people after years of reaping the benefits of a bustling oil industry. His outreach to both the presidential candidates speaks to his integrity in finding ways to divert our attention from traditionally tapped fuels (one that he made an obscene fortune selling) to attend to the future of our children. Again, unselfish revision recurs as a theme of even the new American economic plan. Here are Mr. Pickens’s remarks about Obama’s energy questions:

BROKAW: When you went to President-elect Obama and talked to him about your plan, was he enthusiastic and did he agree to support it as a high priority in his new administration?

PICKENS: Well, when you say enthusiastic, I wouldn’t say he was jumping up and down. But he asked a lot of questions and took notes. But now, two times I’ve heard him say that, in 10 years, that we will not be importing oil from the Mideast.

If that’s — and I believe him when he says that, which tells me he has a plan. And that plan would have to use natural gas, because natural gas is the — it’s the one and only fuel that moves an 18- wheeler other than diesel and gasoline.

But will we accept this as a deeper tenet of communal success? There are some indicators to suggest that Americans will rebuff this genuine attempt at new job creation, especially if it looks like a poorly conceived jump into another bottomless money pit. For one, at the mention of “spreading the wealth” the country was up in arms about any proposals that would somehow take money out of family pockets to provide for the greater good. Far be it from him to address our class problems as a systematic fix, as critics wait to pounce on any provocation to true equality. Establishing a green economy does not mean that we shift our spending to products with the word “green” printed on them. As the push to become a more resourceful nation makes more headlines, there will be more hucksters waiting with snake oil solutions to distract from the goal of implementing policy for the long term.

But it does show that our president-elect has not picked up on a hot-button issue for the sake of political opportunity. To say that the solution to our vast economic difficulties is linked to future industry may seem intuitive to some, when in reality it’s the most far-reaching of Barack Obama’s guarantees. He has offered that in ten years he would like to reduce the reliance on foreign oil sources to less than half of what they are now, which would require him prioritizing wind, solar and clean coal energy companies over any other producers. No matter how glittery the promise of wind-turbine fueled housing complexes and recharging cars, bowing to any energy company while trying to create consensus among their rivals about the best plan for all will be a trying task for a new president. So far, the only branch of industry that has accepted the “green” initiative is the advertising media. Our news programs, television commercials and celebrity philanthropists have endorsed it as a blind cause, almost as if adopting the green mantra convince people to use power-saving bulbs. Rather than sidling up to the green Wal-Mart or the green Exxon, we should, along with our president explore what it means to sacrifice convenient luxuries, and the related bad habits.

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