The following 40 year old quote opens the chapter entitled "The Perfect Moment" from the book "Carbon Shift" edited by Thomas Homer-Dixon and published in 2009.
"It is always a little hard to find a convincing answer to the man who says, "What has posterity ever done for me?" and the conservationist has always had to fall back on rather vague ethical principles postulating identity of the individual with some human community or society which extends not only back into the past but forward into the future. Unless the individual identifies with some community of this kind, conservation is obviously "irrational." Why should we not maximize the welfare of this generation at the cost of posterity?"
"The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth" - March 8, 1966
Americans do live in a free country. Freedom as we all know isn't free, just ask our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan how much it costs to defend our country against terror. The legitimacy of those conflicts is not being discussed here, but is debatable.
Free choice has consequences, which we are all free and obligated to deal with. But with energy consumption, we don't. We don't because we are ignorant to the costs.
Americans represent 4.5% of the Earth's population yet we consume 25% of its petroleum resources. Our choices to consume this way have consequences on us and countless others who are often far less insulated by energy driven society against them. Yet we complain about high gas prices and we won't conserve in the car or at home. We don't recycle enough and we aren't forcing industry to create less waste in the first place. We don't want to pay more for cleaner and renewable energy and we fight about whether our actions really impact the climate. It is our manifest destiny to live in our free society with unlimited economic potential. Bullshit!
We are part of a large community dependant on limited non-renewable resources whose use is hugely damaging to the environment, food sources and lead to the suffering and deaths of millions of living beings (plants, animals and humans) every year, but since most of don't see it we don't care.
Each of us must come to understand the true price of our choices. That understanding must translate into changes in all parts of society so we can hope to leave a legacy from our existance.
To think that humans could easily be credited with wiping out a billion years of natural development of petroleum resources in the span of 200 years, and leaving a far less habitable planet in its wake is very scary.