When queried in a recent poll, Americans lamented that the country lacked direction and little guidance was forthcoming from political leaders.
Public malaise notwithstanding, there are course changes available for leaders to consider in dispelling public despondency in a crowded world depleting finite natural resources at an alarming rate.
Education and modern technology could be used to gradually shift our cultural emphasis from quantitative to qualitative values. A change in the national frame of mind could be encouraged in which success was redefined. Emphasis could be placed more on the quality of one's relationships, possessions, personal accomplishments, and charitable deeds than by the quantity of material assets accumulated over a lifetime.
A conservation ethic could be inculcated to carry more economic and societal gravitas than we currently confer on conspicuous mass consumption.
Health should never be sacrificed for the sake of profit. If public's physical well-being depends on industry cleaning up pollution and compliance means temporarily making less money or none at all, so be it.
Don't shut the door on manufacturing, but streamline industrial processes and create a larger role for labor-intensive service industries (including farming) in the national economy.
Assign a higher meaningful value to what one contributes to rather than takes from society. In that vein, institute a compulsory year of national service either in the military or civilian sphere for youth between the ages of 18 and 22. Unless medically disqualified, Americans of all stripes would be obliged to serve with an option to extend their tour a year if they envisioned their experience as the first step of a future career. One of the youths' national service options could be a conservation corps charged with reversing environmental degradation. Various civilian programs could offer startup training and academic credits in such diverse fields, as forestry, land management, ecology, health care, social work, teaching, and vocational trades.
Meanwhile, universal public service could foster mutual understanding between Americans of different backgrounds, thereby encouraging a sense of tolerance and national unity to temper an era marked by bitter partisan divisiveness.
A recent United Nations report raises another vexing question relating to our future. The report concludes that to avoid climate catastrophe, a supply of oil must remain in the ground four times greater than what we can safely burn. If this is true, how is mankind who is so dependent on petroleum going to survive letting such a vast amount of sleeping oil lie?
A total solution won't emerge overnight, but strategies exist to aid in a gradual phase-out of humanity's reliance on oil. Clean, renewable energy (e.g. wind, solar) is coming on fast as a marketable viable alternative to fossil fuels. Routine recycling and reuse of raw materials could be integrated into society's daily routine at great energy savings. So could an embrace of the conservation ethic, manifested by such strategies as greater vehicle fuel economy, clustered land use planning that curbs the energy waste inherent in suburban sprawl, more local farming, and architectural building design that lends itself to solar and wind power.
Bottom line: The future doesn't have to be all that bleak. There are options.