Most hardworking Americans seem to feel that their work ethic entitles them to consume at astronomically high rates, even while millions of hard working citizens of other nations can barely feed themselves. This sense of entitlement is not only unwarranted, but also immoral.
Most Americans justify their sense of entitlement with the myth that America became a hegemonic world power because of the ingenuity, piety and work ethic of individual Americans. In reality, America became a powerful nation almost by coincidence.
A study conducted at the University of Hawaii looked at the potential photosynthetic capacity of nations. It found that the mid-latitude environments in Eurasia and North America produce extremely high photosynthetic potential with long hot days and short cool nights of summer. Conversely, the combination of equal amounts of day and night and persistent heat of the tropics produce very low potential.
Basically, plants in the mid-latitude north, which can get up to 16 hours of sunlight per day, are guaranteed to be more productive than those in the tropics which never get much more than 12 hours of sunlight and must withstand long, hot nights.
Since agricultural food production is the basis of modern human society, this research hints at how America got so far ahead of the rest of the world: among all of the mid-latitude nations graced with high photosynthetic potential America has the luck of also having the best soil for agriculture. America's extreme prosperity consequently has little to do with hard work and much to do with happenstance.
As the world's natural bread basket, America was destined to become a powerful nation which could provide its citizens with a high standard of living. The accident of photosynthesis and soil quality that gave America a leg up on the competition does not, however, give its citizens the right to use that luck to bully less fortunate peoples into giving America what it wants.
Right now, what America wants and needs to maintain the high levels of consumption its citizens think they deserve is oil. America may have the best combination of sun and soil in the world, but it does not have the best oil fields. The statistics are startling: As 5 percent of the world population, Americans consume 40 percent of the world's petroleum energy.
Anyone who feels they are entitled to consume at high rates because of their hard work has to face the fact that their consumption is only possible if America continues to use 700 percent the amount of energy that its population would be allocated under population proportional distribution of oil.
Given that the ability of Americans to consume energy at this astronomically high level is predicated on photosynthetic luck, such feelings of entitlement have absolutely no logical leg on which to stand. Even if Americans had worked harder than the rest of the world to get where they are today, there would still be no moral justification for such disproportionately high consumption levels.
Unfortunately, many Americans turn to economic development rhetoric as justification for their over-consumption. In their minds, if everyone works hard enough and the right economic policies are enacted, unfortunate citizens of the southern hemisphere can achieve standards of living similar to those that Americans enjoy. With the energy consumption disparity described above and the low photosynthetic potential of the global south, this is simply impossible.
No matter how hard Americans work to get where they are, they are absolutely not entitled to consume the amount of oil they currently do. It is unsustainable, illogical, immoral and unfair. Assertions such as this are threatening and uncomfortable for much of the American public, but they should not be.
Only a simple alteration in attitude is needed for positive change to begin. My message to all Americans is this: Stop acting like you are entitled to your wealth. It is that simple. I am not advocating that Americans throw away their possessions or stop trying to earn good salaries, but rather that they start to appreciate the amazing luck that has allowed them to see their hard work result in such magnificent wealth.
America, you are what you are today because of factors other than your own hard work, so start acting in accordance with this fact. Volunteer, donate to international organizations, reduce your energy consumption and, rather than being angry at those who resent America's prosperity, extend them a helping hand. It will make us all safer, happier and give our children's children a chance at survival.