Any measure of success must take into account costs as well as benefits. It is true that the United States enjoys an unprecedented level of material well-being. However, it is morally irresponsible to ignore the price tag or to pass the costs on to others, such as the poor, our children or our children’s children.

The fact of the matter is that the United States does consume a disproportionate amount of energy in relation to our population. We consume more energy per capita than China and Russia combined. If we compare energy use in other western countries we find that Japan, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and Italy together use about 35 percent less energy than the United States to support a population 29 percent larger than our own. Clearly there is no direct relationship between energy consumption and a reasonable standard of living. Our success is not measured by how much energy we use but how efficiently we use it.

Our present level of energy consumption is unsustainable. We must come to terms with this fact, find truly renewable sources of energy, and be more prudent in how much energy we use. We need to recognize the true costs of our consumerist lifestyle not just in terms of the economic bottom line, but also in terms of the political and environmental consequences of our addiction to fossil fuels — costs that are largely hidden or ignored by the so-called “free market.” If we do not make these choices willingly, they will ultimately be forced upon us by Mother Nature.

There was once a time when thriftiness was recognized not simply as a virtue but as a necessity. It is in our individual and collective best interest to return to our common-sense roots — conservative values in the best sense — and wake up from our delusion. And if America is to live up to its greatness and lead the way out of our present crisis, we must start by being honest with ourselves and the rest of the world.