Will today's Americans become tomorrow's prodigal ancestors?

This cautionary story employs as characters animals that speak and act as humans, just as in the fables of old. These animals, however, are also members of the homo genus although an entirely new species; a species with an apparently shrunk cranial capacity and a patently absence of morals – even those who adhere to religious rituals or beliefs.

During this past half-century we have witnessed the advent of this Homo prodigus, most difficult to tell apart from the Homo sapiens, except for the prodigus’ lack of wisdom in letting a voracious appetite for omni-consumption and waste run rampant. Although this Homo prodigus can be found anywhere in the industrialized world, and even spotted here and there throughout the third world, its preferred habitat appears to be this land of nonfat milk and imitation Vermont maple syrup… our own United States.

True that this prodigus species cannot be patented to America alone, but its birthplace was here, and so was its childhood, so this story can be told as a true American tale.

In a world that tries to hide, or at least sweep under the carpet, misery and squalor while indulging the senses with everything riches (earned or borrowed) can provide there is a place of prominence for this exuberant consumer who reigns supreme. Consumption behavior by our extreme prodigus has been made the yardstick with which to measure the state of the economy, determining the all-important annual rates of growth in GDP (Gross Domestic Product); and in turn the level of prosperity, thus renewing optimism of the self-hypnotized consumers spending in circles. Few seem to ask, however, what this short term prosperity means, or how it is achieved; or, more importantly, how it might affect not just our lives at the present, but the lives of generations to follow.

If prosperity is no longer the result of bona fide increased productivity – after each and every cost is fully accounted for – or the product of man’s inventiveness and genius, how does it come about? Could it be, perhaps, the result of unnecessary or undesirable exploitation of non-renewable resources, and the cannibalization of future generations’ patrimony, leaving a world bottoming in resources but filling to the rim with debt? And if so, how could even the pygmy conscience of a prodigus, begin to cope with that?

Many defenders of today’s wasteful behavior will take stock in what John Maynard Keynes had to say: “In the long run we are all dead.” However, what that renowned macroeconomist did not say is just as important: that death is likely to come somewhere in the spectrum between two states of mind; one of peace and contentment, the other of uneasiness and regret. And one would bet that most of us – regardless where each stands with regard to theism – would rather be close to the first one.

In this world cohabited by Homo sapiens and Homo prodigus, the leadership among the sapiens has sounded the alarm to our squandering ways forcing us to consult the holy oracle of this day and age: the mirror of Ecological Sustainability.

Ecological footprint analysis, we are told, indicate that current lifestyles, and levels of over-consumption in the United States, are not sustainable… giving us concern that maybe we should start dressing up in green vestments and start consuming far less. Homo prodigus has been put on notice now that conspicuous consumption and global warming have entered the debate, not as laughable freakish subjects as characterized by conservative institutions and politicians just yesterday, but as the reality they are today.

Does it mean that Homo prodigus is on its way to extinction just like that Homo neanderthalensis of 24 millennia ago? Maybe so, but in the United States prodigus swears that it will not go down of its own accord, that Americans have a birthright to a lifetime of opulence. But unfortunately for this prodigus living under the stars and stripes, he may have little to say on the matter. At the accelerating distancing that is taking place between rich and poor in the US – two to three times as fast as in the other industrialized nations – this Homo prodigus is likely to disappear in a generation or two, giving way to two new species: Homo copiosus, also known as the Haves, and Homo penuriosus, representing most Americans, the Have-nots.

But you know what? America will be saved, the planet will be saved… ecologically we will become a sustainable world with a global economy where 1 percent of the people will own 99 percent of the wealth. That’s certainly a simple way to make sure that 99 percent of the population stays green… and do not overspend.

If the planet reaches ecological balance, today’s Americans are unlikely to become prodigal ancestors to future generations.