In medieval Europe, whipping boys served as scapegoats for insubordinate princes. In modern America, unwilling children serve as scapegoats for wasteful adults. America's youths are its whipping boys.

Green Debt
Credit: Ernst Vikne via Flickr

America owes Mother Nature; it has an eco-debt. Andrew Sims, author of Ecological Debt (2000), defines eco-debt as "consumption of resources from within an ecosystem that exceeds the system's regenerative capacity." The eco-debt is comprised of three parts: extraction of resources, greenhouse debt, and contamination of resources. Most processes exacerbate several of these problems.

America is addicted to oil. CSIRO researcher Dr. Peter McCabe estimates that 40% of the world's energy needs comes from petroleum. America chugs over 20 million barrels of oil every day, according to (2007). America has depleted nature's hundreds-of-thousands of years-old crude oil deposits. It is also indebted to its trade associates, subject to their hostile whims, as evidenced by the 1970s oil crisis.

Coal is used for 22% of the U.S.'s energy needs (Latent Semantic Analysis at Colorado University at Bolder). Natural landscapes are permanently destroyed. Industries who fail to use clean-coal technology contribute to air pollution, smog, acid rain and climate change.

"Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink" (The Mariner). The Emulso Corporation estimates only 2.8% of the world's H2O is fresh water, and the remaining salt water remains economically inaccessible due to the cost of desalination. Less than 1% of water is available for human consumption. The World Health Organization (2008) approximates that 884 million people do not have access to safe drinking water. Industrial wastes (regulated by the EPA's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System and Clean Water Act of 1990), landfill leachate, discharged sewage, and urban run-off pollute what little available water America retains.

Deforestation converts olden trees into tomorrow's furniture fads and pencils and contributes to pollution. In 1993, Oregon Wild estimated that forests contain 83% of the world’s above-soil carbon dioxide, and almost as much below-soil carbon dioxide. Deforestation releases this material into the atmosphere. Also, less than one-fourth of reusable wood is recycled. Although the EPA's Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and National Parks system have addressed this in part, it remains a problem for posterity to ponder.

However, there are several renewable energy sources that can help reduce the eco-debt.

In lieu of the 2002 Farm Security and Rural Investment Act, wind power has gained a major following among farmers who profitably lease their land to wind power corporations. The GAO estimates each farmer can gain $3,000 - $5,000 annually per turbine. However, as wind is fickle and unpredictable, effectively capturing its raw power is a technological work in progress.

Solar water heaters, solar houses, solar cars, solar lighting - if it uses electricity, it can be powered by the sun. However, solar power is expensive. The Solar Guide estimates the initial setup to power an average home by solar energy is $20,000.

While hybrid vehicles, such as the award-winning Toyota Prius, Ford Focus Hybrid and GMC Sierra Hybrid, are not technically renewable, they represent a major step in the affordable integration of traditional sources of energy with renewable power.

Other renewable sources include hydroelectricity, geothermal heat, tide energy, biofuels, and biomass power, which accounts for the vast majority of renewable energy.

Yet, many of these valuable energy soures remain untapped, while oil companies get tax breaks. Why? Because trash is institutionalized. First, free-market capitalism encourages consumerism, where products are created and sold for corporate profit, and not to address a customer requirement. As such, "the next big thing" gets bought and then tossed to rot in a landfill or be expensively recycled. The eco-debt is more dependent on a teenager's ravishing desire for clothes than it is on the housing needs of a four-person family. Secondly, the consequences of wasteful individual actions are borne by everyone, and so personal "green" responsibility is ineffectual. No one sees their own carbon footprint, and therefore do not care.

Upcoming adults find themselves trapped in a cycle of consumerism, control and wanton waste. Consumerism runs rampant, and posterity must harness their gratuitous desires for the public good. Secondly, future generations must discover a method to wean America from greedy foreign nations and restore its economic independence. Thirdly, although 33% of materials are currently recycled, more may be conserved, and the average American's 4.5 pounds of trash per day should be lessened (EPA, 2009).

But perhaps the best action America's youth can take is to become engineers, chemists, and educated problem solvers. The future needs innovators to liquidate America's eco-debt.