Since rising to prominence, America has feverishly whispered a pledge to the world: learn English, work and study hard, play by the rules, save in U.S. Treasury bonds, and you'll live our life. We haven't promised a fair share, but rather, the whole American buffet. Figure out what it costs for your life. We've promised six billion people a lifestyle that can be provided to about one billion—this is the contradiction of our world and the most grinding source of conflict.

We are now limited by how much sunlight falls on the earth, how many acres are usable to grow crops, how much metal can be extracted from the earth, how much atmospheric changes cost, and so on. It is a game of musical chairs and 20 people are playing. But there are only 16 chairs and America is sitting on 4 of them—one for each fat leg and two for our ample bottom. Is it any wonder why we've been locked into ever more brutal conflicts? The world is becoming aware that current technology cannot provide everyone with the lifestyle we've encouraged the globe to demand. Even if Americans learn to (or are forced to) live with less, others will take up the mantle of gluttony.

Perhaps Malthus's prediction (channeled through Dick Cheney) of a population declining due to disease, famine, and war will be proven right. And make no mistake, we have the technology to hasten the demise of five-sixths of humanity. Our present foreign policy—goading the countries most likely to achieve nuclear ambitions into fearfully lashing out—might prove the needed pretext. Simply sitting back and waiting as the mismatch between global means and wants grows will still result in an emptier world, by means—starvation, climate change, war—out of our hands.

America's excesses are tolerated because we have been among the few civilizations in history to find a solution to this problem: mass production. The moving assembly line, interchangeable parts, inexpensive internal combustion engines, industrial agriculture, working pharmaceuticals, civil engineering. A great deal of our power in the world comes from our ability to expand means—the chairs we can bring to the game. The challenges facing the world are on a scale that defies incremental improvement of existing technologies, requiring the sort of leap that only we collectively have been able to risk and make happen. We're the only civilization to place men on a heavenly body, resulting in the integrated circuit computer, among many other technologies. We're the only civilization to develop an energy source not dependent on sunlight. Can you imagine where we, and the world, would be if we spent a trillion dollars on focused scientific research—the sort of world-changing endeavors at which the United States excels—rather than the Iraq war? The world is waiting for us to exercise this muscle. Perhaps we'd fail to make the world six-fold more efficient. But I'd rather try, and go down fighting.