Answer: Re-imagining, re-inventing, and re-shaping our daily infrastructure to create a "greener" world. Which brings me back to where I started: Thomas Friedman and that piece in the New York Times about the "greening" of venture capital.
Our economic future lies in an investment in the ideas and technology of a "green" economy. We can repair our economy by repairing the planet. Imagining a new infrastructure will require two basic activities:
First, intellectual activity in the form of research and development. Someone has to work out the details of the ideas that will provide the solutions to the climate crisis. Someone has to figure out how to mass produce hydrogen fuel cells, for example, or create wind turbines scaled to single homes. (I'm making up these examples.) (*1)
Second, it will require things: solar panels, hydrogen cells, wind turbines, and a ton of stuff that hasn't been developed yet. Both activities will generate jobs. Lots and lots of jobs.
But only if we get off our asses and start mobilizing what's left of our intellectual infrastructure and begin investing in this new economy. It won't be easy because we Americans are (a) masters of the short-term solution and it's easier to create bailout plans than it is to change the way we think about our daily lives; and (b) no doubt we'll spend years arguing about whether government should or should not take the lead.
But as I noted in an earlier post, democracies are slow. You want it done fast? Call 1-800-DictatorsRUs. But if we don't do it, I guarantee that some other country will. So. Time for us to get busy. Time for us to start electing leaders who understand that the world has changed and we MUST change with it.
As a side, but related note, the historian in me realizes that this might be the historical moment that launches a new political party. The last time a "third" party succeeded was in the 1850s, when a broad cross-section of Americans dedicated to stopping and/or eliminating slavery joined forces under the umbrella of the new Republican party. The structure of our system makes it all but impossible for a third party system to function, so the Republican party survived only by draining support from the old Whig party.
That was the last time an upstart has managed that feat. But if ever there was a historical moment when a new party could elbow either the Democrats or the Republicans off stage, this is it.
*1: But as noted in the NY Times article with which I started all this, someone also has to fund that activity. I can see it now: In twenty years, Wall Street will collapse again because investment houses will have sold debt-swaps based on green R&D.