limits to growth

Personal Finance - Part 3, Investments

This is the final installment in a three-part series about personal finance for the conscious green Edmontonian. It covers:

  1. day to day finances
  2. retirement
  3. investments


The above picture is the world oil consumption curve. It is often displayed as just data, allowing what will happen on the down slope to our imaginations.

Peak oil is just one of many ways in which we are reaching the limits of our growth as a species. I find it highly absurd, then, that adults (you know, the ones who are all grow’ds up)  cannot rationally discuss the end of growth in polite company. And it’s virtually never discussed by anyone with any power. The fact of the matter is, infinite growth is impossible in a finite world. Let me repeat that:

Infinite growth is impossible in a finite world

Yes, it sucks. Yes, it’s inconvenient. But it’s true.

Maybe it’s a facet of denial, but it is easy to “understand” on one level about growth ending, and then turn around and invest our money in mutual funds and stock markets.

In my humble opinion, investing your money in stocks/mutual funds means one of two things:

  1. image The Unicorn Option - You believe that infinite growth is possible in our finite ecosystem. If this describes you, stop reading – the unicorns will deliver your fortune when the time is right.


  2. image The Playa Option - You recognize that growth will end, but you think that you’re smart and ruthless enough to get out of the stock market before all the suckers do (you know, your children and all those those other weaklings).

Option one speaks for itself, and I personally wouldn’t be counting on option two if my retirement was more than a couple of years away.  read more... »

Natural Gas and Hard Limits

North American Natural Gas Production as of 2002


"It’s not that hard to predict what will happen in the future (I will die; Fifi, my son Fallon’s stuffed orca, will eventually need restuffing, etc.) but it is very hard to predict with any accuracy when things will happen."

Robert X. Cringely (in a recent blog post)


In 2003, the AUMA held a conference called the Alberta Municipal Energy Efficiency & Greenhouse Gas Conference. I always laughed at the title, because the real reason we were all there was high natural gas prices. "Expensive Natural Gas Conference" would have been more accurate, as prices exploded circa 2000, and suddenly we cared about greenhouse gases.

Conventional natural gas production (ie. the old, easy way to produce gas) in North America has been on the wane for some time now. It has most probably peaked and will continue its decline forever. This fact led many, including myself, to be alarmed at the prospects for natural gas going forward. I asked myself "how will the hundreds of thousands of energy-hungry houses and buildings stay warm in 2030?" I think that everyone should be concerned about the availability of finite resources instead of assuming that someone else will figure it out for us.

Unfortunately for the climate, a resource called shale gas has come into play over the past few years. Apparently there is a lot of it, and it is being brought on stream in large quantities. So the price of natural gas has dipped significantly, and the pundits are starting to talk about gas as a major player in North America for the next long while. While there are many unanswered questions about shale gas (such as how much energy is needed to get it out of the ground and the steep rate of well depletion), it seems that a continent-wide snooze button has been pressed on the subject of heating our homes and fuelling our industry with a depleting, finite resource.

We waste what is cheap, so cheap energy is bad news on many fronts. Interest in green building will decline, investments in renewable energy will be less than they would have been with pricier gas.

It’s frustrating that the apparent near-term abundance of natural gas will keep so many people apathetic about energy. Yet every day we approach the physical limits of growth. It’s not hard to predict that we will hit them. It’s not even hard to predict that we will hit them soon. What is hard is to get people to care when the price signal isn’t there, and when we have just bought ourselves another few years of complacency on the natural gas front.

Of course, peak oil is another story entirely.