Sunday, September 28, 2014

Status quo economics leaves you busy, tired.

The typical North American approach: Get a mortgage to buy a house, then get a credit card to fill it with stuff. That approach locks you onto the economic treadmill where you're working for the bank.
As dual income families became the norm, the price of houses rose to match what these dual earners could borrow and ostensibly repay.
If this reminds you of your situation, then to make that mortgage payment you'll have to work pretty hard and make choices based on serving your creditors first, rather than your family or your goals.
The 'health' of the economy depends on the continued expansion of the money supply, based on peoples' promises to repay it, with interest.
Note: The economy doesn't have a health. It's a bad metaphor. Continued growth is good for the status quo because that means the music's still playing. In musical chairs, there are no losers until the music stops.
The machines and electric servants that are the result of human ingenuity should have made our lives much easier.
Instead, we're as busy as ever. 'Busy' and 'tired' are all-too common answers to the 'how are you doing' question. Busy and tired are symptoms of having bought into the system where you work for the bank.
If you didn't owe any money and had a free place to live, you wouldn't have to work so hard. Instead, that interest treadmill makes sure you're running as hard as you can so you don't fall behind the rest and lose the house.
Economic growth is the smokescreen that allows global winners to stay on top while still promising the global poor a dream of prosperity.
Continuing to feed the banks record profits while plundering the resources of the world and exhausting your personal energy is not a worthy goal.
Unfortunately, understanding the precariousness of the current economy is still a long way from successfully restructuring it to a steady state system, like you'd see in a climax ecosystem.
A solution would involve a deeper understanding of value separate and distinct from money. More likely a combination of vibrant relationships, clean water and the time and energy to do as you please, even if that means less stuff and a small house.

Good luck taking that to the bank, that is - if you can find the time and energy.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

State of the chessboard

White: Mate in 2.
Jim Prentice, Alberta Premier. Status: Not currently elected? Check. Appointing ministers who also aren't elected? Also check.
Let's set aside various affronts to representative democracy for a moment. Yes. It's outrageous. And that isn't the big problem. Look a few moves ahead.
The Harper government intends to make Canada the best place in the world for energy investment.
FIPA: The Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Act.
If you've ever been sold into slavery, you have some idea of what's going on. Chinese investors in Canada can claim damages, in secret, for anything that reduces their investment payoffs.
FIPA is locked in for a generation without recourse to Canadian law. Hardly mentioned in the House. It comes into force October 1. Check.
Premier Jim is ideally suited to facilitating a pipeline to somewhere. Keeping the Aboriginal and International portfolios may signal that intent.
So Jim comes to Alberta and appeases the Natives so pipelines can send fossil energy to China.
Canada gets Chinese investment money so we can dig faster. Also we have to do what we're told or pay for it.
Chinese interests trump national interest, and we expand fossil energy development ...because Canada's the best place in the world for energy investment. Checkmate.
Carbon emissions accelerate. The planet becomes dreadfully uncomfortable. Chinese mutual funds post record profits.
When you give up the environment (or your national integrity) for the economy, you end up with neither.

Let's hope it plays out differently.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Strategic quitting - the power of opportunity cost

Wayne Gretzky quit baseball and lacrosse to play hockey. The 'Great One' skipped the three-year waiting period to get into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Quitter?
Suppose you realize you're climbing the wrong mountain. Is it quitting to descend and climb another one?
Winners are simply better quitters than the rest of us. Strategic quitting frees them up so they can focus their efforts and excel at what matters to them.
It's a question of opportunity cost: What do you want to accomplish and what are you willing to give up to accomplish it?
Quitting isn't all about giving things up. It's a trade. What do you get in exchange? Freedom. You get the freedom to do exactly what you want with the time you were spending on the activity before. You can shake things up.
Just make sure you're quitting for the right reasons. You need to be capable of follow through. There's a big difference between choosing not to see something through and not being able to.
Clearing away the chaff and focusing on something important is a powerful way of getting things done.
If you've found a comfortable niche, it's hard to go through the pain of changing your behaviour, even if you know the grass on other side is going to be really green. (And it might not be once you get there.)
When you're shooting for that big win, know before hand that getting there is going to be hard. If you decide on your criteria for quitting in advance you'll do a better job of keeping the pain and the rewards in perspective than you will if you simply decide to quit when the going gets tough. 
This sort of thinking takes a great deal of self reflection and understanding. Develop that self awareness. Pay attention to what attracts you to something as well as what's missing when you decide you're done with it.
Q: How long should you stay at something?
A: However long it takes to get what you came for.

Q: How do you decide what you came for?

A: You don't, you discover it.

Q: How do you discover it?

A: You notice what isn't there anymore when you feel like leaving.
—Barbara Sher, Refuse to Choose.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

On the cover of the Rolling Stone

Sometimes, even the best ideas need reminders.
Do a quick search for Bill McKibben's Rolling Stone article about 'Global Warming's Terrifying New Math'. Right beside the cover shot of Justin Bieber (Hot, Ready, Legal) sits the article that clearly articulates the climate change problem. It's scary, it's bleak, but it's required reading to understand the next decade worth of history.
Briefly, to have a reasonable shot at staying under 2°C, we can only release 565 Gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere. Oil companies have 2795 Gigatons on the books ready to burn. That's five times what we can burn 'safely'.
Burning any more than a fifth of these reserves will put us irrevocably past the 2°C threshold where things turn ugly. Business as usual does that in 16 years. (And 2°C is probably high. Things are turning out worse than predicted across the board, and were only at 0.8°C so far.)
Follow the money. Oil companies are nothing if not profitable. The fossil fuel on their books ready to go is worth about $27 Trillion. Leaving 80% of it in the ground would mean writing off ~$20 Trillion in assets. If this is your company, you'd rather avoid doing that.
That's the money that's in play. That's the economic pie that that the oil & gas industry is chasing.
Prisoner's dilemma? Of course. If you don't burn it someone else will. If your company doesn't dig it, someone else will. Logical, and that kind of thinking takes us all over the cliff pretty quickly.
Business as usual is a suicide pact. If Aliens came to roast our planet, we'd scramble the might of the military-industrial complex worldwide and kick their shiny metal posteriors back to their bugger homeworld.
Our apathetic response to date hasn't been enough to avoid leaving catastrophe to the next generation, or even this one. Business as usual commits us past 2°C by the time Bieber turns 35. Disaster.
Changing our energy sources will be challenging, but with political will we can still create a post-fossil-fuel world that still works as human habitat, but the window of opportunity to stay below 2°C is closing fast.
Seriously. Find that Rolling Stone article. It lays it all out in more detail than this column can manage. We have our work cut out for us.