Saturday, October 20, 2012

Personal Finances For a Healthy World

The basics of personal financial planning must necessarily be far different from anything that most of us are used to, especially on a timescale of a decade or more.

Many of us in middle class America are lucky if we can keep a job for a year, and very lucky if it lasts five years; this is likely to get worse as corporations continue their drive to exponentially reduce the cost of labor to keep their profits growing. Humanity's pillage and sabotage of natural systems will continue to contribute to increasing costs of food, water, healthcare, and insurance. Energy prices will keep rising, boosting the prices of everything else. As a result, less money will be available for investment, which is the main driver for both economic growth and providing income when people are unable to continue working. Eventually, even ultra-rich wealth hoarders will find it extremely difficult to maintain a comfortable standard of living.

It is useful, when planning, to consider at least three possible scenarios for the conditions that will influence that planning: an expected case, worst case, and a best case. Given the dynamics described above and a realistic extrapolation of current trends, by 2030 most people will be losing money and more people will die than are being born. In the worst case, things will degrade far faster, in large part due to global warming that already threatens to bring about a world food shortage as early as next year. A good candidate for the best case is a world-wide race to enable a healthy lifestyle for everyone that provides resources for other species and includes use of clean, efficient, and renewable technologies across the board, beginning with energy, that also focus on the cleanup of existing waste.

Common to all three scenarios is personally withdrawing from activities and products that are the opposite of the best case; that is, dirty, inefficient, and unhealthy. What differentiates the scenarios is whether this will be voluntary or not, and whether the damage we've done will become self-sustaining, unrepairable, and overwhelmingly fatal.

The last time the world was consuming a safe amount of ecological resources (the ecological footprint was low enough to accommodate other species and ourselves) was in 1975. Consumption is now an estimated 1.75 times as much, with the environment becoming effectively unlivable when that ratio hits 2 (I project peak world population when the ratio is 1.9). Here in the U.S., we consume more than the world average (largely at the expense of other countries); this means we would need to consume no more than 20% of what we do now to help maintain a healthy planet.

Based on data from the Global Footprint Network, the U.S. as a whole could make the necessary reduction by eliminating its carbon and forest footprints. Focusing on reducing both of these ecological impacts would have the added benefit of addressing the problem of climate instability. As simple as it appears, the reality will be extremely difficult given how pervasive the use of wood, fossil fuels, and oil derivatives is in our society, but on a personal level we can do as much as possible so the alternative scenarios become less probable.