Author Topic: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?  (Read 4420 times)

uneven_cyclist

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Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« on: February 03, 2021, 02:24:34 PM »
I recently watched David Attenborough's documentary, "A Life on Our Planet" and am left wondering if we, as the MMM / FIRE community, are part of the problem or part of the solution when it comes to slowing / reversing the decline of the natural world.

In the film, Attenborough documents the decline of wilderness during his lifetime from coverage of nearly 70% of the planet at the beginning of his life to just over 30% of the planet at present day.  Our economies -- the United States Economy being the most powerful of all -- have rapidly devoured our wilderness areas and sent our planet into a decline.

With this in mind, I am considering the MMM community and the FIRE movement from a fresh perspective.  The basic strategy that bloggers like MMM and others propose is to invest heavily in these powerful economies and to then live off of the dividends and interest.  While they do advocate a strategy that involves reducing consumption, which is absolutely fantastic, my concern is that building a movement based on investing heavily in these economies under the assumption that this is environmentalism might be a flawed assumption.

Questions:

1) Is it possible to invest in the United States Economy without also speeding the pace of environmental decline? 

2) I am aware that there are "socially responsible" indexes and funds...the majority of these funds strike me as very similar to the overall index in most cases with only slight edits to remove the very worst offenders when it comes to extractive industries and so on.  In other words, if you remove Exxon but you are still investing in Apple, then you are still profiting off of (and enabling/encouraging) the masses to buy new phones every 20 minutes, thus destroying what little wilderness remains...right?  Or am I missing something and are there funds/stocks/companies that are truly socially responsible when it comes to the environment and might actually be slowing/reversing the decline of wilderness?

3) Are there any creative solutions here?  Ideally it would be awesome to resist / slow / reverse the decline that is taking place while also enjoying the benefits of Mustachianism / FIRE.  However, I cannot escape a feeling that the externalities of our putting millions into the US economy is just feeding the beast that will eventually destroy the world.

4) Is our best strategy to just continue to invest heavily in the S&P 500 and then hope for top-down change?  Or are there ways for us to be more proactive about this? 

5) Are there things that I am missing and are there ways to put my mind at ease a bit about all of this?

Thoughts?  I would be grateful for any insights or advice that folks might have.

« Last Edit: February 03, 2021, 05:23:38 PM by uneven_cyclist »

nereo

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #1 on: February 03, 2021, 02:41:30 PM »
How you live has the greatest impact on the planet for all but the most Uber wealthy individuals. Consume less and contribute to causes you believe in.

WhiteTrashCash

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #2 on: February 03, 2021, 02:48:39 PM »
Well, if we could get enough Vanguard investors to vote accordingly, we could push Vanguard as an entire organization to be more eco-friendly and that would make a massive difference since Vanguard has something like $3 trillion. If a bunch of Reddit bros could organize, then why not us?

YttriumNitrate

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #3 on: February 03, 2021, 03:08:30 PM »
Well, if we could get enough Vanguard investors to vote accordingly, we could push Vanguard as an entire organization to be more eco-friendly and that would make a massive difference since Vanguard has something like $3 trillion. If a bunch of Reddit bros could organize, then why not us?

Good luck with that. A few years ago there was a vote as to whether Vanguard should avoid investing in companies that “substantially contribute to genocide or crimes against humanity.” It lost by about a 5-to-1 margin.

bacchi

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #4 on: February 03, 2021, 03:31:40 PM »
If by "we" you mean everyone in the developed world, then yes. We're all part of the problem.

Any real solution would require a massive structural change that would, to a lot of us, represent a lower standard of living.

GuitarStv

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #5 on: February 03, 2021, 03:35:20 PM »
Currently, our economic system relies on the externalization of the vast majority of the effects of capitalism.  There exist no practical solutions to this that I can see.  It will continue until it has become an insurmountable and unstoppable problem . . . and then it will continue until we've rendered the Earth largely uninhabitable for all but a small elite and the surfs kept alive to service them.

On an individual level, a person can try to reduce their own consumption . . . and in many ways early retirement can be shaped to dovetail well into this.  It's not enough though, and never will be - but maybe you can make yourself feel a little better before dying and passing on a worse planet to others.

There's nothing that can be done regarding investment in the world destroying system.  Either you invest your money in the economic system profit from destruction of the world, or you don't.  But even if you don't, the money you earn from your job goes into a bank that then uses the proceeds from your investment to do the same.  So I say, might as well enrich yourself before we're all doomed, and maybe stretch out our miserable existence on this hunk of rock for another few years.  yolo.

traveler

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #6 on: February 03, 2021, 04:01:40 PM »
1) Is it possible to invest in the United States Economy without also speeding the pace of environmental decline?

Forget about investing. It is not possible to live in an industrialized economy without affecting the environment. Every expenditure we do has a CO2 footprint, and the only way for that footprint to be negative would be to invest in a well managed forest preservation non-profit.

I like then to focus on what I can control. I can eat less meat. I can choose to invest on companies with similar values as mine. I can also donate to non-profits. I can choose to have less children. Etc.

Recommended reading: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7230015-how-bad-are-bananas

ChpBstrd

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #7 on: February 03, 2021, 07:08:08 PM »

1) Is it possible to invest in the United States Economy without also speeding the pace of environmental decline?

Yes, I think so. If I buy a stock or bond secondhand (i.e. not via an IPO), my money does not go back to the company to fund more palm oil plantations, coal power plants, or plastic bottle production lines. It goes to someone else, or a company of someone elses. If I take dividends, interest, or capital gains due to share buybacks from these companies, it does not enrich the companies. In contrast, I am literally taking their money away and giving them nothing in return. Each dividend I take or share buyback I profit from represents a reduction in the company's ability to grow.

2) I am aware that there are "socially responsible" indexes and funds...the majority of these funds strike me as very similar to the overall index in most cases with only slight edits to remove the very worst offenders when it comes to extractive industries and so on.  In other words, if you remove Exxon but you are still investing in Apple, then you are still profiting off of (and enabling/encouraging) the masses to buy new phones every 20 minutes, thus destroying what little wilderness remains...right?  Or am I missing something and are there funds/stocks/companies that are truly socially responsible when it comes to the environment and might actually be slowing/reversing the decline of wilderness?

I think it's complicated. Yes, big tech hardware requires all sorts of strip mining in various wildernesses and big data centers consume tons of electricity, but these things also allow me to work from home right now, which means I'm not driving a 3,000lb car to work, pumping several liters of pollution a second into the atmosphere. Additionally, my employer might foregoe the construction of a new office building because its employees can WFH, so my utility footprint just halved. After work, I can avoid driving from shopping center to shopping center looking for deals because Google and Amazon will do that for me. So is big tech carbon-heavy or carbon-negative, or is it about to swing another way? It's honestly hard to say. 

Suppose more and more investors piled into socially responsible investments, to the point where similar rated bonds of polluting companies yielded 5% more than the bonds of "green" companies. How long would such an imbalance last until someone figured out they could get a 5% higher yield at the same level of risk by loaning to polluting companies? How many people would pass up the opportunity to retire young and wealthy? How many of the socially responsible investors could resist the temptation not to work until they're 70 for a principle? Funding will flow to the highest return at any given level of risk regardless, so might as well index. 

3) Are there any creative solutions here?  Ideally it would be awesome to resist / slow / reverse the decline that is taking place while also enjoying the benefits of Mustachianism / FIRE.  However, I cannot escape a feeling that the externalisms of our putting millions into the US economy is just feeding the beast that will eventually destroy the world.

Companies do not clear cut forests, make millions of tons of plastic packaging, or pollute the air because investors are available. They make these ecology-destroying choices in response to demand from their customers. For example, if demand for airline flights went down 50%, but an investor frenzy drove American Airlines stock up 100% and their bond yields down to 2%, would there be more or fewer planes flying? Fewer of course. They aren't going to waste investors' money flying empty seats around, and if they did, more talented managers would soon be in charge. We can say the same thing about plastic future-trash, electricity generating stations, cars, McMansions, mylar balloons, cigarettes, etc. It's all driven by demand, not investment.

It has often been joked on this forum that the plan is to take money from the economy through work and investment, but to not put it back in through consumption, and if everybody did that the economy would collapse and the investment part of the plan would't work. The plan works as long as others over-consume while we under-consume. It's safe to say we can count on others to over-consume, which is bad for the planet. If we under-consume that is better for the planet regardless of what others do. If we can convince others to under-consume, as MMM is doing, that's a multiplied impact. MMM's blog is an example of a creative solutions. Letting all your over-consuming friends know when you retire at 40 or 45 is another. Under-consuming consists of thousands of creative solutions to life's little challenges, as many frugality blogs describe.   

4) Is our best strategy to just continue to invest heavily in the S&P 500 and then hope for top-down change?  Or are there ways for us to be more proactive about this?

I think so. Looking at one's levers of influence in order of power, there are:
a) Activism, organizing, and voting (extremely powerful)
b) Interpersonal influence (force multiplier)
c) Personal consumption decisions (limited)
d) Investing (essentially trying to create an economic arbitrage for others to exploit, pushing water uphill)
Viewed this way, spending $100 on activism/organizing has many times the impact of suffering $100 of investing underperformance due to paying a high expense ratio. The fund manager probably commutes across state lines in his 10 cylinder lambo anyway.

5) Are there things that I am missing and are there ways to put my mind at ease a bit about all of this?

This will not put your mind at ease: It is known that "socially responsible" investing will have zero effect on the world, and is only an exercise in self-exculpation. If one's stock/bond picking influences the price of an asset, that pricing imbalance will be arbitraged away by other investors or a supercomputer. The legacy of our most careful stock picking might be a blip on a chart that wouldn't be there otherwise, and that exists for a few seconds before being lost in the noise, and then that effect ends and is gone forever.

Perhaps if the socially responsible investor feels good about their behavior, they will consider their good deeds and conscientiousness as an offset for other behaviors, like buying fast food every once in a while, or driving a compact hybrid SUV instead of sedan, or not recycling as many of those goddamn plastic bags. Maybe as a socially conscientious investor, you deserve to turn the thermostat high in the winter instead of wearing clothes, and maybe you deserve a new cell phone.

Maybe they'll even brag on social media about going all-in on their socially responsible fund, causing their friends to think of environmentalism as a form of bragging within a certain clique.

What's really going on is that a person who cares about the environment has found a way to not feel bad about failing to help people organizing for change at the local level. They've found a way to avoid donating. They've found a way to call themselves an activist involved in a movement, when in fact they just bought another greenwashed product.

 




RWD

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #8 on: February 03, 2021, 08:39:38 PM »
Excellent post, @ChpBstrd. We added Amazon Conservation to our charities list a couple years ago. Because we participate in the stock market we harness some of the profits which in turn we can put towards environmental causes.

uneven_cyclist

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #9 on: February 03, 2021, 09:17:50 PM »
Currently, our economic system relies on the externalization of the vast majority of the effects of capitalism.  There exist no practical solutions to this that I can see.  It will continue until it has become an insurmountable and unstoppable problem . . . and then it will continue until we've rendered the Earth largely uninhabitable for all but a small elite and the surfs kept alive to service them.

On an individual level, a person can try to reduce their own consumption . . . and in many ways early retirement can be shaped to dovetail well into this.  It's not enough though, and never will be - but maybe you can make yourself feel a little better before dying and passing on a worse planet to others.

There's nothing that can be done regarding investment in the world destroying system.  Either you invest your money in the economic system profit from destruction of the world, or you don't.  But even if you don't, the money you earn from your job goes into a bank that then uses the proceeds from your investment to do the same.  So I say, might as well enrich yourself before we're all doomed, and maybe stretch out our miserable existence on this hunk of rock for another few years.  yolo.

[laughing / crying]

uneven_cyclist

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #10 on: February 03, 2021, 10:15:12 PM »

1) Is it possible to invest in the United States Economy without also speeding the pace of environmental decline?

Yes, I think so. If I buy a stock or bond secondhand (i.e. not via an IPO), my money does not go back to the company to fund more palm oil plantations, coal power plants, or plastic bottle production lines. It goes to someone else, or a company of someone elses. If I take dividends, interest, or capital gains due to share buybacks from these companies, it does not enrich the companies. In contrast, I am literally taking their money away and giving them nothing in return. Each dividend I take or share buyback I profit from represents a reduction in the company's ability to grow.

2) I am aware that there are "socially responsible" indexes and funds...the majority of these funds strike me as very similar to the overall index in most cases with only slight edits to remove the very worst offenders when it comes to extractive industries and so on.  In other words, if you remove Exxon but you are still investing in Apple, then you are still profiting off of (and enabling/encouraging) the masses to buy new phones every 20 minutes, thus destroying what little wilderness remains...right?  Or am I missing something and are there funds/stocks/companies that are truly socially responsible when it comes to the environment and might actually be slowing/reversing the decline of wilderness?

I think it's complicated. Yes, big tech hardware requires all sorts of strip mining in various wildernesses and big data centers consume tons of electricity, but these things also allow me to work from home right now, which means I'm not driving a 3,000lb car to work, pumping several liters of pollution a second into the atmosphere. Additionally, my employer might foregoe the construction of a new office building because its employees can WFH, so my utility footprint just halved. After work, I can avoid driving from shopping center to shopping center looking for deals because Google and Amazon will do that for me. So is big tech carbon-heavy or carbon-negative, or is it about to swing another way? It's honestly hard to say. 

Suppose more and more investors piled into socially responsible investments, to the point where similar rated bonds of polluting companies yielded 5% more than the bonds of "green" companies. How long would such an imbalance last until someone figured out they could get a 5% higher yield at the same level of risk by loaning to polluting companies? How many people would pass up the opportunity to retire young and wealthy? How many of the socially responsible investors could resist the temptation not to work until they're 70 for a principle? Funding will flow to the highest return at any given level of risk regardless, so might as well index. 

3) Are there any creative solutions here?  Ideally it would be awesome to resist / slow / reverse the decline that is taking place while also enjoying the benefits of Mustachianism / FIRE.  However, I cannot escape a feeling that the externalisms of our putting millions into the US economy is just feeding the beast that will eventually destroy the world.

Companies do not clear cut forests, make millions of tons of plastic packaging, or pollute the air because investors are available. They make these ecology-destroying choices in response to demand from their customers. For example, if demand for airline flights went down 50%, but an investor frenzy drove American Airlines stock up 100% and their bond yields down to 2%, would there be more or fewer planes flying? Fewer of course. They aren't going to waste investors' money flying empty seats around, and if they did, more talented managers would soon be in charge. We can say the same thing about plastic future-trash, electricity generating stations, cars, McMansions, mylar balloons, cigarettes, etc. It's all driven by demand, not investment.

It has often been joked on this forum that the plan is to take money from the economy through work and investment, but to not put it back in through consumption, and if everybody did that the economy would collapse and the investment part of the plan would't work. The plan works as long as others over-consume while we under-consume. It's safe to say we can count on others to over-consume, which is bad for the planet. If we under-consume that is better for the planet regardless of what others do. If we can convince others to under-consume, as MMM is doing, that's a multiplied impact. MMM's blog is an example of a creative solutions. Letting all your over-consuming friends know when you retire at 40 or 45 is another. Under-consuming consists of thousands of creative solutions to life's little challenges, as many frugality blogs describe.   

4) Is our best strategy to just continue to invest heavily in the S&P 500 and then hope for top-down change?  Or are there ways for us to be more proactive about this?

I think so. Looking at one's levers of influence in order of power, there are:
a) Activism, organizing, and voting (extremely powerful)
b) Interpersonal influence (force multiplier)
c) Personal consumption decisions (limited)
d) Investing (essentially trying to create an economic arbitrage for others to exploit, pushing water uphill)
Viewed this way, spending $100 on activism/organizing has many times the impact of suffering $100 of investing underperformance due to paying a high expense ratio. The fund manager probably commutes across state lines in his 10 cylinder lambo anyway.

5) Are there things that I am missing and are there ways to put my mind at ease a bit about all of this?

This will not put your mind at ease: It is known that "socially responsible" investing will have zero effect on the world, and is only an exercise in self-exculpation. If one's stock/bond picking influences the price of an asset, that pricing imbalance will be arbitraged away by other investors or a supercomputer. The legacy of our most careful stock picking might be a blip on a chart that wouldn't be there otherwise, and that exists for a few seconds before being lost in the noise, and then that effect ends and is gone forever.

Perhaps if the socially responsible investor feels good about their behavior, they will consider their good deeds and conscientiousness as an offset for other behaviors, like buying fast food every once in a while, or driving a compact hybrid SUV instead of sedan, or not recycling as many of those goddamn plastic bags. Maybe as a socially conscientious investor, you deserve to turn the thermostat high in the winter instead of wearing clothes, and maybe you deserve a new cell phone.

Maybe they'll even brag on social media about going all-in on their socially responsible fund, causing their friends to think of environmentalism as a form of bragging within a certain clique.

What's really going on is that a person who cares about the environment has found a way to not feel bad about failing to help people organizing for change at the local level. They've found a way to avoid donating. They've found a way to call themselves an activist involved in a movement, when in fact they just bought another greenwashed product.

Two important themes are Investing and Consumption.  I'm with you on just about everything in your reply -- activism, the pitfalls of socially responsible investing, voting, and the value of reducing consumption.  You mentioned voting as well...another poster mentioned Vanguard and persuading them to pursue a more eco-friendly approach. 

This has made me think that I should look into getting involved with voting not just political elections but also in a corporate context with shareholder meetings.

As for investing...I had not considered a distinction between purchasing stocks through an IPO as opposed to buying them secondhand through a brokerage/another investor etc. which is what we are almost all doing most of the time.
 I'll have to learn a lot more about the ways in which investing plays a role in driving the economy, because your post made me realize that there is a lot I don't know.

Thanks for your thoughts.

uneven_cyclist

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #11 on: February 03, 2021, 10:16:07 PM »
Well, if we could get enough Vanguard investors to vote accordingly, we could push Vanguard as an entire organization to be more eco-friendly and that would make a massive difference since Vanguard has something like $3 trillion. If a bunch of Reddit bros could organize, then why not us?

I love it!  Why not indeed? 

uneven_cyclist

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #12 on: February 03, 2021, 10:38:37 PM »
Well, if we could get enough Vanguard investors to vote accordingly, we could push Vanguard as an entire organization to be more eco-friendly and that would make a massive difference since Vanguard has something like $3 trillion. If a bunch of Reddit bros could organize, then why not us?

Good luck with that. A few years ago there was a vote as to whether Vanguard should avoid investing in companies that “substantially contribute to genocide or crimes against humanity.” It lost by about a 5-to-1 margin.

That is incredibly disturbing.  It is useful though just to know that these votes take place.  I wonder how you would go about working on swinging that vote in the other direction the next time it comes up? 

Also...as unthinkable as it may be to imagine a world in which the US Economy were based on sustainable environmental practices (or to have a world without crimes against humanity) it is somewhat encouraging to consider that human behavior really can (and does) change over time.

Hopefully it can change fast enough!
« Last Edit: February 03, 2021, 10:40:27 PM by uneven_cyclist »

mozar

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #13 on: February 04, 2021, 11:21:55 AM »
We've been trained by corporate thinking that climate change is a matter of "personal responsibility." Each of us does not choose to put a plastic cushion in each amazon box that get shipped, amazon does that.
As a society we have been intimidated for decades into thinking that having a gas guzzling car as the only option to get around equates "freedom." The Koch brothers and other have donated tens of millions of dollars to congress to stop carbon trading and any other schemes to get us off oil and gas. They would donate more but our legislators are cheap.
There is a difference between retail investing (us), institutional investing (pensions etc) and financing. I don't think retail investors can move the needle much but large investors can and some are being pushed to divest from petroleum. And banks are starting to reconsider whether to give oil and gas companies millions in dollars in loans when governments are started to change energy policies.

Even if we do have a successful eco-transition, I think that unlimited growth and a focus on ever rising GDP will have to change. Which means that returns could be lower going forward. But I don't see that as big as a problem, that rich mmm people, will be less rich.
I haven't read this book but I heard it's a good read for people reconsidering economics: Doughnut Economics https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06X9C63SX/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

It's not my goal to put anyone's mind at ease though. We should be doing our best to change society whether that means planting trees, donating time/money, running for the school board, whatever. This is an all hands on deck situation, not a "hopefully other people will fix it" situation.

I think this sign I saw sums it up:

There is no capitalism on a dead planet.

« Last Edit: February 04, 2021, 11:47:27 AM by mozar »

Malcat

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #14 on: February 04, 2021, 12:04:19 PM »
I'm sorry, how is it an unpopular opinion that we're part of the problem?

Isn't that the dominant discourse??

nereo

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #15 on: February 04, 2021, 12:15:40 PM »
I'm sorry, how is it an unpopular opinion that we're part of the problem?

Isn't that the dominant discourse??

In some circles it's very unpopular to suggest that climate-change is occurring, and that we are the root cause of it.  Not sure whether this overlaps with the OP or not...

Malcat

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #16 on: February 04, 2021, 12:16:33 PM »
I'm sorry, how is it an unpopular opinion that we're part of the problem?

Isn't that the dominant discourse??

In some circles it's very unpopular to suggest that climate-change is occurring, and that we are the root cause of it.  Not sure whether this overlaps with the OP or not...

I wouldn't call those circles the dominant discourse anymore though. Not globally.

simonsez

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #17 on: February 04, 2021, 12:55:26 PM »
Biggest problem with the medium to long-term^ future planet is the existence of humans.  Therefore, curbing growth of the species is probably better than creating more humans but telling them to use less plastic.  How do we do this without encroaching directly upon individual rights?  Education of females and access to contraception.  Nothing will slow down a birth rate faster in a developing economy than giving females equal access to education* with the ability to have any job in society coupled with (preferably non-stigmatized) access to contraception.  See demographic transition for more details (transition from high birth/death rate to low birth/death rate).  You could also disincentivize children via removing tax breaks but that doesn't seem to be very popular (yet).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographic_transition

^ In REALLY long terms, in a few hundred million years the sun will be so hot as a result of the helium buildup in its core (becoming denser, burns hotter to continue to fuse hydrogen in a slow runaway effect) that Earth's atmosphere will be stripped away and all of our water evaporated (we'll turn into Mercury).  Of course, we'll be engulfed completely by the sun after another 4-5 billion years as it starts its death expansion but all life will have already been long gone.

* This assumes a base level of infrastructure (access to clean water, sewage disposal) and a relatively stable economy.  I.e. The death rate has already dropped/started dropping.

GuitarStv

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #18 on: February 04, 2021, 01:17:55 PM »
It's not existence of humans, it's existence of high consuming humans.  The average North American uses what,50 times the resources of the average broke-ass impoverished third world dude?

Reducing birth rate helps nothing if we don't reduce the ever increasing consumption of those with means to do so.  But the economy is utterly dependent on that cycle of overconsumption - stagnation is death to capitalism.

simonsez

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #19 on: February 04, 2021, 02:06:59 PM »
It's not existence of humans, it's existence of high consuming humans.  The average North American uses what,50 times the resources of the average broke-ass impoverished third world dude?

Reducing birth rate helps nothing if we don't reduce the ever increasing consumption of those with means to do so.  But the economy is utterly dependent on that cycle of overconsumption - stagnation is death to capitalism.
Seems like semantics and is probably just a timeline issue.  While the current middle and upper classes of the world do consume quite a bit, I would guess the problem will be exacerbated when billions of Indians, Chinese, Nigerians, Ethiopians, people from the DRC, Pakistanis, Bangladeshi, Indonesians, Filipinos, Brazilians, Mexicans, etc. also start to live that more modern consumption lifestyle that higher social mobilization en masse will bring.  Of course I am generalizing and you can find wealthy people with access to modern amenities everywhere on the globe, just those countries with larger populations and proportions of adults that are not currently wealthy have a larger potential impact moving forward.

You find a way to bridge the gap from a broke-human-that-doesn't-consume-a-lot to rich-human-that-doesn't-consume-a-lot and there's global kudos coming your way.  Once parents decide to procreate and have offspring, that offspring is going to continue to improve their station in life or at least try.  Currently, that means consuming more.  I'll leave the demand side of the equation to engineers.  Supply side, if humans don't exist to begin with, they're not consuming anything.  I don't see why both demand & supply solutions can't work in concert.

So yeah, I agree the existence of too many high consuming humans is the problem but I still file that under the umbrella of "too many humans".  That problem is only getting worse as we get farther (further?) into the 21st century.  Humans are pretty good at not dying already.  Today, world life expectancy from birth is nearly 73 (think developed world in mid 1970s).  I.e. Not only do we have more humans than ever, and more humans consuming more than ever as they upwardly socially mobilize, they are also living longer than ever.  This indicates we're ready for the next stage, which is lowering the birth rate (which has happened and is happening in many areas already of course). 

Capitalism is one of many imperfect systems used in societies.  It's worked wonders while many countries are not at the final stages of the demographic transition.  I'm okay with a ZPG utopian society not relying on capitalism fueled on growth as the main driver for how we operate.

Also, this gets into advanced species galaxy exploration philosophy pretty quickly.  As a species goes up the Kardashev scale, is it inevitable that the only way to continue to progress indefinitely is to utilize other planets and star systems or is there a possibility to find an equilibrium on a planet before exhausting said planet?  If we can't harness space travel and we can't save the planet, all we can do is slow the acceleration of our species' demise? Blech, too depressing.


uneven_cyclist

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #20 on: February 04, 2021, 04:11:20 PM »
1) Is it possible to invest in the United States Economy without also speeding the pace of environmental decline?

Forget about investing. It is not possible to live in an industrialized economy without affecting the environment. Every expenditure we do has a CO2 footprint, and the only way for that footprint to be negative would be to invest in a well managed forest preservation non-profit.

I like then to focus on what I can control. I can eat less meat. I can choose to invest on companies with similar values as mine. I can also donate to non-profits. I can choose to have less children. Etc.

Recommended reading: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7230015-how-bad-are-bananas

Thank you for this book recommendation!  I will check it out. 

I should say though that it would be difficult for me to forget about investing and that I suspect that my largest impact by far on the environment over my lifetime will not be from my personal consumption but rather from my investment portfolio.

It would be interesting to see a book about that!

uneven_cyclist

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #21 on: February 04, 2021, 04:29:03 PM »
We've been trained by corporate thinking that climate change is a matter of "personal responsibility." Each of us does not choose to put a plastic cushion in each amazon box that get shipped, amazon does that.
As a society we have been intimidated for decades into thinking that having a gas guzzling car as the only option to get around equates "freedom." The Koch brothers and other have donated tens of millions of dollars to congress to stop carbon trading and any other schemes to get us off oil and gas. They would donate more but our legislators are cheap.
There is a difference between retail investing (us), institutional investing (pensions etc) and financing. I don't think retail investors can move the needle much but large investors can and some are being pushed to divest from petroleum. And banks are starting to reconsider whether to give oil and gas companies millions in dollars in loans when governments are started to change energy policies.

Even if we do have a successful eco-transition, I think that unlimited growth and a focus on ever rising GDP will have to change. Which means that returns could be lower going forward. But I don't see that as big as a problem, that rich mmm people, will be less rich.
I haven't read this book but I heard it's a good read for people reconsidering economics: Doughnut Economics https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06X9C63SX/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

It's not my goal to put anyone's mind at ease though. We should be doing our best to change society whether that means planting trees, donating time/money, running for the school board, whatever. This is an all hands on deck situation, not a "hopefully other people will fix it" situation.

I think this sign I saw sums it up:

There is no capitalism on a dead planet.

Thanks mozar -- this does put my mind at ease just in the sense that there might be a path forward.  And I am optimistic that we, as retail investors, while not able to move the needle much ourselves, can likely find ways to punch above our weight by finding ways to join the conversation, to share ideas, to mobilize communities, and to build support in ways that can move larger pools of capital in the right direction.  I am not seeking to for anyone to put my mind at ease by giving me false optimism about a flawed system, but rather to help me understand possible paths forward so that we might be able to find solutions.  I fully agree that this is an all-hands-on-deck situation. 

uneven_cyclist

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #22 on: February 04, 2021, 04:33:55 PM »
I'm sorry, how is it an unpopular opinion that we're part of the problem?

Isn't that the dominant discourse??

To clarify, by "we" I mean members of the MMM community and the FIRE movement.  I believe that sometimes it can be easy to believe that we, as people who have dramatically reduced our consumption, and who may have even donated a bit of the interest from our index funds to charity, have arrived at a place where we are actively contributing to healing the planet.  And in some cases, maybe some of us (certainly not me, at least not yet) are.  However, I am posting this because I want to challenge that assumption and I also want to figure out if there genuinely *are* ways to achieve the goal of slowing/reversing the decline of the natural world using the strategies of MMM/FIRE (i.e. dumping capital into index funds / living on interest / reducing consumption)...OR...if that approach is so vastly unsustainable that it is not possible to reconcile that lifestyle with a desire to stop the destruction of the world. 

For example, in his post "How to Carry a Big Wallet and Leave a Small Footprint," MMM argues that we should stop complaining and become part of the solution by investing in carbon offsets to reverse the impact of our consumption.  I of course agree with him 100% on this, but there is a huge elephant in the room: what about the impact of our investment portfolios? 

Buying carbon offsets and switching to solar power and reducing consumption are absolutely critical pieces of the puzzle, but I am curious to know how we might take the next, and probably most important, step.

From what folks are suggesting, it seems that perhaps the best option right now is to continue on our present course of dumping money into the indexes and living on the interest but to put all possible effort into volunteering, voting, reducing consumption, and reforming the system, such that over time, our economies and portfolios will *become* sustainable investment vehicles. 

Until that time, I'll stay tuned for any and all options that might become available, and I am grateful for everyone's thoughts and ideas here!
« Last Edit: February 04, 2021, 04:53:28 PM by uneven_cyclist »

uneven_cyclist

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #23 on: February 04, 2021, 05:58:57 PM »
It's not existence of humans, it's existence of high consuming humans.  The average North American uses what,50 times the resources of the average broke-ass impoverished third world dude?

Reducing birth rate helps nothing if we don't reduce the ever increasing consumption of those with means to do so.  But the economy is utterly dependent on that cycle of overconsumption - stagnation is death to capitalism.
Seems like semantics and is probably just a timeline issue.  While the current middle and upper classes of the world do consume quite a bit, I would guess the problem will be exacerbated when billions of Indians, Chinese, Nigerians, Ethiopians, people from the DRC, Pakistanis, Bangladeshi, Indonesians, Filipinos, Brazilians, Mexicans, etc. also start to live that more modern consumption lifestyle that higher social mobilization en masse will bring.  Of course I am generalizing and you can find wealthy people with access to modern amenities everywhere on the globe, just those countries with larger populations and proportions of adults that are not currently wealthy have a larger potential impact moving forward.

You find a way to bridge the gap from a broke-human-that-doesn't-consume-a-lot to rich-human-that-doesn't-consume-a-lot and there's global kudos coming your way.  Once parents decide to procreate and have offspring, that offspring is going to continue to improve their station in life or at least try.  Currently, that means consuming more.  I'll leave the demand side of the equation to engineers.  Supply side, if humans don't exist to begin with, they're not consuming anything.  I don't see why both demand & supply solutions can't work in concert.

So yeah, I agree the existence of too many high consuming humans is the problem but I still file that under the umbrella of "too many humans".  That problem is only getting worse as we get farther (further?) into the 21st century.  Humans are pretty good at not dying already.  Today, world life expectancy from birth is nearly 73 (think developed world in mid 1970s).  I.e. Not only do we have more humans than ever, and more humans consuming more than ever as they upwardly socially mobilize, they are also living longer than ever.  This indicates we're ready for the next stage, which is lowering the birth rate (which has happened and is happening in many areas already of course). 

Capitalism is one of many imperfect systems used in societies.  It's worked wonders while many countries are not at the final stages of the demographic transition.  I'm okay with a ZPG utopian society not relying on capitalism fueled on growth as the main driver for how we operate.

Also, this gets into advanced species galaxy exploration philosophy pretty quickly.  As a species goes up the Kardashev scale, is it inevitable that the only way to continue to progress indefinitely is to utilize other planets and star systems or is there a possibility to find an equilibrium on a planet before exhausting said planet?  If we can't harness space travel and we can't save the planet, all we can do is slow the acceleration of our species' demise? Blech, too depressing.

The idea of bridging the gap between broke-human-that-doesn't-consume-a-lot to rich-human-that-doesn't-consume-a-lot is really interesting.  And yes, you would have major kudos coming your way if you were to figure out how to bridge this.  Millions of people who don't have cars in those countries right now are going to want cars and highways to drive them on just as millions of people in our country right now want houses and land to build them on and bigger cars for those highways and (fill in the blank).

One of the other concepts that Attenborough talks about in "A Life On Our Planet" is the idea that we are approaching peak population on Earth as nations develop and birth rates drop (which is fantastic) and that it will help us a lot in slowing/reversing environmental decline to reach this peak. 

Attenborough argues that one of the most powerful ways to reach this peak sooner--and it is really important that we reach it ASAP--is to educate children, and especially girls, in developing countries.  Doing so will help the birth rate in those countries drop rapidly.

Malcat

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #24 on: February 04, 2021, 06:00:33 PM »
I'm sorry, how is it an unpopular opinion that we're part of the problem?

Isn't that the dominant discourse??

To clarify, by "we" I mean members of the MMM community and the FIRE movement.  I believe that sometimes it can be easy to believe that we, as people who have dramatically reduced our consumption, and who may have even donated a bit of the interest from our index funds to charity, have arrived at a place where we are actively contributing to healing the planet.  And in some cases, maybe some of us (certainly not me, at least not yet) are.  However, I am posting this because I want to challenge that assumption and I also want to figure out if there genuinely *are* ways to achieve the goal of slowing/reversing the decline of the natural world using the strategies of MMM/FIRE (i.e. dumping capital into index funds / living on interest / reducing consumption)...OR...if that approach is so vastly unsustainable that it is not possible to reconcile that lifestyle with a desire to stop the destruction of the world. 

For example, in his post "How to Carry a Big Wallet and Leave a Small Footprint," MMM argues that we should stop complaining and become part of the solution by investing in carbon offsets to reverse the impact of our consumption.  I of course agree with him 100% on this, but there is a huge elephant in the room: what about the impact of our investment portfolios? 

Buying carbon offsets and switching to solar power and reducing consumption are absolutely critical pieces of the puzzle, but I am curious to know how we might take the next, and probably most important, step.

From what folks are suggesting, it seems that perhaps the best option right now is to continue on our present course of dumping money into the indexes and living on the interest but to put all possible effort into volunteering, voting, reducing consumption, and reforming the system, such that over time, our economies and portfolios will *become* sustainable investment vehicles. 

Until that time, I'll stay tuned for any and all options that might become available, and I am grateful for everyone's thoughts and ideas here!

I would be curious if Mustachians actually believe that they're not part of the problem just because they moderate their consumerism to a degree.

Personally, I assume most people here are smarter than that, or at least, less delusional, but you never know.

uneven_cyclist

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #25 on: February 05, 2021, 03:11:15 PM »
I'm sorry, how is it an unpopular opinion that we're part of the problem?

Isn't that the dominant discourse??

To clarify, by "we" I mean members of the MMM community and the FIRE movement.  I believe that sometimes it can be easy to believe that we, as people who have dramatically reduced our consumption, and who may have even donated a bit of the interest from our index funds to charity, have arrived at a place where we are actively contributing to healing the planet.  And in some cases, maybe some of us (certainly not me, at least not yet) are.  However, I am posting this because I want to challenge that assumption and I also want to figure out if there genuinely *are* ways to achieve the goal of slowing/reversing the decline of the natural world using the strategies of MMM/FIRE (i.e. dumping capital into index funds / living on interest / reducing consumption)...OR...if that approach is so vastly unsustainable that it is not possible to reconcile that lifestyle with a desire to stop the destruction of the world. 

For example, in his post "How to Carry a Big Wallet and Leave a Small Footprint," MMM argues that we should stop complaining and become part of the solution by investing in carbon offsets to reverse the impact of our consumption.  I of course agree with him 100% on this, but there is a huge elephant in the room: what about the impact of our investment portfolios? 

Buying carbon offsets and switching to solar power and reducing consumption are absolutely critical pieces of the puzzle, but I am curious to know how we might take the next, and probably most important, step.

From what folks are suggesting, it seems that perhaps the best option right now is to continue on our present course of dumping money into the indexes and living on the interest but to put all possible effort into volunteering, voting, reducing consumption, and reforming the system, such that over time, our economies and portfolios will *become* sustainable investment vehicles. 

Until that time, I'll stay tuned for any and all options that might become available, and I am grateful for everyone's thoughts and ideas here!

I would be curious if Mustachians actually believe that they're not part of the problem just because they moderate their consumerism to a degree.

Personally, I assume most people here are smarter than that, or at least, less delusional, but you never know.

My sense of the MMM community has evolved a bit since posting here...although of course I do need to keep in mind that the folks who are responding to this post are people those in the community who are interested in discussing climate change and the environment, and not everyone, so the responses may be a bit biased. 

With that said, while I was expecting responses along the lines of, "How can you say that we're part of the problem when typical FIRE / MMM investors have cut consumption by 75% and when we donate 150% more to environmental charities than the average person?  If anyone is part of the solution it is us."

Instead, the responses surprised me, and they have had a much more melancholy / resigned tone...that this problem is so vast in scale that there may not be a solution, but that the MMM and FIRE communities are contributing to the problem as much as anyone else and that while it would be fantastic to slow or reverse environmental decline, that we are nowhere close and that we may never figure it out before it's too late.

Notwithstanding the subject / title of this post, I do not believe that we must necessarily be a part of the problem.  I do believe that this community can be part of the solution, but there are big questions that remain unanswered. 

After reading responses, it is very clear that we need visionaries (like MMM and others) to urgently help with identifying a path toward this objective and to then shine a light on that path with a heavy dose of optimism. 

In the way that MMM and others illuminated the path on a personal level to take folks from a life of debt to a life of early retirement, we now need their help to chart a similar course on a societal level in order to halt the decline of the natural world (stop racking up debt) and then begin to repair the damage (invest in VTSAX) -- speaking in metaphor, I'm not saying that we need to literally stop racking up debt and invest in VTSAX in order to repair the world, but that we need help from visionaries like MMM to identify the equivalent actions that must be taken on a societal level in order to get out of the crisis.

I do not believe it would necessarily be delusional to think that we could not be part of the solution...and really I just posted that title in an effort to start up some conversation...and it is encouraging to see that I think a lot of us *want* to be a part of solving these problems.  My fear initially was that there might have been folks in the community whose outlook was, "I've reduced consumption and donated to charity.  I did my part, mission accomplished!"  Because if that were the case, then I think that those folks really *would* be part of the problem -- because this crisis requires more than that.

And although the situation right now is bad (really bad) I also believe that we can absolutely change the trajectory...and if we can do that, then we would absolutely be part of the solution.

More than anything, I am trying to figure out what actions I need to take in order to be a part of of solving this.
« Last Edit: February 05, 2021, 03:18:08 PM by uneven_cyclist »

MilesTeg

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #26 on: February 05, 2021, 05:13:38 PM »
I choose to not RE precisely because I enjoy my work (which supports conservation and environmental restoration and development) and think it's important. I could take other jobs that would pay significantly more but even where I work I get paid very well.

I admit I am not personally the most responsible (but much better than most for sure!) but I have devoted all of my adult life to work that is about environmental conservation and I have no plan to stop anytime soon.

mozar

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #27 on: February 05, 2021, 06:02:30 PM »
Quote
After reading responses, it is very clear that we need visionaries (like MMM and others) to urgently help with identifying a path toward this objective and to then shine a light on that path with a heavy dose of optimism.

I think it's time for you to step up then.

uneven_cyclist

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #28 on: February 05, 2021, 08:38:36 PM »
I choose to not RE precisely because I enjoy my work (which supports conservation and environmental restoration and development) and think it's important. I could take other jobs that would pay significantly more but even where I work I get paid very well.

I admit I am not personally the most responsible (but much better than most for sure!) but I have devoted all of my adult life to work that is about environmental conservation and I have no plan to stop anytime soon.

That is fantastic.  I sent you a message to learn more about this.

uneven_cyclist

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #29 on: February 05, 2021, 09:13:27 PM »
Quote
After reading responses, it is very clear that we need visionaries (like MMM and others) to urgently help with identifying a path toward this objective and to then shine a light on that path with a heavy dose of optimism.

I think it's time for you to step up then.

Thanks mozar...although I am hardly a visionary...but I am working on figuring out how I can fit into the puzzle.  I'm realizing that I had reached a point of complacency with regard to wilderness, climate change, and the environment.  As someone who loves the outdoors, I have perhaps up to this point suffered from a bit of...okay, I'll admit it Malcat...delusion.

I have been aware of the broad strokes: human beings are causing significant, rapid climate change, we are losing wilderness areas, the population is growing...but I have voted for Democrats and my family is liberal, and I have always been a bicycle commuter, and I loved the outdoors, and so while the situation was concerning, it was also something that "they" were doing (Republicans, big oil companies, mining companies, and so on).  To be completely honest, I did *not* consider myself a part of the problem, not on an emotional level.  Yes, if someone asked me, I would say that I was contributing, but there is a big difference. 

When I read MMM, and he described a scene in one of his posts about liberal elite ultra consumers in the parking lot of a Whole Foods in the Bay Area, things began to resolve a bit more and the illusion began to fade away.  The pieces of the puzzle have been sitting there for years, and I would occasionally put them together, but never let the puzzle come together and really look at it and understand it.

When I watched David Attenborough's film, however, I saw the information delivered in such a way that the illusion shattered at once.  It was clear that wilderness areas were disappearing very rapidly.  But more than that, I am understanding that there are important puzzle pieces that are still missing, and I need to find them quickly.

Chief among these pieces: what is the environmental impact of investing in the S&P 500 (or other indexes)?  If I were to leave money in investments for 20 years (say) and then after that time donate to an environmental charity, would that be a good approach?  Or would it be better to make incremental donations over time?  If I allow funds to grow over time in an index, what damage are they causing to the environment?  Trying to figure these things out because my plan, on a personal level, is to build investments and then retire. 

For all of the easily accessible information about the carbon costs associated with consumption of any kind (gasoline, food, cosmetics, etc.) I have not been able to find a great deal of information about the environmental impact of investing. 

So...I'm understanding now that there is urgency to act, and trying to move past pushing blame for whatever environmental problems might exist in the world onto whatever bad guy might be destroying the environment during the most recent news cycle...and instead to understand and take ownership of my personal contributions.

I am also trying to learn about what action might look like for me and about how to best apply effort to slowing and reversing the decline of wilderness. 

In short: I want to step up, but I also sense that this is a situation where it would be very easy to take a step (or many steps) in the wrong direction, and I am hoping to avoid that.

I've already learned a huge amount during the past two days on this thread and am grateful to everyone for posting your thoughts and ideas.
« Last Edit: February 06, 2021, 01:59:07 AM by uneven_cyclist »

uneven_cyclist

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #30 on: February 06, 2021, 01:48:27 AM »

I haven't read this book but I heard it's a good read for people reconsidering economics: Doughnut Economics https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06X9C63SX/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1


Also thank you for the book recommendation, I just put it on hold in Libby and will read it as soon as it becomes available.

WhiteTrashCash

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #31 on: February 06, 2021, 05:59:38 AM »
Retail investors are a tiny portion of people holding stocks from the S&P 500, but if we could grow that percentage, it would be a great thing. If money is in the hands of people with conscience, we have a fighting chance to change things. I mean, look at someone like Elon Musk who watched the documentary “Who Killed The Electric Car” and then set out to found Tesla and Solar City to purposefully make change happen. When money gets into the hands of people who want to make a difference, then positive action can take place. It just up to all of us to make that change happen in our society.

Wolfpack Mustachian

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #32 on: February 06, 2021, 06:46:00 AM »
I'm sorry, how is it an unpopular opinion that we're part of the problem?

Isn't that the dominant discourse??

To clarify, by "we" I mean members of the MMM community and the FIRE movement.  I believe that sometimes it can be easy to believe that we, as people who have dramatically reduced our consumption, and who may have even donated a bit of the interest from our index funds to charity, have arrived at a place where we are actively contributing to healing the planet.  And in some cases, maybe some of us (certainly not me, at least not yet) are.  However, I am posting this because I want to challenge that assumption and I also want to figure out if there genuinely *are* ways to achieve the goal of slowing/reversing the decline of the natural world using the strategies of MMM/FIRE (i.e. dumping capital into index funds / living on interest / reducing consumption)...OR...if that approach is so vastly unsustainable that it is not possible to reconcile that lifestyle with a desire to stop the destruction of the world. 

For example, in his post "How to Carry a Big Wallet and Leave a Small Footprint," MMM argues that we should stop complaining and become part of the solution by investing in carbon offsets to reverse the impact of our consumption.  I of course agree with him 100% on this, but there is a huge elephant in the room: what about the impact of our investment portfolios? 

Buying carbon offsets and switching to solar power and reducing consumption are absolutely critical pieces of the puzzle, but I am curious to know how we might take the next, and probably most important, step.

From what folks are suggesting, it seems that perhaps the best option right now is to continue on our present course of dumping money into the indexes and living on the interest but to put all possible effort into volunteering, voting, reducing consumption, and reforming the system, such that over time, our economies and portfolios will *become* sustainable investment vehicles. 

Until that time, I'll stay tuned for any and all options that might become available, and I am grateful for everyone's thoughts and ideas here!

I would be curious if Mustachians actually believe that they're not part of the problem just because they moderate their consumerism to a degree.

Personally, I assume most people here are smarter than that, or at least, less delusional, but you never know.

I don't think we as Mustachians in general could claim they're we're not part of the problem. I do think it could be easily argued that someone like MMM is not part of the problem in the "net" sense. Completely spitballing here, but I feel fairly certain that through the people he's reached, MMM has helped reduce the world carbon footprint significantly more than he has contributed to it. That one is an easy one, but sometimes I do think about how much of an influence I or any average person (not with a level of reaching people in the celebrity world) would have to have on others to offset what I do.

Malcat

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #33 on: February 06, 2021, 07:17:20 AM »
I'm sorry, how is it an unpopular opinion that we're part of the problem?

Isn't that the dominant discourse??

To clarify, by "we" I mean members of the MMM community and the FIRE movement.  I believe that sometimes it can be easy to believe that we, as people who have dramatically reduced our consumption, and who may have even donated a bit of the interest from our index funds to charity, have arrived at a place where we are actively contributing to healing the planet.  And in some cases, maybe some of us (certainly not me, at least not yet) are.  However, I am posting this because I want to challenge that assumption and I also want to figure out if there genuinely *are* ways to achieve the goal of slowing/reversing the decline of the natural world using the strategies of MMM/FIRE (i.e. dumping capital into index funds / living on interest / reducing consumption)...OR...if that approach is so vastly unsustainable that it is not possible to reconcile that lifestyle with a desire to stop the destruction of the world. 

For example, in his post "How to Carry a Big Wallet and Leave a Small Footprint," MMM argues that we should stop complaining and become part of the solution by investing in carbon offsets to reverse the impact of our consumption.  I of course agree with him 100% on this, but there is a huge elephant in the room: what about the impact of our investment portfolios? 

Buying carbon offsets and switching to solar power and reducing consumption are absolutely critical pieces of the puzzle, but I am curious to know how we might take the next, and probably most important, step.

From what folks are suggesting, it seems that perhaps the best option right now is to continue on our present course of dumping money into the indexes and living on the interest but to put all possible effort into volunteering, voting, reducing consumption, and reforming the system, such that over time, our economies and portfolios will *become* sustainable investment vehicles. 

Until that time, I'll stay tuned for any and all options that might become available, and I am grateful for everyone's thoughts and ideas here!

I would be curious if Mustachians actually believe that they're not part of the problem just because they moderate their consumerism to a degree.

Personally, I assume most people here are smarter than that, or at least, less delusional, but you never know.

My sense of the MMM community has evolved a bit since posting here...although of course I do need to keep in mind that the folks who are responding to this post are people those in the community who are interested in discussing climate change and the environment, and not everyone, so the responses may be a bit biased. 

With that said, while I was expecting responses along the lines of, "How can you say that we're part of the problem when typical FIRE / MMM investors have cut consumption by 75% and when we donate 150% more to environmental charities than the average person?  If anyone is part of the solution it is us."

Instead, the responses surprised me, and they have had a much more melancholy / resigned tone...that this problem is so vast in scale that there may not be a solution, but that the MMM and FIRE communities are contributing to the problem as much as anyone else and that while it would be fantastic to slow or reverse environmental decline, that we are nowhere close and that we may never figure it out before it's too late.

Notwithstanding the subject / title of this post, I do not believe that we must necessarily be a part of the problem.  I do believe that this community can be part of the solution, but there are big questions that remain unanswered. 

After reading responses, it is very clear that we need visionaries (like MMM and others) to urgently help with identifying a path toward this objective and to then shine a light on that path with a heavy dose of optimism. 

In the way that MMM and others illuminated the path on a personal level to take folks from a life of debt to a life of early retirement, we now need their help to chart a similar course on a societal level in order to halt the decline of the natural world (stop racking up debt) and then begin to repair the damage (invest in VTSAX) -- speaking in metaphor, I'm not saying that we need to literally stop racking up debt and invest in VTSAX in order to repair the world, but that we need help from visionaries like MMM to identify the equivalent actions that must be taken on a societal level in order to get out of the crisis.

I do not believe it would necessarily be delusional to think that we could not be part of the solution...and really I just posted that title in an effort to start up some conversation...and it is encouraging to see that I think a lot of us *want* to be a part of solving these problems.  My fear initially was that there might have been folks in the community whose outlook was, "I've reduced consumption and donated to charity.  I did my part, mission accomplished!"  Because if that were the case, then I think that those folks really *would* be part of the problem -- because this crisis requires more than that.

And although the situation right now is bad (really bad) I also believe that we can absolutely change the trajectory...and if we can do that, then we would absolutely be part of the solution.

More than anything, I am trying to figure out what actions I need to take in order to be a part of of solving this.

You seem to be categorizing individuals as "part of the problem" vs "part of the solution" and it's just not that simple.

Most people engaged in personal mitigation efforts are both.

mozar

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #34 on: February 06, 2021, 09:40:12 AM »
Quote
In short: I want to step up, but I also sense that this is a situation where it would be very easy to take a step (or many steps) in the wrong direction, and I am hoping to avoid that.

I think your being too hard for yourself. It's about putting one foot in front of another. If you feel like your going in the wrong direction, change directions. If you're feeling overwhelmed try volunteering for a conservancy non profit. The path doesn't appear until you start the journey.

SunnyDays

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #35 on: February 06, 2021, 11:06:23 AM »
Absolutely, we are ALL part of the problem.  At least in developed countries.  The only true environmentalists are the native peoples of the world who still live by hunting/gathering and never take more than they need for survival.  Unfortunately, there aren't many of them left and the ones that are must fight to retain their way of life.  Most are losing to "progress" and "higher standard of living."  When you measure anyone else's consumption pattern against them, we're a HUGE problem, even the most Mustachian of us (unless you're homesteading off the grid, then you're doing better). 

With the vast majority of people concerned only with how they can get more for less money, the planet is most likely doomed.  The best we can do is slow things down enough that maayyyybe technology will have a chance to catch up and provide some truly revolutionary way to save us, because I can't see enough people caring on an individual level to really change things.

In the meantime, I do what I can and support causes like the Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, etc.  At least I try to offset the worst offenders that I know personally.  That gives me some comfort.

(I agree with you, Malcat, that lots of people are also part of the solution, but I think it's less than the same person is part of the problem.  So, it's a net loss, in my opinion.)

Fishindude

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #36 on: February 06, 2021, 12:32:06 PM »
Why not quit worrying about that big picture stuff you can do little about and do something REAL, that you can see an impact from immediately.
Plant some trees or habitat, restore or clean up a dumpy property, pick up trash along the roadside or riverbank, walk or bike places instead of driving, reduce consumption of throw away items, etc., etc.

Bloop Bloop Reloaded

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #37 on: February 06, 2021, 05:17:07 PM »
The easiest way to reduce our impact is to have fewer children. This is something I'm doing. If others aren't willing to do it, or legislate caps on having children, then that is their problem.

GuitarStv

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #38 on: February 06, 2021, 05:32:06 PM »
The easiest way to reduce our impact is to have fewer children. This is something I'm doing. If others aren't willing to do it, or legislate caps on having children, then that is their problem.

This reasoning doesn't hold up to scrutiny.

50 dirt poor kids in a third world country are going to use fewer resources over their lives than one average middle income dude in North America.  Children aren't the problem.  Living a middle class (or better) lifestyle is.  By putting the blame on kids, it relieves one of having to scrutinize the systemic problems with the way we rich people live.

The birth rate in Canada has been below replacement for a while now.  If kids were the issue, we would see improvement in pollution and environmental damage each year . . . instead we see the opposite.  Legislating caps on the number of children clearly has no chance of working.

Bloop Bloop Reloaded

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #39 on: February 06, 2021, 05:42:05 PM »
The easiest way to reduce our impact is to have fewer children. This is something I'm doing. If others aren't willing to do it, or legislate caps on having children, then that is their problem.

This reasoning doesn't hold up to scrutiny.

50 dirt poor kids in a third world country are going to use fewer resources over their lives than one average middle income dude in North America.  Children aren't the problem.  Living a middle class (or better) lifestyle is.  By putting the blame on kids, it relieves one of having to scrutinize the systemic problems with the way we rich people live.

The birth rate in Canada has been below replacement for a while now.  If kids were the issue, we would see improvement in pollution and environmental damage each year . . . instead we see the opposite.  Legislating caps on the number of children clearly has no chance of working.

So if it's middle income people that are the problem then stop them having children. I didn't say anything about dirt poor people needing to stop having children (though I suspect it would be better for them to stop as well).

Don't tell me that I as a rich person with no children - and with less consumption [spending] than the average household - consume or use more resources than a middle class person with three (or two, or even one) child. That doesn't add up.

The real issue here in rich countries is that we're still having too many kids - even if marginally below replacement rate. If we all had one kid each and we let our population stagnate the world would be much better off. Till middle class families are okay with that, they can bear the blame for resource consumption. A middle class family that has 2-3 children each of whom has 2-3 children will have a much greater lifetime carbon footprint than a rich couple with 1 kid.

swashbucklinstache

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #40 on: February 06, 2021, 07:29:30 PM »
Quote
In short: I want to step up, but I also sense that this is a situation where it would be very easy to take a step (or many steps) in the wrong direction, and I am hoping to avoid that.

I think your being too hard for yourself. It's about putting one foot in front of another. If you feel like your going in the wrong direction, change directions. If you're feeling overwhelmed try volunteering for a conservancy non profit. The path doesn't appear until you start the journey.
You are both correct. Thankfully lots of people are thinking a lot about this so you don't have to solve everything yourself!

Check out https://80000hours.org/

I think there will be a lot in there about how you can help, given your particular skills. That community has a lot to say, from high level career-long things down to what can you do today. They acknowledge and have some numbers around the idea that for some people, the most effective thing they can do is maximize their earnings and donate. I haven't put too much scrutiny to this site because my chosen career path is already pretty much in line with their thinking. It's more along the lines of career and $ than permaculture type things, which are also great but a little less on topic.

I will admit I haven't read much myself about investing's impact. I guess I just assumed that, say, 12 years working for the man plus investing 1 million dollars was < actively working to solve the problem the rest of the time or at least as good as I could do. Maybe not though, more reading for me as well.

They do say this, but I think MMMers can do better than their audience.
Quote
We’re unsure in general how much people should be investing vs. spending now on the most pressing causes.

It is intriguing though. Might a paycheck to paycheck frugal lifestyle, working in a job doing good for humanity, with maybe a 250k buffer be better for the planet than FIRE? No idea =).

The closest I've found on that site is this, which basically boils down to "don't donate all your money" to me.
https://80000hours.org/2015/11/why-everyone-even-our-readers-should-save-enough-to-live-for-6-24-months/

It is worth noting that, according to their analysis, climate change is in the second tier of ways for any otherwise generic person to make a difference.
« Last Edit: February 06, 2021, 07:59:47 PM by swashbucklinstache »

GuitarStv

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #41 on: February 07, 2021, 10:07:54 AM »
The easiest way to reduce our impact is to have fewer children. This is something I'm doing. If others aren't willing to do it, or legislate caps on having children, then that is their problem.

This reasoning doesn't hold up to scrutiny.

50 dirt poor kids in a third world country are going to use fewer resources over their lives than one average middle income dude in North America.  Children aren't the problem.  Living a middle class (or better) lifestyle is.  By putting the blame on kids, it relieves one of having to scrutinize the systemic problems with the way we rich people live.

The birth rate in Canada has been below replacement for a while now.  If kids were the issue, we would see improvement in pollution and environmental damage each year . . . instead we see the opposite.  Legislating caps on the number of children clearly has no chance of working.

So if it's middle income people that are the problem then stop them having children. I didn't say anything about dirt poor people needing to stop having children (though I suspect it would be better for them to stop as well).

Don't tell me that I as a rich person with no children - and with less consumption [spending] than the average household - consume or use more resources than a middle class person with three (or two, or even one) child. That doesn't add up.

The real issue here in rich countries is that we're still having too many kids - even if marginally below replacement rate. If we all had one kid each and we let our population stagnate the world would be much better off. Till middle class families are okay with that, they can bear the blame for resource consumption. A middle class family that has 2-3 children each of whom has 2-3 children will have a much greater lifetime carbon footprint than a rich couple with 1 kid.

Canada has been below replacement for years.  If your theory is correct . . . why is our pollution output increasing with fewer children, rather than decreasing?

With fewer children our economy requires immigration to continue growth . . . so it's not like there are going to be fewer people in a country with fewer children.  There will just be more immigrants.  Unless your goal is to tank the economy.  If so, you're probably doing the right thing for the environment (less production and economic contraction is almost always great for the environment!) but will have a really tough sell.

But it's not just middle income people who are the problem . . . it's money.  The richer people are, the bigger their carbon footprint typically.  That's why the average carbon footprint of someone living in Beverly Hills is about five times what someone living in South Central LA is (https://apnews.com/article/be099434a414a0cb647640ce45f8e6fc).  Might be worth just taxing the rich and middle class until they're poor . . . then they can't afford to keep polluting.

By world population there's just no comparison at all.  Us rich people are the problem because of our consumption.  Consumption that is driven by wealth.
« Last Edit: February 07, 2021, 10:22:20 AM by GuitarStv »

mozar

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #42 on: February 07, 2021, 11:08:01 AM »
Blaming rich individuals (top ten percent globally has 92k of net worth) obfuscates the much larger issues.

Yes a wealthy person is more likely to buy a gas guzzling SUV or truck, but they have to drive every where because zoning laws require everything to be spread out.

Many rich individuals are eating meat 3 times a day 7 days a week while cow grazing is a major source or world deforestation. But it's the government that is subsidizing cow and chicken feed, making meat significantly cheaper than it would otherwise be (some studies say up to 30%), due to powerful lobbying from corporations.

Focusing on personal responsibility: what job should I get, should I have children, should I invest in the stock market, etc. takes your focus away from the big issues and prevents people from doing the work that needs to be done, like activism, voting drives, planting trees or whatever.




Michael in ABQ

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #43 on: February 07, 2021, 11:56:00 AM »
I recently watched David Attenborough's documentary, "A Life on Our Planet" and am left wondering if we, as the MMM / FIRE community, are part of the problem or part of the solution when it comes to slowing / reversing the decline of the natural world.

In the film, Attenborough documents the decline of wilderness during his lifetime from coverage of nearly 70% of the planet at the beginning of his life to just over 30% of the planet at present day.  Our economies -- the United States Economy being the most powerful of all -- have rapidly devoured our wilderness areas and sent our planet into a decline.


I find that number hard to believe considering how much of the population is now in urban areas. I spend a lot of time looking at maps and satellite imagery and see a lot of uninhabited areas. What do they consider "wilderness"? I mean most of Canada and Russia are undeveloped and would probably be considered wilderness, as are large swaths of the western US. There are places that used to be farmed that have now reverted to wilderness. In my state I can drive for miles and never see a single house and nothing more than an occasional fence.   

swashbucklinstache

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #44 on: February 07, 2021, 12:21:21 PM »
Blaming rich individuals (top ten percent globally has 92k of net worth) obfuscates the much larger issues.

Yes a wealthy person is more likely to buy a gas guzzling SUV or truck, but they have to drive every where because zoning laws require everything to be spread out.

Many rich individuals are eating meat 3 times a day 7 days a week while cow grazing is a major source or world deforestation. But it's the government that is subsidizing cow and chicken feed, making meat significantly cheaper than it would otherwise be (some studies say up to 30%), due to powerful lobbying from corporations.

Focusing on personal responsibility: what job should I get, should I have children, should I invest in the stock market, etc. takes your focus away from the big issues and prevents people from doing the work that needs to be done, like activism, voting drives, planting trees or whatever.
Just a quick note, though I'm sure we'll all aware, that "what job should I get" and "...doing the work that needs to be done, like activism, voting drives, planting trees or whatever" can be the very same thing rather than opposed. e.g. https://80000hours.org/key-ideas/#career-categories. I only comment to note that there are a lot more ways to contribute than a stereotypical chaining of oneself or oneself's career to a tree.

Bloop Bloop Reloaded

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #45 on: February 07, 2021, 03:14:10 PM »
Rich people are not the problem - rich people consuming lots are the problem. Therefore "we" Mustachians are not likely to be the problem. If I earn 3x the average income but only consume 1x then I am only as much of a problem as a middle class person. And if I have one kid and they have three then they are creating 3x the problem I am.

Time to take personal responsibility for consumption and popping out children.

samanil

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #46 on: February 07, 2021, 03:29:48 PM »
Those are some big tough questions, and I don't have a complete answer to them.

However, I do highly recommend the book "Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think". That book argues, convincingly, that technological advancement actually holds the solutions to most of the problems that we face. If so, then investing in the US economy, from a big picture perspective, is positive. Sure there are some negative effects, but over the long run you are funding a system that will generate solutions to the problems we face.

The book also argues that our perception of how dire our current situation is is skewed by 1) the structure of the human brain, which is designed to be hyper sensitive to danger, such that it over detects danger and has a skewed perception of reality and 2) the media, which takes advantage of this bias in the brain by portraying our situation as being much more grim than it really is. Steven Pinker also talks about this phenomenon in his book "The Better Angels of Our Nature", in which he argues that we are living in the most peaceful and prosperous time in our species existence, and the trends suggest that it's only getting better--pretty much the opposite all the doom and gloom in the media and politics. He emphasizes that we still have big problems that need to be addressed, but the massive progress we've made as a species is essential to informing our perception of those problems, and how to address them.

Another book to check out (I haven't read it but want to) is "Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All". The gist of that book, from what I can tell, is that there are indeed serious environmental problems that need to be addressed, but the doomsday scenarios that are peddled by the media and environmental activists (whose job stability and sense of self worth are positively correlated with how disastrous people believe the situation to be) are exaggerated and get in the way of addressing the real problems. That's my understanding of the gist of the book--but haven't read it so take that with a grain of salt.

Michael in ABQ

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #47 on: February 07, 2021, 05:08:14 PM »
Those are some big tough questions, and I don't have a complete answer to them.

However, I do highly recommend the book "Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think". That book argues, convincingly, that technological advancement actually holds the solutions to most of the problems that we face. If so, then investing in the US economy, from a big picture perspective, is positive. Sure there are some negative effects, but over the long run you are funding a system that will generate solutions to the problems we face.

The book also argues that our perception of how dire our current situation is is skewed by 1) the structure of the human brain, which is designed to be hyper sensitive to danger, such that it over detects danger and has a skewed perception of reality and 2) the media, which takes advantage of this bias in the brain by portraying our situation as being much more grim than it really is. Steven Pinker also talks about this phenomenon in his book "The Better Angels of Our Nature", in which he argues that we are living in the most peaceful and prosperous time in our species existence, and the trends suggest that it's only getting better--pretty much the opposite all the doom and gloom in the media and politics. He emphasizes that we still have big problems that need to be addressed, but the massive progress we've made as a species is essential to informing our perception of those problems, and how to address them.

Another book to check out (I haven't read it but want to) is "Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All". The gist of that book, from what I can tell, is that there are indeed serious environmental problems that need to be addressed, but the doomsday scenarios that are peddled by the media and environmental activists (whose job stability and sense of self worth are positively correlated with how disastrous people believe the situation to be) are exaggerated and get in the way of addressing the real problems. That's my understanding of the gist of the book--but haven't read it so take that with a grain of salt.

In the coming decades we will probably start harnessing resources from space - both energy beamed down from solar satellite arrays as well as metals from asteroids. Potentially some manufacturing will move into space as well. This is virtually unlimited resources. Even a very small asteroid can contain more metal than is mined on Earth for multiple years. If we can crack fusion energy it will also be a game-changer as it can eliminate fossil fuels for electricity production. We're already on the path to transitioning from gasoline and diesel powered vehicles to electric. I'll take human ingenuity over doom and gloom any day.


I recently read an article about polar bear populations. As we all know Polar Bears are going to be extinct soon due to global warming.
Global Warming Is Driving Polar Bears Toward Extinction, Researchers Say
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/20/climate/polar-bear-extinction.html

Climate change: Polar bears could be lost by 2100 - BBC News
https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-53474445

Except maybe not
https://www.canadiangeographic.ca/article/truth-about-polar-bears
Quote
The current scientific consensus places the worldwide polar bear population between 20,000 and 25,000 animals. Prior to the 1973 worldwide restriction on commerical polar bear hunting, that number was dramatically lower, so low that a meeting of polar bear specialists in 1965 concluded that extinction was a real possibility. Some reports even estimated the number of bears as low as 5,000 worldwide. Yet by 1990, Ian Stirling — at the time, the senior research scientist for the Canadian Wildlife Service and a professor of zoology at the University of Alberta; basically, one of the most respected polar bear scientists on the planet — felt comfortable answering the question as to whether polar bears are an endangered species by stating flatly: “They are not.” He went on to say that “the world population of polar bears is certainly greater than 20,000 and could be as high as 40,000 … I am inclined toward the upper end of that range.” Although old studies are sketchy, clearly more polar bears are alive today than there were 50 years ago, an essentially heartening fact that has not managed to pierce the public consciousness.

samanil

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #48 on: February 07, 2021, 07:00:05 PM »
Nice insight about the polar bears! There's a polar bear on the cover of apocalypse never. While I didn't know that, I'm not surprised, as it seems the general perception of things is usually off if not backwards!

Linea_Norway

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Re: Unpopular Opinion: Are We Part of The Problem?
« Reply #49 on: February 08, 2021, 03:57:56 AM »
@uneven_cyclist
You might want to look into Deep Adaptation, a movement that wants to prepare in the best way for the inevitable climate changes. You can find a community on fb.

For green investments, you could consider buying/creating rentals that are energy-modern, with solar panels and not car dependent. Or even buy a large house on a farm and get people like you to live there with you, driving it together as a coop. I recently saw an add for for an extra tennant such a house in Oslo. It was not on a farm, but they had a large garden to grow food. But the idea is that you with your investments buy the green place to live and your renters pay you your profit, while living in a green way.

You can also run for politics in your community and join a green party (or the greenest).

I have my money in a (Norwegian) index fund that is called "more societal responsibility". It has the same low price as the world wide index fund, but doesn't buy the worst weapons and polluters. I think they created the fund because there was a strong demand for people to invest in something more responsible. You should all ask vanguard to also offer such a fund, maybe if enough people donit will help.

I think there is one thing Mustachians often do that contributes a lot to our CO2 ommissions and that is travel hacking. Travel by air has a really big environmental impact. Even MMM himself used to have his yearly meetings in farawayistan. We should at least try not to become frequent flyers, but rather practice other forms for (slow) travel.