Saturday Links for the Week — October 20, 2007

Global Warming Chris Britt
Cartoon by Chris Britt

Canadian consumer debt load becoming unsustainable: A recent survey of Canadians suggests:

  • For all except the richest, net worth is stagnant or dropping, while total assets and total debts are rising. So while people might appear and feel more affluent, they aren’t. They’re also terribly vulnerable to a spike in interest rates, a US-style housing price slump, a job loss, pay cut or a decline in the value of their investments.
  • What’s really scary is that they don’t think they’re vulnerable to any of these things. The only people who do are those who have found out the hard way, from actual experience.
  • They think their debts are falling when they aren’t, they’re just shifting, especially to unsecured consumer credit card debt.
  • Many Canadians have more debts than assets, i.e. a negative net worth.
  • In addition to the negative-net-worth segment, many Canadians are living beyond their means — they are depending on future increases in income or housing prices to make their debt load manageable and repayable.
  • Really only a small proportion of older, wealthier, long-tenured employees have defined-benefit pension plans, the only plans that are relatively recession-proof. The next decade may see the last group (early boomers) who will ever be able to afford to retire.

Debilitating drought grips US South-East and parts of US West: The NYT reports that several regions of the US, notably the South-East, are facing their worst drought in a century. Listen to the interviewees’ comments in the report and you’ll see why water shortages are so insidious — they creep up on you and cause unimaginable chaos.

The Right to Security — but not to insurance: Many of us in affluent nations take security for granted, and view it as our right. 9/11 has changed that, but nevertheless our approach to coping with risks to our security that are low-probability but high-consequence (like hurricanes and earthquakes) is to buy insurance. But what happens when (private profit-oriented) insurance companies just stop selling insurance to those who need it?

Grim news on the Peak Oil front:
Jim Lemon of U of Toronto (via Charles Hall) offers this synopsis of the latest (Oct. 15) edition of Peak Oil Review:

  • The high record (nominal) prices in oil on Friday ($90/bbl) reflected the International Energy Association’s projection of oil shortfalls, climatologists’ expectation of a colder winter in North America and Turkey fussing about Kurds.
  • Canadian natural gas story again–fall off of output–decline in exports to US; IEA says the Alberta tar sands will only “dent” the need for oil (Eric Reguly reported this in Globe and Mail in which he says that that they are hardly our saviour)
  • Kazahstan’s big new field slow in starting (I recall difficult geology at the north end of Caspian)  etc.
  • Interesting and enlightening analysis of peak vs plateau view of oil (incl liquid natural gas) future.  Dutch author says the super giant/giant fields have been on a plateau since 1980 and from his graphs he thinks conventional oil peaked in 05/06 (as we have noted earlier). So how much more can come from enhancement meaning new technologies, the ability to get resources in ‘reserves’ category (that is possible+probable+proven) to the probable+proven category. Proven usually means 90% if I recall, probable 50%. He thinks we will hold more or less on a plateau for the next 3 years, but then…  

Achieving Zero Waste: Dale Asberry’s new blog points us to this exhaustive global survey of attempts to achieve zero waste in human activities, by Michael Jessen. Zero waste is an absolute precondition to sustainability.

Great short video on the Information R/evolution: Just go watch it. Fascinating. Send to me by three readers, which is exactly the video’s point. Watch more of cultural anthropologist Michael Wesch’s brilliant stuff. Like this one on education. And this one on how the point of Web 2.0 is that we are teaching the machine what’s important and why, and that we are the machine.

The end-state of Reality TV?: For voyeurs and exhibitionists everywhere, you can now anonymously broadcast your life 24 hours per day, or watch any of a hundred other people’s, thanks to
My blog mentioned in Toronto Globe & Mail: Technology columnist Shane Schick reviewed one of my recent blog posts in Thursday’s Report on Business in his regular Recommended Links column. Another fifteen minutes of fame.

Thought for the Week: Via Johnnie Moore, from Gabriele Lakomski’s book Managing Without Leadership:

Our everyday experience tells us that organisational life is messy and complex and that those in positions of leadership are neither omniscient nor infallible. Why, then, do we quite readily believe that there is a causal link between organisational functioning and leadership? Why do we not believe our own experience that how things work in organisations is much more complicated?

…In a naturalistic redescription of the [leadership] phenomenon, we might view it as an emergent, self-organising property of complex systems. There would then be no need for engaging in more leadership studies: instead, we could redirect our attention to the study of the fine-grained properties of contextualised organisational practice.

Posted from Vancouver.

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