There’s No Retirement on a Dead Planet

“There’s no retirement on a dead planet. Invest accordingly.”

This was the text of a recent post in the Socially Conscious FIRE group on Facebook. (A group I have permalinked in the sidebar of this blog, and refer to fairly often in my posts.)

It was very timely to me, because I had been thinking for awhile about posting a question to the SC-FIRE on this topic but wasn’t sure how to word it. “So, those of you who are planning for retirement in 20 or 30 years, and are plugging away at your paycheck jobs in the meantime … Are you so sure we have 20 or 30 years?”

Or, “Those of you who are investing with an aim of attaining financial independence: Does climate change factor into your investment plans and calculations at all? If so, how?”

So I’m glad a more “insider” person brought up the climate thing. (I feel like a bit of an edge-dweller in the SC-FIRE group, as someone whose main focus is footprint-minimization, occupational freedom, climate adaptation-in-place, and economic resilience, as opposed to financial independence and early retirement.)

I don’t really ever plan on retiring; I feel like as long as I’m alive there’s going to be work I need and want to do. BTW if I were to try to be an active member of a regular hardcore FIRE group (as opposed to the Socially Conscious one I participate in), I wouldn’t just feel like an edge-dweller; I’d feel like a total freak from an alien planet. If you want to know what it’s like in some straight-up FIRE conversations I’ve seen, think: unexamined geo-arbitrage; Wall Street worship; no-work house-flipping; Bitcoin fever; extreme land-hoarding; and other forms of personal neo-colonialism. It can feel very soulless. So I’m very relieved to find the SC-flavored version of a FIRE group.

In the “Further Exploration” section of this post, I’ve shared some links representing what I felt to be the most useful comments made by other people on the the SC-FIRE “dead planet” thread. The experts referenced in these comments are three of the top experts I know of in the arena that’s often referred to as “regenerative investment” or “financial permaculture.” Those experts are Vicki Robin, Laura Oldanie, and Marco Vangelisti. I know you’ll enjoy reading their insights.

Also, here, I’m sharing some of my own thoughts on “There’s no retirement on a dead planet. Invest accordingly.” My thoughts also address the question of the ethics of FIRE in general, since it involves stockpiling a surplus that could be much more beneficial to others. (Someone on SC-FIRE just now brought up that ethical question.)

It feels to me like time is running very short. I’m often startled to hear people casually talking about even 10- or 15-year horizons, let alone 20 or 30 years. That could be just the Doomer in me, but the fast-and-thick parade of weather- and climate-related disasters in recent times just seems to be getting faster and thicker. And I will say I’ve never been harmed by hypervigilant planning, even when I’ve erred on the doomy side (such as around 2007 when I started feeling in my bones that the entire world economy was about to collapse, and it turned out to be just the U.S. housing market).

Anyway! I am no financial whiz, for sure. I’m pretty much driven by a combination of gut feelings and my own moral compass.

Here is what “invest accordingly” looks like for me:

I plan to work til I die, because I love my work (freelance artist, writer, eco activist) and even tho I’m just one person, I never want to stop contributing to humanity in this way. I aspire someday to be that 110-year-old woman, standing on a ladder with a paintbrush or reading poetry at an open mic. Or wielding a shovel (and a community library of eco books) to help a community stave off desertification and extreme heat.

I’m more into FREE (Financial Resilience, Economic Empowerment), and I use my low-footprint thrifty lifestyle to maintain creative and occupational freedom while helping the planet.

My work has not at least thus far been considered to be of high monetary value, so I learned to live well on 13k (before taxes) per year or less. (One year or three it was 7k but that was pretty rough.)

Before I was able to buy a house free and clear in my LCOL area (with money inherited when my parents passed), I maintained creative & occupational freedom on a low income by finding super cheap shared apartments, or using bookcases to turn a 1br into a 2br so I could have apartment-mates, etc.

Now that I own a house mortgage-free, I’m able to have my same lifestyle without having to worry about my landlord dying or selling, jacking up the rent, building being condemned because it doesn’t meet code etc. — all things that were constant worries to me as a renter. I am also able to provide stable low-cost housing to housemates.

With the rest of my inheritance, I am keeping a modest reserve for emergency home repairs. Other than that, I have invested in

  • plants (food and medicine and shade for human inhabitants; wildlife habitat; pollinator support) for my sustainable urban homestead
  • rainbarrels, solar oven, solar charger, pergola, and other durable goods for running my sustainable homestead that also serves as a demo site for urban permaculture and low-footprint living
  • becoming a fractional owner of a permaculture farm and education center in my home state
  • donating to local nonprofits that are addressing food-insecurity
  • donating to nonprofits that are preserving rainforests and other ecologically important lands while being careful not to displace the indigenous human inhabitants
  • donating to local nonprofits that are helping to preserve trees, pollinator habitat, and biodiversity
  • donating to anti-racist organizations
  • donating to organizations that provide free or low-cost mental-health services
  • investing in my continuing education via online classes related to ecosystem restoration and urban revitalization

No, there is no monetary return for the donations, but I believe in investing in community; and also, I feel that contributing to planetary health and doing all I can to ensure the planet’s livability for future generations is non-optional.

On the theme of investing for the planet, I have started to specify (to the organizations who publicly list the names of their donors) that mine should be listed under Daytona Beach Permaculture Guild, rather than under my personal name. This gets the word “permaculture” out into the community in association with a variety of relevant causes.

I have more peace of mind from knowing that I have set things up so I can work and make enough to live happily on til I die, than any amount of hoarded lump sum could bring me.

With the remaining money from my inheritance, I am considering passing some on right now to my young adult nieces (since I am single and have no kids, and I believe in giving the young generations a boost right now rather than making them wait for me to die — assuming the financial system as we know it even lasts that long).

And with the remainder, I’m seeking out small eco/social enterprises to invest in, in a couple of my favorite key fields. Right at this moment I’m considering various options such as compost toilets, regenerative landscaping, a hardcore eco-focused PR agency to popularize low-footprint living, and starting a mobile outdoor cinema troupe focused on eco/socially conscious films. And anything about waste reclamation: retrieving/refurbishing plastic waste and using it as material to make essential stuff etc.

For myself, at this particular point on my path I feel morally OK keeping maybe 20k around in cash reserves (for aforementioned emergency home repairs and other misc stuff). My intent is to decrease that amount, in light of 1) the growing planetary emergency, 2) income flows from investments I make in small eco/social enterprises, and also 3) as I’m building more and more social capital so I don’t feel so dependent on keeping a stash of money.

My ideal would be to keep $2,000 or less in stored money. One fellow permaculturist says he rarely has more than $100, as he keeps his money constantly in circulation in his community in various ways.

This is just one 58-year-old self-employed writer, landscaper, activist, permaculturist, eco foot-soldier’s take on things.

Regarding regenerative ethical investment, the best writer/thinkers I know on this topic are Laura Oldanie and Vicki Robin, both of whom are active members of the Socially Conscious FIRE group.

Further Exploration:

• Marco Vangelisti offers courses on investing in accordance with your values. Here is one upcoming course, “Towards Aware and No-Harm Investing,” with Marco Vangelisti.

• Vicki Robin (author of the bestseller Your Money Or Your Life), commented on the thread mentioned above with this advice: “Consider investing locally in small businesses. As I said in Your Money Or Your Life, I’ve loved doing that, seeing my money build farms, solar projects, restaurants, a flower shop … seeing people in my community flourish. … Involvement in community building gives me reputational power which means people more willing to help me out if needed. … I’d love FI to develop a reputation for building main street rather than Wall Street.” You can check out Vicki Robin’s wonderful blog here.

• I recommend these two posts by Laura Oldanie: How To Invest Locally: Suggestions from Michael Shuman; and A Crowdsourced Guide to Social Justice Investing. And I recommend Laura’s blog Rich & Resilient Living in general (it’s permalinked in my sidebar), not only for ethical investment but also as an example of the exuberantly creative lives we can lead by reducing our dependence on strictly financial capital. Speaking of which, do also read Laura’s post on the many forms of capital besides financial. Her post includes a link to Ethan Roland and Gregory Landua’s article “8 Forms of Capital,” which is well-known in permaculture circles. Mainstream society tends to way overvalue financial capital in relation to, for example, social capital, but it’s a huge mistake, not only for the planet but also for our personal wellbeing.

• And, my series of posts “Becoming a Local Investor” offers some ideas on different places to channel your money besides Wall Street, that can help enrich your community and your own life. Hope you find them helpful!