Monday, October 19, 2009


I saw a couple of headlines this morning that made me think: a truly amazing impact being that it was a Monday morning and I was only half way through my first cup of coffee. The first headline said, "Investment in oil sands will boost U.S. economy - study." The second pronounced, "Senator calls for increased investment in domestic oil drilling." Now, neither article contained earth-shaking news or unusual content. The calls to increase oil sand development in Canada and domestic oil drilling are nothing we haven't heard before. What did catch my eye, though, was the common use of the term "investment." Because, as I understand the word, investment implies the active redirection of resources from those being consumed today, to those creating benefits in some future time. This definition of investment begs, I think, a critical question: In what future benefits are we investing, and for whom?

If the combustion of hyrdocarbons is fueling the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (a given); if the accumulation of atmospheric carbon dioxide is contributing to a not-so-gradual shift in the world's climate (also a fact); and if that shift will dramatically alter the social, ecological and economic fabric of the world as we know it (a somewhat well-founded hypothesis), then why on earth would we call increased reliance on oil (or tar) sands and domestic oil an "investment?" The incongruous use of the term boggles the mind - even a mind only half awake on a Monday morning and running on just one-half cup of caffeine!

Interestingly, the use of the word "investment" in such a context pays ironic homage to the word's roots. "Invest" finds its meaning in the Latin word investire, which means to "clothe" or "surround." And doubtless, burning more fossil fuels will generate more carbon dioxide that will "clothe" or "surround" the earth with an atmospheric shroud of heat-trapping carbon dioxide: a shroud and resulting climate change that will eventually render our past reliance upon the world's natural resources totally unpredictable.

If we are investing in anything by increasing our future reliance upon hyrdocarbon based fuels, it is a future of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and resultant climatic change. If we are to have any chance of avoiding that chaos, today's investment should be in alternative sources of energy; not one founded upon vesting the earth in a thickening blanket of climate-altering gases.