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CASHING IT ALL IN
Every eight seconds, somewhere in America, a Baby Boomer turns fifty. That's a bouquet of black balloons for ten million Boomers every year. Most of us middle-aged American Boomers are preoccupied with how we will keep up with the day-to-day cost of living and the skyrocketing prices of real estate. Near-term concerns about cash flow dominate our thoughts as we just try to make ends meet. We wonder whether we can afford the luxury of even dreaming about life after retirement, let alone being able to choose the lifestyle and geographic area we prefer.
Yet at the same time many of us are hoping to cash it all in while we are young enough to enjoy many years, and even decades, of quality time. This means that we Boomers are also beginning to sock away our cash in unprecedented amounts in tax-sheltered retirement plans. We are becoming aware that retirement planning means worrying about investingdeciding how much to invest, how soon, and in what stocks.
But what are we investing for? What is the target to track? What alternatives will there be in the new millennium for us to retire to? How, for example, will we choose the right location? Can we blindly trust the glossy brochures and slick Web pages designed to lure us to seaside, lakeshore, mountain, and sunbelt resorts? Will those properties offer us the quality environment we crave for our active lifestyles? Right now is the right time to think creatively about the environmental repercussions of our location and lifestyle choices.
Many Boomers may soon wake up to the sudden realization that we are now living in a Greenhouse world. Earth's climate is increasingly being affected by global warming. Whether we are aware of it on a day-to-day basis or not, however, the environment is changing dramatically around us. Changing weather patterns are already affecting water quality and environmental stability.
Global greenhouse warming is now a reality, one that the Baby Boom generation will have to face. We can no longer assume that our ideal retirement location will be the same as we see it today by the time we are ready to live the good life. For example, the beachfront property we invest in today may not even exist by the year 2025, much less remain intact for our kids and their children to enjoy after we are gone.
In part one of this book, we look at the unique place that Baby Boomers occupy as we enter the twenty-first century. We assess who we are and what we are aiming for. Then we examine how impending environmental changes will affect us as individuals as well as our society as a whole. In part two we explore in greater detail both prospects and potential challenges that lie ahead. We consider specific opportunities linked to your lifestyle choices, and how they will be constrained by the compounding pressures that climate change and relocating Boomers will place on them. In part three we present innovative solutions available right now to enhance your quality of life, and to gain an ecological edge that might turn climate change to your advantage. We suggest ways to protect your investments and to ensure a sustainable legacy for your children and their children. We offer this advice in the hope that you will use these ecological insights to discover your own successful strategy for living well in the Greenhouse world.
Quality of Life in a Changing World
A high quality of life requires not only financial independence but also ecological well-being, that is, a place to live within acceptable limits of risk for environmental change. Rather than planning a strategy for retirement in a strictly fiscal landscape, we also need to think about where we want to be in a physical landscape.
We all have our own ideas about what constitutes high quality of life, reflecting widely divergent desires and attitudes. Some folks like to travel, others prefer to stay home and garden. Some people find an adrenaline rush in "pushing the envelope" on a powerful snowmobile, in a private airplane, or while running the waves on a jet ski. Others seek solitude in cross-country skiing, kayaking or canoeing on a quiet lake or stream, riding a horse on a desert trail, or ambling along an endless sandy beach. Regardless of who you are and what you choose, your lifestyle choice has a hidden cost. Taken together, the cumulative effect of all these activities becomes an environmental burden. No matter how lightly we try to tread on the land, just by living our lives we all contribute in some measure to the gathering and processing of raw materials and burning of fossil fuels that ultimately are changing the world around us.
We can, however, be proactive. We can plan ahead for the inevitable effects of global warming. By getting in tune with environmental changes expected in the next several decades in your chosen locale, you can determine your ideal lifestyle, both now and in retirement. The key is to develop a series of environmental change guidelines that will help you to refocus your thinking. Rather than being solely preoccupied with the future of Social Security, you can also opt for ecological security by developing a personal strategy for living and retiring well.
The Stunning Scale of Environmental Change
The world's cultures have developed on a planet that is ever changing. Climate has always been dynamic over a wide range of scales, from daily fluctuations in weather to millennial increases or decreases in temperature and precipitation. Many of the globally most significant changes are imperceptibly slow, well beyond the individual human life span. Past changes in global climates are of compelling interest to scientists and historians who specialize in deciphering the history of life and of human cultures. But lessons learned from the distant past can also be useful to the rest of us, informing our concerns about the here and now and the immediate future. Especially important as a context for change are the fluctuations in climate that occurred during the twentieth century. These changes have taken place within living memory, and they influence the way we think about our current circumstances. Yet precedents from the deeper past must also influence our choices for our future. Unfortunately, the relevant precedents for us now include some of the most significant environmental changes that have taken place at any time in four billion years of earth history.
We are in the midst of an environmental revolution. In the next 25 years, global and regional climates are going to change more than they have in at least the past century. In the next 100 years, typical global temperatures will be higher than at any time in the past 10,000 years. In the next several centuries, temperatures will exceed those of the last 100 million years. It's time to become aware of and to face these facts. Both the magnitude and the pace of global warming are sharply accelerating beyond what humans have ever experienced. In the new millennium, we are stepping into a brand-new worlda Greenhouse world driven by global climatic warming that will reshape the surface of the earth for ten thousand years to come.
Crises AheadWhy Care?
This environmental revolution has been brought about largely by activities of humans, by our sheer numbers, and by our insatiable appetite for fossil energy and manufactured goods. Twentieth-century prosperity brought about by the Industrial Revolution, mass production of manufactured goods, and the knowledge-driven productivity of the information age has increased the overall quality of today's life for the average person in developed countries. This newfound prosperity has obvious costs, however. Increasingly intensive land use has led to overdevelopment and fragmented natural areas.
But some of the more subtle, less direct effects are more disturbing, because they are happening largely unseen. Human-caused climate change disrupts natural ecosystems. Because of habitat destruction, species of plants and animals are going extinct at unprecedented rates. Urbanization depletes freshwater reserves, ultimately limiting population growth in many regions. And global warming will have cascading effects on regional weather patterns. As a result, we face the prospect of prolonged droughts that will force crop zones to shift. Hurricanes and tornadoes are likely to become more frequent and destructive. Increasingly noticed across all of North America, "alien" species are crowding out native species of plants and animals, after being introduced here from other countries and continents. The competitive dominance of alien species, causing displacement and extinction of native species, is one kind of biological consequence of climate change with wide-ranging implications across the spectrum of ecosystems. These kinds of compounding effects can destabilize and restructure regional ecosystems and landscapes, decreasing the quality of human life. Taken together, environmental changes will have dramatic impacts on both recreational and retirement possibilities for tens of millions of American Boomers. This places before us an ecological imperative.
Instead of waiting for ecological catastrophes to strike, we can develop and use commonsense ecological strategies in order to adapt creatively to Greenhouse-world conditions. Capturing the good life means getting an ecological edge, placing ourselves where we want to be. Thus we can use this knowledge of environmental change as an opportunity. At the same time, we can act constructively to help preserve or restore natural balances that are threatened by human activities and global climate change. If we are aware of the problems before us, and of the potential for future degradation, we can act right now to help save native species and their habitats, and to use available resources more wisely in order to conserve them for the future. We can create personal solutions to immediate and longer-range problems within a positive atmosphere of enlightened self-interest.
A Personal Checklist
In order to define your ideal retirement lifestyle, you first need to take stock of your priorities. Selection criteria for living well in a Greenhouse world may include aesthetic, financial, and ecological considerations. Many elements may be intertwined in defining what constitutes the good life.
Developing your personal checklist requires making choices. A key to finding personal solutions for living well in a Greenhouse world is being able to predict the future availability of desirable surroundings, in the form of a beautiful physical landscape, a rich biological setting, or a comfortable climate zoneone that is buffered against increasing vulnerability to natural disasters driven by climate change.
Take a few minutes to develop a list of your top ten priorities for well-being in retirement. Think creatively about the locations or activities that are most important to you. Indulge in fantasies about painting "dancing bears" at your rustic log cabin at the lakeshore, savoring panoramic vistas at a "back of beyond" getaway in the mountains, watching dolphins play in the surf from the verandah of your seaside cottage, or stargazing from the vantage point of your adobe ranch house in the desert.
Is it more important to you to experience the seasons as they unfold at one place or to "snowbird," migrating with the birds in the spring and fall? Do you like the idea of an adventuresome and free life on the road in a recreational vehicle (RV), or do you need the security offered by owning a permanent residence? Do you like to plan monthly or seasonal "wild card" experiences at time-share resorts? If so, are you an autumn "leaf peeper" or a spring "wildflower pilgrim"? Is golfing in the sunbelt your life's ambition, or do you enjoy water sports or snowmobiling insteador in addition? Do you seek solitude and long hikes in a natural wilderness setting? Or is a hunting or fishing retreat in the cards?
Consider also your social setting. Do you want to gain more self-reliance? Do you wish to be farther away from the growing population pressures of overwhelming and everexpanding municipalities? Do you long to clip that electrical-power link with the world, to live "off-the-grid" in a modest ecologically friendly home powered by renewable energy sources, perhaps growing as much of your own food as you need? Do you wish to shed lifestyle complexity for voluntary simplicity?
By jotting down those activities and priorities that are most important to you now, you will be able to identify vital sources for more information as you read through the remaining chapters. You may find yourself surprised at how your ideas change by the end of this book. For instance, you may begin to consider the green or sustainable approach to capturing the good life as a viable alternative, one that can help build an ecological legacy for future generations. Whichever course you elect, you can enhance your odds for success with our suggestions for the ten best strategies for living well in the age of Global Warming.
Excerpted from Living Well in the Age of Global Warming by Paul A. Delcourt and Hazel R. Delcourt. Copyright © 2001 by Paul Delcourt and Hazel Delcourt. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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