Below the fold is an essay by Jeremy Grantham, the Chief Investment Officer of GMO Capital (with over $106 billion in assets under management). Normally, we wouldn't highlight an investment firm's quarterly newsletter, but when one of the world's largest asset managers articulates the same themes that have been debated on The Oil Drum for the past 6 years, such a watershed for biophysical awareness deserves to be highlighted. Grantham's essay catalogues many of the issues related to resource depletion in a no-nonsense and urgent tone, yet with an odd juxtaposition - he is saying these things about limits, resource constraints, and human behavior as the head of a firm whose objective it is to increase financial capital. I expect his message will fall on deaf ears within the industry, but as has oft been pointed out here, in order to create change, we all have to start speaking a common language. This piece is a positive step in that direction.
Mr. Grantham began his investment career as an economist with Royal Dutch Shell and earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Sheffield (U.K.) and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. His essay, reformatted for TOD, is below the fold. (Original, on GMO Website, here)
The purpose of this, my second (and much longer) piece on resource limitations, is to persuade investors with an interest in the long term to change their whole frame of reference: to recognize that we now live in a different, more constrained, world in which prices of raw materials will rise and shortages will be common. (Previously, I had promised to update you when we had new data. Well, after a lot of grinding, this is our first comprehensive look at some of this data.)
Accelerated demand from developing countries, especially China, has caused an unprecedented shift in the price structure of resources: after 100 hundred years or more of price declines, they are now rising, and in the last 8 years have undone, remarkably, the effects of the last 100-year decline! Statistically, also, the level of price rises makes it extremely unlikely that the old trend is still in place. If I am right, we are now entering a period in which, like it or not, we must finally follow President Carter’s advice to develop a thoughtful energy policy and give up our carefree and careless ways with resources. The quicker we do this, the lower the cost will be. Any improvement at all in lifestyle for our grandchildren will take much more thoughtful behavior from political leaders and more restraint from everyone. Rapid growth is not ours by divine right; it is not even mathematically possible over a sustained period. Our goal should be to get everyone out of abject poverty, even if it necessitates some income redistribution. Because we have way overstepped sustainable levels, the greatest challenge will be in redesigning lifestyles to emphasize quality of life while quantitatively reducing our demand levels. A lower population would help. Just to start you off, I offer Exhibit 1: the world’s population growth. X marks the spot where Malthus wrote his defining work. Y marks my entry into the world. What a surge in population has occurred since then! Such compound growth cannot continue with finite resources. Along the way, you are certain to have a paradigm shift. And, increasingly, it looks like this is it!