This article was published the other night. It claims we may soon be too limited by resource scarcity to worry about the dangers of another Fukushima-style disaster. It isn’t terribly clear, nor does it provide any useful sources I’ve been able to track. What it does do, though, make a big, bold reference to “Peak Everything” all over Reuters and associated newswires.

I’m no stranger to the term “Peak Everything”, at least as far as Richard Heinberg’s book goes. More than a look at “peak oil”, Heinberg applies the same kind of math to everything from coal and precious metals to fresh water. None of this is new – Heinberg’s book is now four years old and it’s much more a compilation of data than it is a totally original theory. Very little of it is terribly surprising – just stunning when you look at it all side-by-side. What is surprising is to see it being acknowledged beyond the Doomsayers’ ghetto of environmentalists, conspiracy theorists – that’s new to me.

We’ve all long suspected that those in positions of power are aware of the upcoming resource crunch – many believe that this is the real basis behind the “War on Terror” and other imperialistic misadventures of the last decade. I’m not an “insider”, so I don’t know, and I’m not much of a conspiracy theorist so I won’t guess (publicly). Whether this crisis is now finally filtering into or out from “the power elite”, the signs which are are now emerging are clearly cause for concern.

One of the most (and only) successful investment newsletters of the last decade did it on the basis of an assumption that “we’re entering an era of peak everything” and that we can expect the price of most basic commodities to go up. Outstanding Investments was recently awarded the top position among a hundred investment newsletters by Hulbert Digest. With returns of 21.66% over the last decade, compared with a market average of 2.3%, it’s hard to argue that they’re onto something. What was their “secret”? A philosophy that all resources globally are becoming more scarce, and we’re “entering an era of Peak Everything”. Likewise, the London Accord, a group of major investors who originally formed to tackle climate change titled their spring conference for this year “Peak Everything” and centred talk around how “investment” can deal with these challenges.

Flukes? Contrarians? Perhaps. Or maybe canaries. It’s hard to tell.

The problem with any insider economic “doomsaying” is that it can’t get too loud. Even if everyone knows the entire economy is unstable and due to collapse any minute, they can’t make an announcement. This is true for two reasons. First, if you know something that isn’t ‘common knowledge’, as an investor, you stand to make a bundle. Secondly, if you’re respected in those circles, telling others means you risk setting off the collapse yourself – and the more unstable the economy, the higher the chances that something tiny could do it. And so while many know we’re headed for tough times, they’re busy buying up companies and countries behind the scenes, not warning anybody who might actually change the course we’re on.

At some point, however, the writing on the wall becomes clear. With commodities rebounding so fast after the last cataclysmic crash in 2008, as well as most of the major extraction, exploration and production figures a matter of public record, we cannot expect others to simply sit by and parrot the official line. Academics, activists, workers and consumers all have too much to lose from major shortages of resources we’ve become very accustomed to, and if investors can read this data, so can we.

This, too, is starting to become more common. Scientific American published a beautiful interactive web animation last fall, detailing projected timelines, peaks, and milestones for major resources such as metals, water and fossil fuels.

Is “everything” peaking? Well, that depends on how you define “everything” and “peaking”. Oil is not water, which isn’t gold or farmland. Every commodity is different, and generalizations can only take us so far. These processes take decades, even if a few dark days stand out. At some point, we need to stop looking at this as a matter of oil, coal, coltan and helium and start looking at ourselves. If everything is “peaking” at once, it’s either the greatest coincidence of all time, or we’ve got our focus in entirely the wrong place. It isn’t water, land or fuel that’s “peaking”, it’s our use and production of such things. And given the way we use and produce all of these commodities, it isn’t surprising at all. If we’re seeing the same kind of “peak” with every other resource that we’re seeing with oil, it’s because we exploit farmland, water, minerals, fish and forests exactly the same way.

It is traditional in the mainstream press to end on an optimistic note when describing anything remotely Malthusian, with hopes that “the spirit of human innovation” will prevail. And about that, I wholeheartedly agree. But as Einstein pointed out, the types of thinking which get us into problems are seldom the kinds suited to get us out. Innovation and creativity are not limited to commerce, business and industry – and perhaps that realization is the innovation we need.

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