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Economist article this week about faiths investing in the environment

September 3, 2017:

The Economist ERASMUS Column this week features a blog by the magazine's religions correspondent Bruce Clark @bruceclark7 mentioning ARC's Zug event in the context of how the great financial investments controlled by the faiths are increasingly concentrating on positive investments, and divesting from companies which are not good for the environment.

From green theory to contentious green action: How fast should religious investors divest from oil, gas and coal?


BACK in 1988, a modest cleric who was little known outside his home city of Istanbul gave his blessing to an environmental meeting on the Greek island of Patmos, a place associated with a terrifying vision of the apocalypse described in the last book of the Bible. Soon afterwards, Patriarch Dimitrios proposed that September 1st become a yearly day of prayer for the fate of the earth. 

Three decades on, that initiative has been turned into an entire month of eco-spiritual activities, backed by religious leaders who speak for hundreds of millions of people. It has been taken up by the World Council of Churches, grouping 345 religious bodies, and the Vatican. And in the process, lofty theological theory has been combined with a new emphasis on concrete, and often highly contentious, forms of action. 

This year, a ringing denunciation of human abuse of the planet was issued jointly on September 1st by Pope Francis and Bartholomew I, the better-known successor of Dimitrios as Patriarch of Constantinople, a post which enjoys “primacy of honour” in the eastern Christian world.  

Deftly mixing concern for the earth with concern for humanity, the two leaders said:

"It won’t stop there. On October 29th, high-powered faith-based investors will gather in the Swiss town of Zug to consider how they can move from merely avoiding “bad” financial commitments to putting their money in places where it will do environmental good as well as grow. Given the billions of dollars in assets (land and buildings as well as pension and investment funds) that religions control, their effect on the planet comes at least as much through their actions as their galvanising words." 
The human environment and the natural environment are deteriorating together, and this deterioration of the planet weighs upon the most vulnerable of its people. The impact of climate change affects, first and foremost, those who live in poverty in every corner of the globe.

What activists are now calling the “season of creation” will conclude on October 4th which is the day of Saint Francis of Assisi, from whom the pontiff takes his name. There will be an announcement by various Christian organisations around the world about further moves to withdraw their investments from fossil fuels. 

It won’t stop there. On October 29th, high-powered faith-based investors will gather in the Swiss town of Zug to consider how they can move from merely avoiding “bad” financial commitments to putting their money in places where it will do environmental good as well as grow.  

Given the billions of dollars in assets (land and buildings as well as pension and investment funds) that religions control, their effect on the planet comes at least as much through their actions as their galvanising words. 

But what actions, exactly? Even among those who concur that it’s a good idea to shift as fast as possible to a fossil-free global economy, there is much disagreement on how to encourage that. 

Justin Welby, the archbishop who leads the 85m-strong Anglican Communion as well as England’s state church, is among those who favours a gradual approach. In May it was announced that he had helped persuade a global asset management company, BMO, to scale down progressively its involvement with fossil-fuel extraction.

But to the dismay of radical climate activists, his own church and its financial managers insist that using their influence, and shares, to parley with energy companies is better than complete and instant withdrawal. As a representative of the Church of England pension fund put it, economists expect that “fossil fuels will continue to be an important component in the global energy mix for several more decades.” So the aim should be to nudge the sector in the right direction.

Militant greens, including religious ones, remain unconvinced. The fact that religious people are arguing rather loudly about how to be good global citizens is probably a healthy sign. It means that the inspiring words of prelates, priests and patriarchs are filtering down to a place where finite resources have to be allocated and hard choices have to be made: the terrain where we all live.      

Read the article on The Economist website



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