Discover more from ESG on a Sunday
Week 43: Climate change is a spiritual crisis
In this issue: ▸ Spirituality and climate change ▸ Learning from the Sámi’s Indigenous spirituality ▸ The profiting human aspect ▸ And much more...
For weeks, I have been dwelling on a topic. Been thinking about its importance, evaluating different aspects. Even rejecting it completely since I could not frame it in the context of what we are facing.
For every day that passed, it was growing in me, tying me down, flipping my thoughts, provoking me, sometimes even laughing at me.
I did not give in, and I decided to give it a try and see where it brings me.
Spirituality and climate change
In the place we are right now, we need all the help we can get to transform our consciousness. We are facing so many, deeply complex, interconnected challenges. Split vision realities, conflicts of wants and needs. Responsibilities and accountabilities, politics and economy, individualism and collectivism.
But what is the spiritual meaning of all of this?
Every human being has a spirituality. You have a spirituality. It is the expression of your deepest beliefs about our planet and your place in it. Body and soul. A combination that makes us who we are.
That spiritual touch in the structured reality that most of us like to rationalise in order to cope with the unknown. With that spiritual touch, we feel, fear and hope.
The soul is what pulls the cart, a Buddhist would say. Without a basic starting point in the soul, even just a sincere wish to lead a better life, our efforts at enhancing our well-being are unlikely to succeed, even if we have all of the right external circumstances.
Climate change is a deeply spiritual challenge. It points at a complex and real dissonance in us. It is as much about our collective beliefs as it is about our ability to transform beliefs into actions.
We need to strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family.
Our concepts of a life, are they giving us what we really need?
There is very little written on spirituality and climate change, and what there is, is limited.
Humanity’s very survival depends upon our capacity to make a major transition of consciousness, equal in significance to earlier transitions from nomadic to agricultural, agricultural to industrial and industrial to technological.
We must transit to complementarity in place of competition, convergence in place of conflict, holism in place of hedonism, optimization in place of maximization.
Learning from the Sámi’s Indigenous spirituality
The pursuit of a better world is an eternal, fundamental calling of humanity and their society. It is the pursuit of a better human life, better existence for the human being, to make human lives and the world better.
Many Indigenous peoples today have highly specialised knowledge systems. In order to learn how to interpret these nuanced knowledge systems, one needs to grow into those cultures. These information systems include inherited local knowledge of the environments and how to cope in them.
The Sámi are recognised as the Indigenous peoples in Finland, Norway and Sweden. In addition to these Nordic countries, the Sámi also live in Russia.
It can be said that the Sámi’s Indigenous spirituality contributes to their luck in fishing and hunting and, in that way, a broader understanding of a good life. The understanding of a good life is thus tied to livelihoods, and livelihoods are tied to the environment.
In the Sámi’s view of life, the environment is not an empty natural resource destination to go to and take from. Instead, when settling in the environment, the Sámi ask for permission for their own ecological survival.
For example, a Sámi may request permission to cut down a particular tree, catch fish from a lake or stay overnight in nature to ensure that when they stay in the terrain, they do not interfere with the passages of earth spirits.
Read more in this piece from the Goethe-Institut.
The profiting human aspect
Capitalism is an economic system which in today’s world can be better described as the dominance of the economic system over the political system and society.
However, more essentially for the human being and their society, capitalism is a social tendency, a profiting social tendency.
The profit motive, as a driving force and a social archetype, has established a profiting tendency in society. People are born with the tendency being already there, people die and the tendency remains. It is not about specific people, or any number of people. This tendency has considerable weight and an influence on society and is actuating to it.
A social tendency can motivate people and promote specific human aspects. People have aspects and follow or choose directions, which are also influenced by social factors and components.
Society, in the way it is structured, nourishes and empowers to a great extent the profiting human aspect. Capitalism is the dominance of the profiting aspect of the human being in their society and the world, as a social tendency, the profiting social tendency.
Market economy as an economic system is not the problem per se. In general, economic freedom is something that corresponds to a free society.
Individual initiative, also contained in individual expression, produces and offers many benefits to society, but it should be accompanied by the inspiration of social consciousness to the members of society, by combating profiteering both institutionally and consciously in society, and also by ensuring that human, individual, workers’, social and environmental rights are not violated.
Why a price on carbon matters more than ever
Back to the not-so-spiritual world. Carbon prices are politically and practically difficult to introduce, but that does not mean governments should not try.
The power of price signals is that they can redirect capital flows – and this matters deeply now. After all, one dirty secret that will haunt the Glasgow talks is that notwithstanding the recent political hullabaloo about whether or not rich countries will fulfil their $100bn aid pledge, this pot of public money is small change when set against the trillions of dollars that will be needed each year to help the world decarbonise.
Thus while the $100bn target matters for moral and political reasons, what is more important in a practical sense is what happens to the world’s estimated $100tn investable capital.
Read more here.
ESG returns driven by inflow
Meanwhile in ESG “La La Land”, research from the Swiss Finance Institute argues that stocks highly rated on ESG metrics have outperformed in recent years all thanks to the trillions of dollars flooding the sector.
But not – and that’s the main point here – thanks to the fundamentals of socially responsible investing. These fundamentals have played no role in driving the returns.
Under the absence of flow-driven price pressure, the aggregate ESG industry would have strongly underperformed the market from 2016 to 2021. Furthermore, the positive alpha of a long-short ESG taste portfolio becomes significantly negative.
Read more here.
Very few Big Oil climate targets ‘have meaning’
Big Oil CEOs can no longer express doubt that burning of fossil fuels is a large contributor to climate change.
Former BP CEO John Browne was way ahead of his time, though, as an oil CEO making renewable energy investments and reducing greenhouse gas emissions over 25 years ago.
As oil executives testified before U.S. Congress about climate change, Browne said that the big picture hasn’t really changed – at least not nearly enough to achieve carbon reduction goals.
“I wish the oil industry had done something about this 25 years ago,” Browne, now BeyondNetZero Chair, said at the CNBC ESG Impact summit on Thursday.
The rest of us wish that too.
Democracy before ESG
This article one is a must-read for anyone interested in real ESG.
As you will know, institutional investors are increasingly applying ESG criteria in their portfolio decisions. Yet as important as these factors are, they pale in comparison to the question of whether a business is engaged in the dirty business of dark-money political influence.
The new focus on ESG risks obscuring an even bigger issue: the role that corporations play in the democratic process. And Democracy with capital D comes before ESG.
Your ESG fund might be invested in Facebook
I wrote about this some time ago (here), and the topic of investing in Facebook and sustainability is getting more and more attention.
As it turns out, your ESG fund might be invested in Facebook. And it highlights a major issue with sustainable investing.
Read more here.
That’s all for now and I wish you a nice spiritual Sunday!
PS: Our book “Where The Money Tree Grows” is gaining more and more attention. Please let us know if you have read it, and don’t hesitate to share your views and comments.