Our Common Home: Laudato Sí – Chapter 1: Our Present Reality

Pope Francis reminds us that:

  • We cannot fail to consider the effects on people’s lives of environmental deterioration, current models of development and the throwaway culture in which we live.
  • We can no longer sweep under the carpet the questions that are troubling us today:
  1. Pollution: Hundreds of millions of tons of toxic radioactive waste flood our life systems each year.
  2. Warming of the climate: Its effect is accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level, threatening the most vulnerable of all living systems, human and otherwise.
  3. Water poverty: It prevails in the poorest nations where large sectors of the population have no access to safe drinking water.
  4. Loss of biodiversity: Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know again.
  5. Breakdown of human society: “Progress” has not led to an integral development and an improvement in the quality of life.
  6. Global inequality: A true ecological approach always integrates questions of justice with concerns for the environment so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.

Implications and Challenges

  • Our current “throwaway culture” affects the entire planet and has implications for our own lives.
  • We need to strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family. There are no frontiers or barriers, political or social, behind which we can hide; still less is there room for the globalization of indifference.
  • We can see signs that things are now reaching a breaking point due to the rapid pace of change and degradation. The present world system is certainly unsustainable.

Response – Reflect, Discuss, Pray, Act 

“Hope would have us recognize that there is always a way out, that we can always redirect our steps and that we can always do something to solve our problems.”

  • Do I recognize the “throwaway culture” in my own experience? How do I buy in? How do I resist?
  • How do I understand the notion “the climate is a common good?”
  • What specific efforts am I / are we making to respond to the seriousness of the threat to Our Common Home?
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Our Common Home: Laudato Sí – Pope Francis’ Introduction

  • I wish to address every person living on this planet . . . to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home.
  • There is an urgent need for a radical change in the conduct of humanity.
  • We are called to acknowledge “our contribution, smaller or greater, to the disfigurement and destruction of creation.”
  • “ We are asked “to replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing . . .”

St. Francis “shows us how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society and interior peace.”

  • The Book of Creation: “rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.”
  • “I urgently appeal for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. . . . [Where] all of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation ….”
  • I will point to the intimate relationship between
    • The poor and the fragility of the planet,
    • The conviction that everything in the world is connected
    • The critique of the new paradigms and forms of power derived from technology
    • The call to seek other ways of understanding the economy and progress
    • The value proper to each creature
    • The human meaning of ecology
    • The need for forthright and honest debate
    • The serious responsibility of international and local policy
    • The throwaway culture and the proposal of a new lifestyle

Our Reality

This study of “Our Common Home” continues the Chapter Directional Statement of 2003:

“We the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael commit ourselves to study and promote those sustainable values implicit in the recognition of our place in the community of creation.

  • Respect and care for the Community of Life.
  • Ecological integrity
  • Social and economic justice
  • A world-wide culture of tolerance, non-violence and peace

This requires a change of mind and heart. It requires a new sense of global interdependence and universal responsibility.”

Points to Ponder/Our Challenge

Sisters, are we ready to engage on behalf of “Our Common Home?” For Pope Francis himself is leading the way.

Let us each ask ourselves as we ponder the introduction and subsequent chapters of the encyclical:

  • With what do I resonate?
  • What disturbs me?
  • What additional study and information do I need?
  • Am I willing to commit myself to Francis’ universal call by prayer, deeper study and reflection and personal change?
  • Am I willing to engage in communal conversation on the implications of the encyclical?
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Climate Finance as an Investment Option

logo-cop-21-carr-After the COP21 Climate Negotiations in Paris, we would like to discuss the role of Dominican Sisters in responding to climate change, particularly how we begin to implement the recent DSC commitment to explore and advance climate finance within our own investment portfolios. Dominican Sisters in the U.S. have long worked at the intersection of climate change and our financial system, starting with shareholder engagement in the late 1980’s. We have worked faithfully through the decades with major carbon polluters across multiple sectors, including electric utilities, automotive companies, and oil and gas companies. This work has yielded major breakthroughs, with automotive companies Ford and GM turning from climate denial to science-based greenhouse gas reduction goals, and traditional coal utilities opening to solar, wind and energy storage. Much work remains, especially with the oil and gas sector, to move towards a low-carbon future.

About two years ago, Dominican Sisters and other members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility began adding “climate finance” – direct financing of solutions to climate change—to our socially responsible investing strategy. Unlike community investing, climate finance primarily involves market rates of return, but in a similar way to community investing entails a conscious choice to seek out both financial and social or environmental returns on investment. Research at the organization Ceres popularized the “Clean Trillion” concept, which refers to the amount of financing needed each year for climate solutions like clean energy, energy efficiency, sustainable infrastructure, and sustainable land management. Recognizing the gap in financing – hundreds of billions of dollars per year—we began to explore how we could contribute to climate finance.

This exploration encouraged by the Earth Council and the Justice Committee of the Dominican Sisters in Committed Collaboration, resulted in a study day sponsored by the Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment in June 2013, which featured three speakers discussing opportunities to invest in climate solutions. This was followed by a day-long national climate finance roundtable at ICCR, organized primarily by the Tri-State Coalition. The roundtable included three panels, including perspectives from CFOs, investment consultants, analysts, and asset managers on the challenges and opportunities of investing in climate solutions across asset classes. The day also featured a “clearinghouse” in which around a dozen financial managers offered educational materials on their approaches to climate finance. Videos from this event are available from Tri-CRI and are a valuable resource for our Congregations.

After reflection, study and education the 19 congregations of the Dominican Sisters Conference all committed in October 2015 to developing an “appropriate strategy to promote investment in climate solutions.” This commitment reflects a social mission to provide needed capital to transition to a low-carbon economy, but coming just months before the Paris COP21 Climate Conference, it also represented a prescient investment thesis: the worldwide economy is decarbonizing at an increasingly rapid pace, presenting significant opportunities for profitable investment, but cautions that poor and indigenous communities, and the earth herself must hold a priority position in receiving benefits.

COP21 established the clear market signals and political will needed to move the investment agenda on climate solutions forward. While advocates of climate justice, may not have found that COP21 was a complete success, the outcomes and agreement from 195 countries to this global framework are monumental. The key outcomes of the conference, including a long-term goal to limit global warming well below 2 degrees C, a “ratchet” mechanism to increase ambition every 5 years, and a framework for transparency, monitoring and verification, cement this investment thesis. Michael Liebrich, head of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, summed up the implications of Paris for investors and businesses:

Paris is not posturing. Paris is not the world saying it wishes it weren’t trapped in an abusive relationship with the fossil fuel industry; Paris is the world’s economy serving divorce papers. […] a key point has passed, an irreversible process has started. Which sensible businessperson or investor can ignore the clear signal?

After Paris, climate risk for investors is a short-term consideration. The influential investment consultant firm Mercer has now added the question “What is our approach to climate change?” to its 2016 to-do list for investors. BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, concurs, stating that “The Paris summit sent a powerful signal to the private sector that the global economy is moving toward a low-carbon world,” and global markets seemed to validate this, with stocks in solar, wind, and biofuels all surging after Paris.

Actualizing the Paris climate accord will require trillions of dollars in investment, and alongside the provisions of the Paris agreement itself, national governments, multilateral banks, and the private sector all made significant finance commitments in Paris. Amid all this mainstream investor enthusiasm, there is a responsibility among us, poised to consider the priorities looming before us, including for example the needs of indigenous communities, to ensure that financing goes where it will have great impact for communities and where it is critically needed. On the public side, national governments and multilateral development banks pledged $41 billion in new funding for climate mitigation and adaptation, greatly increasing North-South and South-South finance flows. This will substantially contribute to the commitment enshrined in the Paris Agreement for $100 billion in annual North-South climate finance by 2020. Additionally, governments of key developing nations, such as India and the nations of Africa, made substantial commitments to renewable energy, opening up significant investment opportunities. India unveiled a 120 country solar alliance to help mobilize financing for solar energy access for the poor, and India itself committed to install 175gigawatts of renewable energy by 2022, compared to a current electric grid of 300 gigawatts. Meanwhile the heads of African nations launched the African Renewable Energy Initiative, which aims for 300 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2030, which is twice the size of Africa’s current electric grid.

Beyond the opportunities of today’s technologies, new private and public sector commitments to energy innovation made in Paris represent major investment opportunities. On the public side, 18 countries including the United States committed to doubling public clean energy innovation funding, in an initiative called Mission Innovation. Closely connected to this is a private sector initiative called the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, led by Bill Gates, which will invest billions in innovative clean energy companies. A number of other high profile climate finance commitments by institutional investors, such as New York State’s commitment to move $2 billion to a new low-carbon fund, were announced at Paris, and in the lead up to Paris corporations with market capitalization of $7 trillion supported American Business Acts on Climate, an initiative of the Obama administration to support the Paris Agreement. Already, new investment products are emerging after Paris, including a sustainable Exchange Traded Fund (ETF) from Blackrock and the securitization of off-grid solar in Africa, allowing investors to buy project bonds that will help finance the 300 gigawatt commitment of the African continent. These opportunities will only expand in the coming months, especially as domestic policy decisions, such as the extension of the Investment Tax Credit for Solar and Wind in the US, cement the gains made in Paris. Nonetheless, as faith based investors, we need to be cognizant of the needs that will not be met and commit ourselves to direct our capital in those directions.

Moving forward, Dominican Congregations can channel their climate finance pledges into these new opportunities, or expand and focus their community investment commitments to climate adaptation and mitigation. Now is the time for investment committees and CFOs to actively educate themselves on climate finance, and to demand the same of their investment consultants and managers. Luckily, opportunities for climate finance span all asset classes, including public and private equity, mutual funds, venture capital, fixed income, real assets, and beyond. Numerous resources have been developed to guide investors on their journey. The task now is for each congregation to determine how their portfolio can capitalize on these opportunities within comfortable risk parameters. Paris has unleashed trillions of dollars of climate finance opportunities over the coming decades, and with the Dominican Sisters’ commitment we can be part of the solution.

IGF012-patricia-daly-opPatricia A. Daly, OP / Executive Director
Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment
40 South Fullerton Avenue  Montclair, NJ  07042

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Beyond COP21

The summit is behind us, but the work of the summit is before us. Our name has changed to Paris 2015 and Beyond . . .

As soon as we have the link, we will post the link to the Live Stream that our delegates to Paris presented on January 21st, along with powerpoints and documents.

Next our committee will regroup and determine how we will move the agenda forward.

So, stay tuned!

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Will the World Be Saved By Beauty?

One of the most compelling events we have attended here in Paris has been the International Tribunal on the Rights of Nature. Elise García, OP has done a fine job reporting on this in the Global Sisters Report. I have little to add to what Elise has already captured – other than to emphasize the importance of this concept. The divide between those making decisions regarding the future sustainability of life on this planet, and those who are deeply in tune with the rhythms and the wisdom of the natural world is simply breathtaking. Two pieces of wisdom have been ringing through my thoughts these days, as we have witnessed impassioned pleas on behalf of the sacredness of Earth and all who inhabit her, along with the intransigence of governments/corporations to consider Earth as a living system. The first is from Albert Einstein:  “You cannot solve a problem from the same level of consciousness that created it.” The second is from Dostoevsky:  “The world will be saved by beauty.” Years ago Thomas Berry reminded us that part of the Great Work we are called to entails retrieving the wisdom of both women and Indigenous peoples. It is this wisdom that has prevailed in civil society venues; it is this wisdom that the negotiators seem to resist. But it is the energy of this wisdom and its abiding appreciation for the beauty of all of life which will ultimately bring about the transformational shift that is needed.

What is abundantly clear is that an appreciation for the beauty of Earth does not drive decision makers. We do not harm that which we love. We do not shamelessly exploit that which we love. Which begs the question for each of us – do we love our common home? Does Earth and all her inhabitants offer us a mirror into God’s extravagant love for us and for all creatures?

If we love our one common home, we must realize that COP21 is not the final word in terms of our common future. In fact, its outcome may continue to contribute to the shameless exploitation of the beauty of the natural world and our diminishment as well. So in the end, will the world be saved by beauty? The answer to this question depends upon each one of us, and just how willing we are to be steadfast in our efforts to dismantle the government supported corporate machine that continues to operate out of an outdated paradigm that gives pride of place to economic growth. So as COP21 draws to a close, a new phase of our work is about to begin.

–Margaret Mayce, OP (NGO Representative to the United Nations)

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Earth Rights = Human Rights

According to the recent article by Elise Garcia, OP,  to Global Sisters’ Report at National Catholic Reporter (NCR) 

A groundbreaking study examining 100 incidents of co-violations of human rights and rights of nature was released Dec. 3 at a COP21 civil-society presentation. The report highlighted a growing trend linking violations of rights of people and rights of nature, underscoring the reality that the well-being of humans and nature is inextricably linked.

iuCertainly Earth Rights are Human Rights and Human Rights are Earth Rights. To read the article in its entirety, please go to: http://globalsistersreport.org/blog/capital-e-earth/environment/study-released-cop21-illustrates-link-between-human-rights-natures


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Paris Climate Summit – Civil Society Events

Yesterday was a full day of civil society events. We attended sessions on Global Inequalities and the Environment; an Interfaith Dialogue on Climate, Sustainability and Resiliency; and Fasting for Climate Justice. All were very informative and inspiring, but I couldn’t help but feel that the ones who really needed to hear the message were in the UN Delegates’ Blue Zone negotiating the future of the planet. Negotiations are now in process, with these crucial points on the table for discussion:

  • A ceiling of 1.5 degrees C in terms of average global temperature rise.
  • Finances and technology to be made available, with no strings attached, for those countries who lack the resources to deal with the negative impact of climate change.
  • Whether or not the Paris outcome will be a binding agreement.

You may have read in the press that President Obama gave a forceful and impassioned intervention on the need for a positive outcome to the Paris talks. The dilemma, of course, is that Congress has already indicated their utter lack of support for a 2 degree or 1.5 degree ceiling. This is not surprising, in that they receive enormous support from the fossil fuel industries in the United States. In some way, then, this seems to indicate for us our ongoing work:  to keep pressuring Congress to place the common good of people and planet ahead of their narrow partisan perspective.

In an effort to make sure our civil society voices were heard, the Dominicans present in Paris sent off a brief statement to the Delegates of the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The statement can be accessed below.

–Margaret Mayce, OP (NGO Representative to the United Nations)

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