The Papal Encyclical “Laudato si’ mi’ Signore” on climate change opens up a new dialogue for people of faith about our relationship to creation. Pope Francis engages us in a conversation about who we are created to be, how we are called into relationship with one another, and how we must work together to sustain a living planet that will thrive in God’s image. He encourages us to draw on our Christian understanding of our Creator God with our Mother Earth, our Sister in creation. But he also speaks universally about joining together in a humanism that brings together the different fields of knowledge to develop an integrated vision of a sustainable world, an economy, and human family that will thrive as a system and celebrate the unique beauty of each individual plant, animal and person.
While Pope Francis deplores our individual behaviors – ever increasing consumerism and our throw-away tendencies – he focuses sharply on the need to reform our economic systems.
“The economy accepts every advance in technology with a view to profit, without concern for its potentially negative impact on human beings,” he wrote. “Finance overwhelms the real economy. The lessons of the global financial crisis have not been assimilated, and we are learning all too slowly the lessons of environmental deterioration. Some circles maintain that current economics and technology will solve all environmental problems, and argue, in popular and non-technical terms, that the problems of global hunger and poverty will be resolved simply by market growth.”
The Pope’s action plan includes policy work to address environmental degradation and the rising tide of poverty around the globe and simultaneously he calls for the reform of capital markets—confronting “[the] magical conception of the market, which would suggest that problems can be solved simply by an increase in the profits of companies or individuals.”As people of faith, and as individuals who share a common humanity, we can participate in policy advocacy as members of families, congregations, neighborhoods, cities and countries. But we can also participate as financial actors – engaging our individual investments, our collective pension assets, our institutional endowments and our public treasuries to change the ways that capital markets function.
Religious investors have long been on the forefront of socially responsible investing, excluding investments that harm people and the environment and engaging with the companies they own (through shareholder dialogues and proxy votes) towards more sustainable business practices. Pope Francis now calls on all investors and market participants to follow their lead. This is no longer a niche of economic activity for values-driven investors. This is a moral and financial imperative for all of us. The Pope points out that in reforming our economic systems, we would be striving “to promote a sustainable and equitable development within the context of a broader concept of quality of life.”
Laudate si’ challenges, encourages, implores us all to participate in this spirit-filled work, engaging our innermost selves and changing our individual and institutional practices in the world, including our business, financial and investment decisions. As such, it adds a powerful and urgent moral, ethical, and spiritual imperative to current efforts to control climate change and to build a sustainable global economy that will support and sustain this and future generations.
The Rev. Kirsten Snow Spalding is Priest in Charge of the Episcopal Church of the Nativity in the Diocese of California and Director of Investor Programs for Ceres (email@example.com)