Impact Investing with ESG Filters

 

skyline photography of buildings

Photo by Sanaan Mazhar on Pexels.com

A few years ago there were not many options for climate impact investing. But things have evolved. There is a Dow Jones Sustainability ranking for most large companies. The bigger financial firms have developed a wide range of screening protocols for a whole host of environmental, social, and governance parameters (ESG). And there is a ‘divestment from fossil fuels’ initiative expanding across the country from the board rooms of our most prestigious universities and corporations to your average citizen. You might want to look at investments through a ‘climate lens’ as you plan for the long term health of your family and your portfolio – especially as you restructure your investment strategy during this pandemic.

I suggest that you read: citing-climate-change-blackrock-will-start-moving-away-from-fossil-fuels. People want good returns and they no longer trust fossil fuel companies or firms who aren’t planning and helping to create a more sustainable future.

There is also a big move toward rebuilding our country from the coronavirus impacts in a way that will make us more resilient and better prepared for the looming climate challenges. Check out recent actions by over 300 businesses.

There is also a trend among the baby-boomers who want to have an impact with their investments. As a group they represent the greatest transfer of wealth of all time. Just think what they could accomplish if their funds were funneled in the right way. Some of the largest Wall Street firms are trying to meet this demand. For example, look at the strategy of Morgan Stanley. institute-for-sustainable-investing. We as consumers and investors can have a great deal of influence on which businesses we support and which ones we choose not to support. I try to consider these impacts every time I spend a dollar – whether it is purchasing something or where I invest. Just think of the impact we might have on shaping  the future if we all did this.

Social Justice and Climate Change

smokestacksAs I mentioned in my May 12, 2020 blog, the people who are hurt the most from pollution and the impacts from our changing climate are often people with the least means to avoid these problems. People who live downstream or downwind from an ‘out of compliance’ manufacturing site or power plant have the most exposure to air and water pollution, and they are without the financial resources to move to a more expensive but cleaner area. They may benefit from the power generated or commercial goods produced, but they often suffer most from the exposure to toxic chemicals. This is one good reason that we have regulations and why we need to enforce these regulations at all times. The costs of good environmental regulation has proven to be far less than the health and economic benefits that we all gain.

Caring for the environment may seem like a luxury to some because it takes time, money, knowledge, and political power to clean things up and keep them clean. The exposure to toxic chemicals has been made worse by the practice of redlining in many parts of the country. Redlining is the systematic denial of various services by government agencies and the private sector to residents of specific neighborhoods – most notably black and brown communities. This is done either directly or through the selective raising of prices. Just think how these historic and current practices make things worse for some sectors of our population. Here are a few ways that people who are trapped in poor areas suffer more than the rest of us when it comes to the wide-ranging impacts of a changing climate.

Health impacts in poor areas:

  1. Existing social, health, infrastructure, food supply, and housing vulnerabilities in poor areas will impact residents’ ability to respond in the face of a changing climate.
  2. Weather – Major rain storms threaten all of us but especially people living in low-lying areas with inadequate and poorly maintained stormwater, sewage, transportation, and electrical infrastructure.
  3. Air Quality – Coal, oil, and natural gas fired power plants and manufacturing facilities are often located in or near poor areas. They can emit toxins, e.g., coal plants often emit mercury, arsenic, lead, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide.
  4. Higher temperatures are exacerbated by the ‘Heat Island Affect’, and our cities often lack the cooling and cleaning benefits of a forested area. This leads to higher temperatures and greater risk of heat stroke, COPD, heart attack, and premature death.
  5. Increased heat and ozone levels result in more asthma attacks and hospitalization.
  6. Extreme heat and extreme precipitation events increase the risk of salmonella infections.
  7. Mental Health – Greater impacts result from repeated exposures and climatic events.

For further information, I would recommend resources from EcoAmerica. They have an entire climate and health program. Climate Justice Alliance is also a good resource for climate and social justice concerns.

 

 

 

In times of stress, take action!

In times of stress, many of our wounds come to the forefront. The best solutions to stress are to take action and to take care of yourself and your neighbors – all of them.

Action – Lets do whatever we can to:

  1. confront our racial inequities, xenophobia, and other institutional and personal oppressions.
  2. support our health professionals and follow their advice.
  3. keep moving forward on reducing fossil fuel emissions and creating a more stable climate.

Please take actions today on each of these fronts. We all need to act, each and every day.

 

Mental Health – And make sure you are taking time out for your own mental health by going outside.

Here are some of my favorite walking location suggestions in Howard County that may be of value to you.

Here are some great places to visit.

Here are some of my favorite walking locations in Maryland.

Here are my favorite kid-friendly camping grounds.

 

It’s a balance between helping others and keeping strong and in touch with the Earth.

Vote With a Climate Lens

 

 

flag of america

Photo by Sharefaith on Pexels.com

The most important step you can take for the climate is to exercise your vote. We get the opportunity to do this at a local, state and national level during primary, special, and general elections.  We all need to decide for ourselves how important the climate issue will be in our future and how important it is that we take the right actions now. We need to elect people at all levels who understand this and who are willing to work together to meet this challenge. They will need crisis management and strategic planning skills and not just respond with too little, too late.

Climate, like Covid-19, has a huge impact on our economic health, public health, and national security. One of the biggest impacts will be on our agricultural sector which will impact us all on a daily and seasonal basis. Agriculture also offers a key opportunity to manage/slow down climate warming by sequestering carbon. We need to be doing this and many other things now. So it is key to have our politician’s support and leadership on climate issues at all levels at all times. They need to be looking at all the decisions they make through a climate lens.

At the recent World Economic Forum, the 750 delegates from all around the world said that not controlling the warming of the planet is the greatest danger we face as a civilization. This is clearly not just a Democrat or Republican issue. Everyone needs to be part of the solution and not just continue kicking the ball down the field until it is too late and future generations have few choices except to suffer.

So I ask you to start looking at everything you do through a climate lens as well. Vote for those leaders with the strongest climate commitments. Support them during the race and then stay with them as closely as you can, celebrating the wins and encouraging continuous attention. Always clap and send letters of support when they mention the climate challenges and solutions. We’ve got to keep this issue front and center. The climate crisis can only be solved by electing the right people and implementing the right plan. It is complicated because as our climate moves out of the Goldilocks zone that we have all evolved within, the changes will impact everything we do.

Make sure you and your friends are registered and then make sure you vote.

Traffic Jams

img_8456I could not believe my eyes. Traffic has increased – already! I was just out for an essential errand – food – and the empty roads are no more. There were also 20 cars at the roadside market that we support. The beauty of having the road and the stores to myself is gone. And I was just getting to like a slower pace to my life.

 

I was surprised that people are in that much of a hurry to be flooding the highways so quickly. Thank you, Governor Hogan for lighting up the highway signs “Stay home. Stay safe. Essential jobs only.”

 

No, the traffic was nothing like the old days, but it was bad enough to bring back awful memories of fighting traffic every day between 7 and 9 am and 4 and 7pm. It was more like nightmares – that is as clear as I can be. How could we accept putting ourselves at that level of risk and anxiety on every work day. I’ve been wondering about that and whether all of us will go right back to that sort of chaos and risk. It seems like we will. I hope that we all will consider the following questions before we do.

 

  1. What are our options?
  2. Why don’t we live closer to where we work?
  3. Why don’t more of us work from home?
  4. Why don’t we take mass transit?
  5. Why don’t we work on flex hours to avoid the traffic?
  6. Why do we put ourselves and others at risk – every day?
  7. Why do we spend all that money on cars, insurance, and fuel, and all that time on the roads?

 

Of course, the answers to these questions vary a lot – and I get it. But they are questions we should be asking ourselves and our county, state, and regional planners. We could re-engineer how we live and work in light of the virus and the looming challenges of climate change. After all, the transportation sector is the one area that contributes the most Greenhouse Gasses to the atmosphere and an area where we can dramatically lower those emissions if we do one or more of the items above.

 

So, take a moment and reflect on whether you want to go back to the way things were. Let’s change these bad habits and spend our time and money on making the future better for all of us.

Health and Climate

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Healthy kid playing outside 2020

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to serve on the Horizon Foundation Board. It is a health philanthropy that evaluates the main health concerns facing our county and helps drive better health outcomes based on the best data available and the latest research. It was a humbling and very informative process that opened my eyes to the complexity and challenges of trying to improve our general health and to prepare for health emergencies such as pandemics and even the impacts of a changing climate as best as we can.

 

Working with Horizon was also pivotal in my understanding of social justice. The data strongly show that people of lower economical means suffer the most and do not have equal access to quality health services. I’ve learned through my research that this is equally true when it comes to the health impacts of a changing climate. People with less means often live in the more threatened parts of our community… along areas that might flood, downstream from waste disposal areas and fossil fuel power plants, and in densely populated areas that may suffer the most from the infestation, breeding,  and spread of insects, diseases, and viruses. They often don’t have the means to control, move, or escape these conditions.

 

If you have further interest in learning more about the potential health challenges of our changing climate, I recommend that you read the Lancet Commission Report on Health and Climate Change. It has two main conclusions that I found invaluable and would like to share with you:

  1. Anthropogenic climate change threatens to undermine the past 50 years of gains in public health. I find this quite sobering realizing the major advances we have made as a society during my lifetime. It is hard to picture the magnitude of the impacts that would send us back 50 years. I find the following corollary to this conclusion promising and a clear call to action that we all should be able to follow.

  2. A comprehensive response to climate change could be “the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century”.

I hope we can all take the time to consider these conclusions in light of the pandemic and redouble our efforts to work together to make a future where fewer people suffer because of our actions and not one where more people suffer because of our lack of action.

The World was Different 50 Years Ago…

imagesI spent a lot of time over the past two weeks on Earth Day events – most of it virtual. It was so different than any of the previous ones that I had been involved with. There was a lot of online activity, a great amount of learning, and a lot of strategizing for what needs to be done this year while fighting the corona virus. I hope it all proves to be as effective as the first Earth Day 50 years ago.

In looking at these two events, I realized that there are many cultural differences between 1970 and now, and between the youth of the seventies and the youth today. I thought it might be interesting to create a short list that might get you thinking on how our culture is so different today and what that might mean for meeting the challenges ahead.

The First Earth Day occurred in a very different environment. Sure there are a lot of similarities between 1970 and 2020, such as political and economic turmoil across the country and colleges shutting down. I remember being quite concerned for the future of our country at that time as I am today. But let’s stop for a moment and consider how different life was back then relative to today.

Our everyday behaviors in 1970

  • we wrote letters (in cursive), it cost money to send them, and they took 3-5 days to arrive
  • long distance phone calls were the exception since they cost so much
  • we typed school papers on a manual typewriter with a real carbon copy
  • I had never flown on an airplane or taken a train until my twenties
  • I had no need for a car living on a college campus
  • I had only a handful of friends and none of them were “online friends”
  • I used a Slide Rule – there were no individual computers
  • I had to resort to an encyclopedia to find answers I could trust
  • shopping required a trip to lots of little specialty stores – but less packaging and shipping
  • We grew and canned a lot of our food
  • I never had a carry-out dinner except for steamed crabs
  • our news came from a limited number of sources – TV, radio, a daily newspaper, and weekly magazines
  • being drafted for an controversial war was a real issue for many young men

Our environmental impacts in 1970

  • no curbside recycling in my area except for milk bottles – stores would pay for glass beer or soda bottle returns
  • we burned trash in our backyard – there was no trash pickup
  • we got rid of waste oil and extra pesticides by dumping them in the ground
  • we repaired most items when they broke
  • we planted natural fences of multi-flora rose – a big mistake
  • we rotated crops, planted cover crops, and built our own bio-retention facilities
  • people smoked everywhere: restaurants, in cars, on planes, and at conferences, etc.
  • we did not have AC in our homes, or cars, or my dorm – we opened windows
  • we rarely did long trips
  • we planted 30,000 trees and cut our own wood to heat our house

You may have a different list, but the point here is that along with technology and consumption, people and their behaviors have also changed. In Saving the Places We Love, I discuss how our American culture has changed continuously over the past 150 years. It’s a fascinating story. There is hope.

So take a look at your life right now and picture what you can do to help change our behaviors and our culture going forward. We need to change our culture to one that is more protective of our environment and the health of future generations. Maybe you could become a climate champion. We all need to act locally and globally. I hope some of these blogs will help you find opportunities where you can contribute in a meaningful way. I wish you the best.

How to Respond to a Crisis

IMG_8933Like most of you, I’ve been trying to get my hands around how humans should respond to a crisis and what roles each of us plays in the process both as individuals and collectively. Since the beginning of the Covid-19 affair, I have asked my partner and my friends almost on a daily basis, “What should we be doing?” To answer that question, we have used a mix of information, risk assessment strategies, and experience from past stressful situations.

My first action has been to find sources I can trust. In this case doctors and nurses who understand infectious diseases and national experts from Hopkins, Harvard, CDC, etc. I have also referred to economic and business professionals (Morgan Stanley, Bloomberg and Forbes) and my own business networks for assessing a broad range of factors on how and when businesses should open again. These sources have relied heavily on lessons learned from previous pandemics and from other countries who are ahead of us and who have been more successful in dealing with the spread of the coronavirus.

I have also looked back at other tumultuous periods of time to gain some perspective of how we came through previous desperate situations in my lifetime: Polio, Flu pandemics in the 1950s , oil embargoes and the social disruption of the 1970s, and more recently HIV/AIDS, Ebola, and the changing climate impacts. These were/are all quite scary events.

I have tried to filter out blatant ideological or political messages. Fortunately, there are political leaders from both parties on the state level (governors of MD, NY, OH, and CA) who share the data and the range of possible strategies and outcomes with the public so we all can see the impacts of different approaches. Once hearing of the risks of other approaches, e.g., going back to work too soon or too late, their strategies of relying on the data for each state make sense to me. It will be a challenge to get it right in all cases. The bottom line is that we all want to get the economy to rebound, but we sure done want to make it worse – the risks are too great.

There are lots of different perspectives for assessing when to go back to work and this is true in all decisions that will affect a wide number of people. I tried to explore the reality of dealing with different perspectives in The Big Melt, a climate novel set in Anytown, USA. In this book I created a typical small town in the US and populated it with a variety of people with a broad range of perspectives. A series of climate catastrophes hits the town and the reader watches as these disparate characters struggle with what to do. Everyone, of course, has their own opinion.

The protagonists, Marley and Brianne, have just graduated from high school and are looking forward to getting on with their lives. Then all hell breaks loose. They struggle with what they can do to save their town. They seek out mentors to discuss the options and then end up in a town meeting, debating what the local government should or should not do. The debate shows how messy the democratic process can be and reveals the challenges of getting community-wide buy in.

During their struggle to save their town, the teen-aged protagonists discover opportunities to help their neighbors and they organize to be more effective – much like we are doing today by helping each other with essential groceries, medicines, etc. As they learn how to help their community, they become role models showing  us what can be done by individuals when governments don’t step up to the plate in time.

During the current pandemic, I have been thinking of the characters in this book, especially when I hear how some people  are not following the recommendations of our leading experts: staying at least 6 ft apart, wearing masks, and staying home. I don’t get this response and yet the opinions of the more reactionary characters in the book are understandable in the context of their experiences. Their perspectives seem real in the story because they are shaped by their past history with neighbors and local governments.

So I try to accept different perspectives. But our country is asking us to go through a lot of pain right now to flatten the curve for the greater good. Shouldn’t we all be helping support that strategy? It’s success is dependent on all of us doing our part and it would be much more effective if we did. I have chosen to be more like Marley and Brianne and seek ways to work with others to solve this crisis in as scientific and logical a way as possible. I guess I do this because I feel deeply vested in my community. I know people who are compromised and who are at great risk. Like the protagonists in the book, I am part of my community and want to do whatever I can to protect as much of it as possible. So I wear my mask and I keep more than 6 feet apart and I stay at home and I try to support local businesses and people living from paycheck to paycheck.

I hope we come out of this pandemic with the realization that we are all better off working together. And I hope that the lessons we are learning right now will help us bring  back a more sustainable economy – one that will help us be better prepared for managing future pandemics as well as the looming climate crisis. The best way to deal with a crisis is to prevent it whenever possible. When that is not possible, the next best strategy is to be prepared for it.

 

I Just Saw a Coyote

April 26, 2020 – Off on my morning walk today, I was just crossing the power line right-a-way when I saw a flash 30 yards in front of me. A large animal flew across the road effortlessly, as if in a single leap. It was much larger than a fox and had dark patches on its otherwise tan and gray fur. It looked like a cross between a fox and a German Shepard, but was clearly neither. It’s size, coloring and motion all fit the description of an Eastern Coyote – a genetic mix between a more traditional coyote and a wolf.

My fellow early morning forager disappeared, as quickly as it appeared, into the overgrown meadow of brown and green grasses and wineberry bushes. I found its path through the tall wet grasses and pondered whether I should try to track this beautiful creature. I chose not to harass it. As much as I loved seeing a coyote up close, there was no need to get any closer. I like to leave the meadows, forest hubs, and green stream corridors to all the creatures that need this rare wildlife habitat here in the middle of suburbia to thrive.

I’ve had encounters with coyotes in the west – but this was different. My first exposure to Eastern coyotes was in 1972 on Flagstaff Lake, an isolated lake in Maine. At that time the lake was only accessible via rudimentary forest service roads. Tom and I were mapping the geology of the area and we had brought our partners out for a weekend wilderness camping trip. We were the only ones there, canoeing and portaging for several hours to get to what we later called Blueberry Island. That night the loons and the coyotes serenaded us with their calls echoing off a vertical rock ledge on shore. It was romantic and eerie at the same time. We were immersed in nature and felt close to the stars and all the creatures on Earth.

In 2006 Kathy and I had a little farm in Howard County. One spring we lost two sheep to a local pack of coyotes. They struck at dawn, taking down 100 pound ewes. Our neighbors had similar problems with their farm animals. We lost a cat to the coyotes as well when one morning all we found left of her was blood on the front porch steps. I’ve heard other stories of missing cats and dogs, who were left off leash and disappeared. Coyotes may also help keep down the deer population which has gotten out of hand without a top predator.

A few years back we downsized and moved to live within Columbia. I started my morning walks to try to keep in touch with nature and to seek out a little bit of local wilderness. One morning when I was up before dawn, there was a full moon, making the landscape beautiful and magical at the same time. As I walked across the right-of-way I heard coyotes calling. I had not heard them sing here in Maryland before, and it took me back to the camping trip many years ago. I love that even in suburbia, coyotes can live here too, so close to all of us, without many of us ever realizing it. It’s a balance we need to maintain with nature – we need our natural support systems to be healthy to fight all the challenges we may face in the future.

 

Lessons from the First Earth Day – 1970

IMG_8768I had been asked to speak at the Gunpowder Conservancy’s Earth Day Event at the Oregon Ridge Nature Center outside of Baltimore, MD. When the onsite event was cancelled due to the States’s Stay-at-home recommendation, they asked for a short video to post on their virtual Earth Day site along with other content their followers might like to read. I sent them one. In the process of preparing those remarks, I reviewed my own experience back on the first Earth Day in 1970. I thought I would share some of my recollections with you here.

You might wonder why I think this is relevant today with most of our focus on Covid-19, dealing with closed schools, and trying to earn a paycheck. Well there are many parallels between the environmental/climate change challenges and this pandemic, and I believe a little historic perspective can be helpful.

Our country was also in turmoil in 1970. We had gone through several years of political assassinations, a crooked President, the cities were on fire, and anti-war protests were widespread. A few weeks after the first Earth Day, 4 students were shot dead on Kent State University in Ohio. We all went crazy in disbelief that this could happen in the US. Colleges all across America were shut down, students sent home and classes cancelled. Does that sound familiar?

The other parallel is that diseases like this coronavirus may be directly related with degradation of the environment, loss of habitat, increased density of humans smothering out other life forms, and the lost of biodiversity and gene pools. That’s right, diseases like Covid-19 are the direct result of humans trashing our environment – which is the primary reason Earth Day was created in the first place and why it is as important today as ever before.

img_8193I remember Earth Day 1970. I was a junior in college studying earth and environmental processes. It was a milestone in my life – an opportunity to see many of the interconnections between history, science, politics, business, and health. As a result of that first teach-in, I dedicated my life to trying to keep mankind in balance with our natural support systems.

April 22, 1970 is considered the birth of the modern environmental movement. Earlier movements occurred in the 1800s and early 1900s when Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Wesley Powell, John Muir all lobbied for a greater focus on nature (see Saving The Places We Love for more detail). They moved the national consciousness from one which was totally exploitative to one that dealt with the preservation of some of the great wonders of America and the conservation of our valuable natural resources.

Their efforts led to the preserving of 100s of millions of acres by Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchott. Later FDR through the CCC planted 3 billion trees on lands that had been stripped bare by loggers, ranchers, and fires sparked by trains. These ancestors left a beautiful legacy for us and all future generations – assuming we take up the mantle and continue the efforts to preserve what is best of America.

In 1970, Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson got April 22 dedicated as Earth Day – a day for a national teach-in to educate all of us to the damages we were causing to our environment and to our health. He had been motivated by seeing the ravages of the massive Santa Barbara Oil spill the previous year. He realized that if he could infuse the energy of the anti-war protest with the emerging public awareness about water and air pollution, it could force environmental protection onto the national agenda.

Earth Day celebrations and teach-ins occurred on 2000 college campuses, 10,000 secondary schools, and thousands of communities across the country. It is estimated that 20 million people participated in non-violent demonstrations and teach-ins.

I remember participating on my college campus (Franklin and Marshall College). It was a beautiful day with music and banners. We had local speakers and booths. It was fun but also very visceral to look at pictures of the mess we were causing to our streams, forests, oceans, soils, and communities. I came away thinking that it was up to our generation to save the Earth.

climate man people street

Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com

Fortunately, the movement was supported by both Republicans and Democrats, by young and old. That teach-in led to the creation of the EPA and passage of Clean Air, Clean Water, and the Endangered Species Acts. The steps lead to the legal framework that has allowed us to accomplish a great deal over the past 50 years.

It was a great start. We have cleaned up a lot of the country, and changed many personal and corporate behaviors. But the population, unfortunately, has doubled over my life time and we all use a lot more energy and consume much more today than we ever did back then. All the gains we have made are threatened by our wasteful behaviors and our near total dependence on fossil fuel and plastics. As a result our way of life is threatened and our climate is changing. We have to find a way back from the brink of more pandemics, fires, droughts, and storms.

So we need to:

  • rekindle our efforts to live in balance with what remains of our natural support systems
  • create a multi-generational, multi-ethnic and bipartisan strategy for a healthy and sustainable future.

So on this coming Wednesday, April 22, the 50th Anniversary of the First Earth Day, I invite you to get engaged at a local, national, and global level. You can do this by supporting and participating with your local nature centers, climate action groups, land conservancies, governments, churches, and environmental groups. On a national scale there are many groups to support, but be sure to check in with http://www.earthday.org or earthdaylive2020.org to learn more about this year’s actions, such as:

  1. Great Global Clean-up
  2. Planting of 7.8 billion trees (1 for each person on the planet)
  3. Advocacy at all levels
  4. Global Teach-Ins – to increase climate literacy – join the 3-day live stream at http://www.earthdaylive2020.org
  5. Wider participation of all people with all our talents

Now take a moment to think about what we are learning from our response to the current global challenge – Covid-19. What have you learned that will help us be more effective when dealing with the climate crisis. Just remember we don’t want to go backwards. We want to act now to make sure we can go forward to a healthier and more sustainable future. But we have to act now, find our focus, and spend the stimulus monies in constructive ways for a new economy. Join what we think will be 1 billion people on Earth Day 50 and let’s get moving forward, together.

 

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