In the wake of Pope Francis’ call on people of the world to start taking better care of the planet, Roman Catholic institutional investors are pulling their money out of fossil fuels. Catholic executives who sit on boards of directors at major corporations are also speaking out at meetings.
These actions come in the wake of an official 183 page letter, or “encyclical,” in which His Holiness calls for an end to the use of fossil fuels. The encyclical was issued earlier this year. In it, Pope Francis writes: “Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption in order to combat this warming, or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it.”
In response, Catholic colleges and universities, religious orders, dioceses and even individual parishes are getting rid of their stocks in companies involved in the production of petroleum, coal and natural gas. They’re also putting pressure on other corporations to start disclosing information on how their businesses affect the environment.
Considering that there are an estimated 1.2 billion Roman Catholics in the world controlling approximately $150 billion in assets (according to Catholic investment firm CBIS), this is not good news for the fossil fuel industry. Although that $150 billion is a drop in the bucket compared to the estimated $5 trillion in assets (as of Q3 2014) controlled by oil and coal companies, it is only the beginning. Pope Francis’ influence and popularity has spread beyond the Catholic Church. He understands that environmental degradation is inextricably linked to poverty, and is a direct result of a capitalist system out of control. As is the case with Bernie Sanders here at home, Pope Francis’ message is resonating with the “98%” of the world.
It no coincidence that the title of the Pope’s encyclical is Laudato si, literally, “Praise be to You [My Lord].” It is taken from a hymn attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals and the environment:
Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs.