Positive Environmentalism

Peter S Heslam, Director of Faith in Business, reflects on the role of investment in securing a cleaner, greener future.  

One of the most memorable school trips I made as a child was to London’s Science Museum. I saw with my own eyes some of the inventions I had only read about in our textbooks. By the time I visited that museum with my own children, I had come to a new awareness; that the amazing technological innovation and progress of the past couple of centuries was largely due to the application of human ingenuity to one of the elements charted on the periodic table that hung on my old classroom wall: carbon. A scientific consensus had emerged that the largescale release of that element into the atmosphere was damaging the very quality of life the industrial revolution was intended to enhance.

Happily, the Science Museum has in recent years had a strong focus on climate science, much of it displayed in the Energy Revolution gallery. Currently the Museum is also hosting a fascinating exhibition entitled Our Future Planet focusing on carbon capture and storage, which includes mechanical trees that mimic nature’s amazing photosynthetic processes. The exhibition, timed to coincide with the period around the COP26 climate summit in November 2021, helps to highlight the need to put our reliance on carbon behind us as we look to a clean, green future. But just like the first industrial revolution, it will take huge investment in innovation.

The positive potential of such investment is amply demonstrated in the production of COVID-19 vaccines. Typically, vaccines take a decade or more to design, test, validate and manufacture. Yet the enormous investment in such pharmaceutical companies as Moderna, BioNTech, AstraZeneca, and Pfizer facilitated the production of a vaccine within a year. One of the things the awful pandemic can teach us, therefore, is the positive potential of financial investment in commercial enterprise.

This power is reflected in the rapid turn the UK has made away from energy based on carbon to energy based on renewables. Going back to when I was at school, 80% of UK energy came from coal. But by the time my children left school a couple of years ago, it was down to around 1%. Should the rapid rise in green investment continue, the UK could have completely transitioned to clean power generation by 2035.

One of the most effective ways to secure and hasten that transition is for ordinary people like you and me to make sure our investments (primarily our pension funds) are properly ‘green’. Just like switching to a green utility provider, many of us suffer here from inertia – life is too hectic to make looking into this a priority. But if we found the time to get our COVID jabs because of the risks involved if we did not, finding time to switch to green pensions must be possible, given that the threat to us from climate change is many times greater than the threat from COVID.

There are plenty of organizations ready to help us. Companies and other organizations may like to check out the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association, whereas individuals may wish to check out the Make My Money Matter campaign. 

Switching our pension provider may not provide the same excitement as taking to the streets to join a climate change demonstration. But it is one of the most effective things we can do to fulfil our vocation as stewards and trustees of the world. It is a form of hopeful and positive environmentalism.

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Faith in Business seeks to affirm the role of business in God’s purposes and explore the application of Christian faith and values in business. Its resources include the popular short weekly God on Monday reflections, and the co-published journal Faith in Business Quarterly.

ECCR’s Money Makes Change programme is running a Green Your Money campaign. Find out how you can green your pension, savings, investments or your church’s finances by signing up to the Green Your Money emails here.

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