Spirit Sightings

December 6, 2015: Born of Fire


From Paul Turley

When we think of preparing the way for the 2015 Climate Summit happening now in Paris, France, we might think first of the NGOs that have long called for a reduction in the burning of fossil fuels and for keeping the rise in global temperatures below two degrees. We might also think of the low-lying nations of the Pacific, which are the first to experience the catastrophe of rising sea levels.

What we might not think of in the first instance is huge global corporations and large insurance conglomerates.

Banks like HSBC have Climate Change Strategists on staff to advise their large corporate and institutional investors on managing the financial risks of climate change.

These advisers are talking about stranded assets. Shim Paun for HSBC explains, “Stranded assets are those that lose value or turn into liabilities before the end of their expected economic life. In the context of fossil fuels, this means those that will not be burned – they remain stranded in the ground. We believe the risks of this occurring are growing.”

This seems to be the case. Globally, the market value of oil and gas companies has dropped by over US $580 billion in the last nine months.

Hard-nosed investors, regardless of their own private opinions about climate change, are unwilling to ignore the bottom line of their investments. And it is the starkness of the bottom line that, twined with a growing sense of the moral imperative, is driving the global divestment movement which itself might be preparing the way for the Paris talks to make some serious and binding decisions to reduce global emissions.

Arabella Advisors, a group that “helps foundations, philanthropists, and investors who are serious about impact create meaningful change,” reports that “To date, 436 institutions and 2,040 individuals across 43 countries and representing $2.6 trillion in assets have committed to divest from fossil fuel companies. The divestment movement has grown exponentially since Climate Week in September 2014, when Arabella Advisors last reported that 181 institutions and 656 individuals representing over $50 billion in assets had committed to divest. At that time, divestment advocates pledged to triple these numbers by the December 2015 Paris UN climate negotiations. Three months before the negotiations, we have already witnessed a fifty-fold increase in the total combined assets of those committed to divest from fossil fuels.”

With regard to the insurance industry, many groups, including the FSB, the Financial Security Board (a peak body for national financial institutions) are trying to make sense of how to provide insurance in an era when the risks of climate change must be factored into long- and short-term policies. The FSB is calling for the creation of an industry-led disclosure task force on climate-related risks.

We can only hope that along with NGOs, the nations of the Pacific and concerned citizens around the globe, big business might help prepare the way for meaningful change.

Explore… Luke 1:68–79

  • Given that in ancient Israel, belief in an afterlife was not common, what do you think the people of Jesus’ time might have made of the “knowledge of salvation” in verse 77?
  • If John the Baptist was to appear in our communities and culture, how do you think he might go about preparing the way?
  • What “tender mercy of our God” have you experienced in the last weeks?

Prayer links

God, perhaps there has never been a time in history
when we have not needed your tender mercy.
We need it now.
We need to prepare new ways
for your presence in our world and in our lives.
Give us light and give us peace.


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