Saving Us – A New Book by Katharine Hayhoe

“It took a pandemic to bring us together.”

The first line of the “Saving Us” preface gives us a good idea of where Katharine Hayhoe will take the reader. Through conversations with colleagues, interactions on social media, professional conferences and the like, Hayhoe points how we have more in common than not while explaining the science of climate change and what to do about it. Hayhoe currently lives in Texas and is a devout Christian. But more on that later.

As an Environmental Safety Scientist I’ve learned that all of the sciences are related. Our profession’s main focus is how can we protect and optimize human and living species safety in our surroundings. In the preface, Hayhoe summarizes how we went from a relatively unified pandemic mindset to arguing about science and masks while not addressing the needs of impoverished countries unable to employ modern precautions. By the end of the book, Hayhoe maintains that despite the discord, we have more in common than not and this will allow us to mitigate manmade climate change.

She goes through the usual suspects like cyclic temperatures, the sun conditions, and even volcanoes. I loved the fact that most times she kept the science rather light and remembered to convert Celsius (C) to Fahrenheit (F). It is widely recognized that the world needs to keep a rise in global temperatures within 1.7C (or 2.8F) by 2030 for us to be able to maintain our current way of life. As I’ve explained to countless schools, conferences and during interviews, it will get ugly, but man and woman (and most animals & botany life) will survive. The transportation industry, the meat industry, and especially fossil fuels release carbon dioxide, (CO2) which traps heat. Thus rising temperatures and its consequences, which include more severe and frequent storms, melting glaciers, land erosion and loss of animal biodiversity are occurring. The latter being mostly from human sprawl, deforestation, environmental degradation and even poaching. Hayhoe also doesn’t run from a debate on social media or even in person because she believes that it’s better to try and find common ground and go from there. She should know. Hayhoe is about the best there is in the business.

Now I try and stay away from other contentious issues, especially religion. But Hayhoe brings up the Bible at various points in her book. Frankly it is distracting that she intertwines her faith with the science of climate change. Especially by quoting a book that was used for over 300 years to rationalize the capture, enslavement and oppression of Africans in the US.  As a female black Environmental Scientist, it is VERY difficult to be included in many forums, especially in the very religious south. Katharine specifically asked for honest reviews. This is my honesty. The Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) community are the global majority. As we continue to be excluded from the decision making table, it is virtually impossible to win the war against climate change. The majority of people MUST be engaged and active, not just older white men, for us to be successful together. Hayhoe’s faith allows her to approach her conversations with climate change deniers with compassion and love. She says that in that love you should be able to speak with truth, courage and understanding. While I certainly respect her faith, it’s not a prerequisite for civility and cooperation. But cooperation is impossible without inclusion.

It is also regrettable that Hayhoe writes that climate change is a “pro-life” issue. Pro-survival certainly, but by including such a contentious term as pro-life in her book, Hayhoe detracts from the important lessons she has to offer. She explains how higher education and better economic options can lead to decreased infant mortality and abortions, using examples of women in Mali, Malawi and Uganda. But Hayhoe never mentions men anywhere in this section. If the issue of abortion is ever to be solved, men must be involved and I’m not confident Texas will be the state to solve it.

Regardless of these distractions, “Saving Us” remains a must read. Hayhoe explains the most complicated science theories in a clear and succinct fashion. She is an excellent communicator and top notch scientist. That’s why I read her books; for the science. I named my company, “In A Green Minute” because you need to be able to explain scientific concepts in 60 seconds or less, or why bother? People don’t need to be a Ph.D. scientist to understand and engage in climate science and environmental activism. It is clear that full scale mass transport, electric vehicles, enhanced green spaces, alternatives to many meats, human migration inward off our coasts and other adaptations will eventually be the norm. Adapt or get flooded or burned out. It may be up to our children to finish these transformations but it is our responsibility to assure that the process begins in earnest. Hayhoe’s book provides a framework for understanding and collaboration. Ultimately, this is about saving all of us, with equity and pride. If the Ford F150 Truck and Harley Davidson Motorcycle can go electric, there’s hope.

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Gwen Lynn is the Founder and CEO of In A Green Minute, LLC., an environmental and safety science consulting firm. The opinions expressed within this post are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Advance ESG or its affiliates. https://www.instagram.com/inagreenminute/

About the Author of “Saving Us”, Katharine Hayhoe

Katharine Hayhoe is a renowned international climate scientist and chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy. She is a Professor at Texas Tech University and has been named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People. She is the climate ambassador for World Evangelical Alliance and World Vision Canada. Katharine has a B.S. in Physics & astronomy from the University of Toronto and a Ph.D. in atmospheric science from the University of Illinois. “Saving Us” can be purchased at  http://katharinehayhoe.com/.

ESG and SDGs. Two Complementary Frameworks

The origin of the ESG or Environmental, Social and Governance framework can be traced back to the 70s. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015, set forth 17 critical areas to address economic, social, and environmental challenges by 2030.

Both frameworks operate under the same principle; the need to establish a sustainable and just global economy.

ESG provides a corporate perspective that encourages companies to highlight their efforts to be socially and environmentally responsible under effective governance. The compatibility with the 17 SDGs, on the left, can be seen in the diagram below.

The ESG framework encourages companies to adopt internal and external policies that change their operations and improve communication with stakeholders including investors, customers and governmental agencies.  The business sector accounts for 72 % of the GDP of the 38 member counties of the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD). With ESG goals, strategies and policies that are effective and timely, businesses can assure that we can all eventually live on a healthy planet within a safe and equitable society.

The alternative is undoubtedly the end of civilization as we know it, especially when considering the impact of SDG #6 (Affordable and Clean Energy) and #13 (Climate Action). Plastic waste in the environment is an example of a very significant issue not included in the United Nations’ SDGs which should also be part of any corporate ESG initiatives.

Competition among companies is the key to a well-functioning, non-monopolistic capitalist  economy. Awareness about ESG and SDG is significantly increasing everywhere and at all levels. Companies are now providing information about their ESG strategies and policies as a way to distinguish themselves from other companies in their industries.  Ultimately it will be up to external stakeholders to insure their implementation and their compatibility with SDG and other similar frameworks such as CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) and the 3 Ps (“people, planet and profit”).

The path towards a sustainable and just economy exists. Currently needed is the means to encourage corporations to proceed forward.

Advance ESG is the only non-profit organization that empowers public stakeholders to effectively influence companies to improve their ESG policies and strategies.  Call it “ESG checks and balances,” the “wisdom of the crowd,” or even “grassroots for sustainability.” It is an approach to ESG advocacy whose time has come.

photo of mother working at home

What is impact Investing?

Values-based investors are those that align their financial decisions with their personal ethical principles. Also called “socially conscious investing,” it is a remarkably vibrant trend that continues to grow. In 2020 the total U.S.-domiciled assets under management using sustainable investing strategies grew 42% in 2 years with assets increasing from $12 trillion in 2018 to $17.1 trillion in 2020. This means that nearly 1 out of every 3 dollars under professional management are in values-based funds. This includes retail and high-net worth individuals who have increased their values-based investments by 50% since 2018. Financial industry research further indicates that 85% of the general population and 95% of the millennial population are interested in sustainable investing.

There are 3 general categories of values-based investing:

Socially responsible investing (SRI) can trace its roots to John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, who instructed his flock to not invest companies that engaged in “sin” such as alcohol, weapons, tobacco and gambling. This approach involves actively screening potential investments to exclude financial activities that conflict with the investor’s values such as firearms and fossil fuel. This is an inexpensive method since the screening can be performed easily.

Environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) investing actively seeks out companies that prioritize positive ESG goals and work to limit their negative ESG impact. These companies have decided that the long-term implications of their business decisions as they relate to the society and the environment are as (or more) important than the need to generate short-term profits. A number of large investment funds are now requiring companies in their portfolio to address ESG considerations because of the potential impact of such issues on the company’s long-term outlook.

Impact investing is usually limited to private funds that can provide more transparency on the impact of the investments on a specific cause and more flexibility in provision of those monies. These funds have a direct connection to the investor’s values-based priorities and the utilization of the provided capital. They typically can quantify the positive impact of the investment with such data as the number of meals provided, measures of economic activity in depressed regions,  and carbon output reduction.

What is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)?

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a business practice framework that prioritizes positive social  impacts of the company’s policies and practices in addition to generating profit. The basic goal is to improve communities, both local and throughout the world, by including social, environmental and business governance (ESG) considerations within all strategic decisions. By being “socially accountable” businesses generate considerable consumer good-will that ultimately be reflected in a better bottom line.

Katie Schmidt, the founder and lead designer of Passion Lilie, said that companies that implement CSR stand to benefit in multiple ways. “What the public thinks of your company is critical to its success,” Schmidt told Business News Daily. “By building a positive image that you believe in, you can make a name for your company as being socially conscious.”

Businesses ignore CSR at their peril. Recent research that 60% of Americans want companies to be at the forefront of social and environmental changes and nearly 90% would purchase products from companies that supports issues that were important to them as well. Perhaps more significant was that 75% said they wouldn’t buy from a company whose support of an issue differed from their own.

CSR also improves employee recruitment and retainment. Susan Cooney, head of global diversity, equity and inclusion at Symantec, said that a company’s sustainability strategy is a big factor in where today’s top talent chooses to work.  “The next generation of employees is seeking out employers that are focused on the triple bottom line: people, planet and revenue,” said Cooney. “Coming out of the recession, corporate revenue has been getting stronger. Companies are encouraged to put that increased profit into programs that give back.” 

Companies’ CSR efforts usually fall within a few general areas including environmental programs that reduce their carbon footprint, improve energy efficiency and promote recycling. Besides being easy to initiate, philanthropy such as donations of goods, services and money to non-profits generate considerable good-will. Encouraging and supporting employees’ involvement in charitable organizations is also a common theme for socially responsible companies.  Treating employees fairly and ethically is one of the most important characteristics of a socially responsible company, especially for those that operate internationally where the labor rules many be different than in the US.

How did ESG start?

The origins of modern ESG investing can be directly traced to the 1970s. Its roots were established much earlier when faith-based organizations began to shun commodities and industries that conflicted  with their value systems. In the 18th century the Methodists, a Protestant denomination, eschewed investments in the production of tobacco and liquor and the slave trade. The Quakers soon followed by prohibiting investing in any war related activities as well. The Pioneer Fund was created in 1928, the first socially responsible investing (SRI) fund offered to the US public.

During the Vietnam War era, many US investors followed the SRI paradigm by adjusting their portfolios to eliminate “war profiteering.”  Created in 1971, the Pax World Balanced Fund restricted investments based upon an industry’s negative social impact. It did not invest in any company that produced, or was a part of the supply chain for Agent Orange, a dangerous herbicide used during the war.

Growing public engagement in civil-rights, antiapartheid, environmental and many other policy issues expanded into investment strategies. Despite Milton Freidman’s declaration that, “the social responsibility of business is to increase profits,” other SRI based funds were quickly established.  The First Spectrum Fund (1971) assured that they would base their investment decisions upon a company’s performance in “the environment, civil rights, and the protection of consumers.” The Dreyfus Third Century Fund (1972)  investment focus was on companies that contributed, “to the enhancement of quality of life in America.”

In 1972 journalist Milton Moskowitz published a list of “socially responsible stocks” that included SRI based mutual funds. Moskowitz’s criteria has been subsequently incorporated and adapted to serve as the basis for a host of other SRI based funds. Many of the earlier funds were based upon an “avoidance” screening strategy that sought returns similar to the general market without investments in alcohol, tobacco, weapons, gambling, pornography, and nuclear energy. Other funds with a broader ESG focus employed a “best in class” approach that invested in companies that did not have any deleterious workplace, governance, environment, social justice or other similar practices.

There are now over 800 registered investment companies with ESG assets. Many of these firms have embraced a combination of values-based investing with shareholder engagement that leverages an ownership position with a company to promote changes in their ESG policies and performance. While this type of stakeholder activism has always been a part of socially responsible investing, the growing public concerns over ESG issues has increased its reach and impact. Shareholder resolutions and the access to management that such ownership positions provide remain powerful agents for positive changes in corporate ESG strategies.