How would Francis invest?


When Pope Francis unveiled his letter to the world about how we must stop trashing the planet, he nearly broke the Internet.

The pithy document included hundreds of zingers, including this line: “Whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market.”

In one sense, Francis is telling investors to stop worshiping money and start paying attention to how their actions can hurt the common good. In another, it’s Pope to Wall Street: Drop Dead.

So far, no widespread soul-searching is visibly underway among the pinstriped set.

Four and a half hours after the encyclical’s release at noon in the Vatican — 6 a.m. in Manhattan — the Associated Press reported: “U.S. stocks moved higher in early trading Thursday, extending gains a day after the Federal Reserve left interest rates unchanged from historically low levels.”

As a former business reporter, I can translate. Wall Street to Pope: Whatevs.

But, wait, isn’t this a turning point? Didn’t the Vatican just awaken the powers that be, especially the Catholics among them, to the errors of their ways?

Surely, I thought, millions of traders and brokers would get the memo once they’d read about the pope’s letter in the Financial Times. Not so much.

“U.S. stocks declined, after the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index traded near a record, as energy stocks dropped with oil,” Bloomberg reported the next day. The price of U.S.-drilled oil had ticked below the $60 a barrel mark due to expectations that production would again rise faster than demand, not anything Francis said.

To be fair, the pope hasn’t declared that investing in fossil fuels strikes him as a sin. Yet. Given that investors consider hedging a sacrament, I’m sharing three basic How Would Francis Invest (HWFI) commandments as a public service.

First: Thou shalt not buyeth or keepeth stocks or bonds of companies that despoil the Earth, especially in the oil, gas, and coal industries.

Second: Thou shalt invest as much money as thy holdings will allow in businesses that tread lightly upon the Earth, such as wind and solar power and energy efficiency.

Third: Thou shalt encourage thy alma mater, local government, and any institution in which thou art a stakeholder to divest from fossil fuels and invest in climate solutions.

Bonus commandments:

Thou shalt reduce, reuse, and recycle.

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s Tesla.

Even if you don’t care about what the pope says about the environment or anything else, there’s no basis for believing in the sanctity of fossil fuel companies. I’ve learned firsthand that going fossil-free can yield good returns. And it’s not as hard as you might think.

Groups and campaigns like Green America, Divest Invest, Go Fossil Free, and As You Sow offer a wealth of practical tips. Plus, a growing number of large and small investment firms are helping investors meet Francis-friendly standards.

Taking this step will protect you from losses investors are incurring from their ownership of oil, natural gas, and coal stocks and bonds and exposure to them through mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs).

At this point, people like me who are greening our portfolios can’t take credit for the poor performance of fossil-fuel assets. In the short term, we’re making more of a political and social impact. But that could change.

If the green-minded become fruitful and multiply, our grandchildren will be more likely to inherit an Earth capable of sustaining life as we know it.

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