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Image: Ethical Finance

26/10/2018

Justice & Peace Scotland vice chair Marian Pallister reflects on a day spent with financiers, economists, and investment bankers.
 


Well, this wasn’t something my arithmetic teachers would have seen coming. Marian spending a full-on day at an ethical finance conference making head AND tail of what ‘money’ people do. But of course, what I understood at this top-level conference in Edinburgh was not the numbers but the morality that was discussed.
 
I’ve spent a lifetime believing that anyone in a sharp suit selling investment products must be in league with dark forces. I got it wrong. Of course there are individuals and companies willing to sell a pig in a poke to an old age pensioner or deal in the kind of debt juggling that led to the 2008 financial apocalypse. We are still permanently perched on the brink of the financial abyss.
 
But the number of earnest and honest who attended this ethical finance conference was high enough to convince even the most sceptical that there is a sea change in the finance industry.
 
Justice and Peace Scotland believes in the stewardship of the planet, and that includes dealing with climate change, the arms trade, and human rights. There was a lot of talk about SDGs – the United Nations’ sustainable development goals, which are Justice and Peace territory.  Throwing those initials around is all well and good, but I wondered how many of the delegates were really aware of those goals in relation to financial investment. I decided to put people to the test if I was given the opportunity.
 
I almost regretted that decision during the coffee/networking break when a scientist-come-AI specialist-come-investment expert responded with an avalanche of convincing evidence that his job entailed grilling every company seeking investment on every SDG. Any company failing stringent tests would not be included in investment portfolios. No sneaky box-ticking could get them through.
 
During our lunch/networking break, I spoke with a young man about his organisation’s methods. He’d set up his own company. He was smooth, smart and charming - but my goodness, forget stereotyping. He knew his SDGs inside out. I threw numbers at him (SDGs 4 and 5) and he came back at me - quality education and gender equality - before my question was formulated.
 
There were panellists who understood that those living in poverty in developing countries need access to affordable financial products that will pay for a wedding or a funeral; experts who explained the complications of moving from a fossil fuel economy to sustainable energy.
 
It’s all complicated - but the message was that it’s do-able, and that ‘honesty’, ‘transparency’, ‘sustainability’ are not just blah-blah words but ones that a large enough swathe of this industry abides by.
 
This was an interfaith conference, initiated by the Muslim and Church of Scotland communities and supported by the Jewish and Christian faiths. It was multi-national. It suggested strongly that finance can be truly ethical. But as investors (and that includes us all, not just those with millions), we have to ask for the ethical option, or we are still in danger of falling off the cliff.


Image: Climate Countdown

19/10/2018

In this weeks blog, Marian Pallister, vice chair of Justice & Peace Scotland, reflects on the latest climate change news.


This year we have had several new arrivals in our parish in Lochgilphead, Argyll and the Isles. It’s always lovely to see (and hear!) new babies at St Margaret’s.
New life: such promise for the future.
 
And yet by the time this current crop of babies reaches the age of eleven, this planet may be at a dangerous tipping point that curtails their adult lives. If we don’t act on climate change, there may be no future that can sustain humanity.
 
Catholic Social Teaching says we’re stewards of this earth. For much of this century, we’ve been warned we have to care for it more effectively. One stumbling block (leaving aside flat-earthers who deny all evidence of climate change) that has prevented us from steaming ahead with all possible mechanisms to alter this frightening trajectory is the naming of years as goals.
 
We were told we had to reverse the rise in temperature by 2050. We had just moved into a new millennium - 2050 was light years away. So we continued with our fossil fuels and our exhaust fumes and our increasing herds of cattle to feed people whose traditional diets had never ever included burgers and steaks. The clouds of methane wreathing the altars of the god of fast food have drastically increased the risks to the very existence of the earth.
 
Now, almost 20 years on and with so little progress made (think of all those toddlers suffering from asthma in UK cities; whole populations wearing face masks to go about their daily grind in Tokyo and Beijing), we are told that we really, really have to do something by 2030.
 
And still that seems a way off. We can talk about it a bit longer; procrastinate some more.
 
Well, no we can’t. Unless, of course, we think the lives of those babies born this year count for nothing. That it’s OK when they are eleven years old for this world to have reached the tipping point denying them the fun of their teenage years, the joy of marriage, the wonder of becoming parents themselves, of growing old and having the pleasure of walking in forests, by lakes, cruising on seas, visiting historic cities.
 
The day the scientific reports came out naming 2030 as Doomsday, I saw a Facebook post questioning whether there should be a wind farm on nearby hills. Bring it on, I replied. If our parish’s babies – the babies in your family, your parish - are to have a future, the time for nimbyism is over. Pope Francis laid it out in Laudato Si: ‘Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years.’ And he warned ‘Those who will have to suffer the consequences…will not forget this failure of conscience and responsibility.’
 
Do we want this on our consciences? Pope Francis said – in June 2015 – that we have to hear the cry of the poor. Three years on, we have to hear the cries of our own babies, too. Speak out. Act. Pray. We made this mess. Let’s make sure our leaders (and we as individuals) sort it.
 
 


Image: Care and Share

12/10/2018

Kathleen McIntyre reflects on the service for the homeless developed by North Ayrshire churches.


Homelessness is a huge problem in Scotland and the consequences of this may include poor self-esteem and low confidence, loneliness and isolation, poverty, desperation and crime. There are also many physical problems associated with homelessness as well as mental health issues, which include depression, anxiety and withdrawal from society.
 
The main causes of homelessness include relationship breakdown, overcrowding, mortgage or rent arrears, individuals fleeing domestic violence or abuse, emergencies such as fire or flood, discharge from armed forces, hospital or prison or indeed losing a job.
 
Every area has its own set of difficulties, and in North Ayrshire the main cause of homelessness is addiction problems.
 
To combat the problem and support those who find themselves in this situation, the drop-in service known as Irvine Care and Share opened in October 2012.  It aims to help adults who are homeless, vulnerable to homelessness or who have been homeless. These adults may have an addiction problem, mental health issues or feel marginalised and isolated. 
 
The service is located in St Mary’s Church Hall in Irvine, Ayrshire and is open every Wednesday from 1pm-3pm. Service users can enjoy soup, a sandwich, biscuits tea or coffee, and there is also fresh fruit, as we take into account the nutritional value of the food.
 
Care and Share was initiated by Irvine Teen Challenge, which is linked to Fullarton Church. Teen Challenge is a registered charity that helps young people who have developed life-controlling or addiction problems. Irvine Teen Challenge wanted to use some of its funds to set up a service in Irvine for the homeless.
 
They had heard about Ayr Care and Share and felt Irvine would benefit from a similar service. That’s when they approached Neil Urquhart, the local minister, who gave his approval and support.  We then went along for a visit to Ayr Care and Share to see how it was being run and we were very impressed. Ayr Care and Share is held in the Riverside Church in Ayr and is mainly run by volunteers. They allowed us to use the name Care and Share as long as we followed their model of not having any direct reference to religion by praying or praise music as they felt that could make some feel excluded.
 
We then formed a committee and recruited volunteers from different churches in Irvine, St Mary’s, St Andrews Episcopal congregation, Mure church of Scotland and Fullarton Church of Scotland. 
 
We did not set up as a ‘lunch club’. We have various outside agencies visiting on a regular basis, including Teen Challenge, oral health, an optician, North Ayrshire Welfare Reform Teams, the NHS homelessness nurse, and Richmond Fellowship Addiction Services. Service users can access help and support from these agencies. We also have a hairdresser who comes in once a month and there are a number of activities and facilities, including laptops and printers.
 
We are completely self-funded. We have received donations from local businesses and volunteers collect at a local supermarket.
 
Best accolade? A service user designed our Care and Share poster and she wrote ‘Come along every Wednesday and enjoy a free light lunch, share in a supportive non-judgemental fellowship, develop new friendships and gain access to various local services/agencies.’ We hope that says it all.



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