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Not just unethical, tobacco is a financially unsustainable investment



It may be unethical and immoral to profit from companies that sell addictive, cancer-causing drugs to children in places with little or no public health or education, but it is also financially unsustainable in the long-term, writes Alex Blackburne on No Smoking Day.

Smoking is responsible for one in 10 adult deaths globally, according to the World Health Organisation. That’s one death every six seconds. By the time you’ve read this article, 350 more people will have died from smoking related diseases.

But investors arguing the case for not investing in tobacco would often be left floundering in debates with their mainstream counterparts.

Tobacco companies were seen as good, sensible defensive stocks with solid track records in performance. This apparently trumped the moral or ethical questions associated with selling addictive, cancer-causing drugs to children and vulnerable adults.

This raises wider points about ethical investment, which is primarily the screening out of sectors and companies deemed unethical. Tobacco is among the sectors most commonly avoided; others include the arms trade, gambling, pornography and others.

Ethical investment, while still hugely important, is not necessarily going to change the world at the pace required. Plus, there is always going to be someone on the other side of the fence willing to passionately argue that profit is the only – or at least primary – consideration when investing.

We face serious sustainability challenges, few more urgent than climate change, and simply avoiding potentially unethical sectors is not going to address this. We need investment in solutions instead.

So the momentum in 2014 is with sustainable investment and the factoring in of environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues. It is about investing in companies providing real answers to the world’s biggest problems and hedging against some of the risks that come with them.

For years, tobacco has been the poster child of unethical investment; less of a ‘sin stock’ and more of a ‘death stock’. But a growing number of sustainability-minded investors now see tobacco in a different light – one that has the potential to create a sea change in the mainstream investment world. Why? Because it revolves around the one thing the majority of investors care about the most: profit.

Regulation of the tobacco industry is increasingly tight. In Australia, cigarettes are sold in plain packaging to reduce the attractiveness of smoking. Stark health warnings, accompanied by shocking images, now adorn each packet.

Does plain packaging encourage smokers to quit? Kylie Lindorf, who chairs Cancer Council Australia’s National Tobacco Issues Committee, said in May last year that Quitline, the smoking helpline in Australia, was receiving considerably more calls since plain packaging was introduced in December 2012.

She added, “Many, many smokers have commented that they don’t like the look of the new packs and also believe the taste of the cigarettes is worse, even though the tobacco companies have confirmed that the product is the same. This proves just how powerful packaging is in conveying messages about supposed quality and features of a certain brand.”

Elsewhere, the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) – the world’s first modern-day global public health treaty – came into force in 2005.

Set up “to protect present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke”, it is signed by 177 countries accounting for 90% of the world’s population.

Along with plain packaging, it calls for smoking bans in public places, better public health education and for signatories to use “price and tax measures” to help reduce consumption.

The Framework Convention Alliance was formally established in 2003 to help develop and implement the FCTC. A live counter on its website states over 70 million people, and counting, have died from “tobacco-related diseases” since the first FCTC working group came together 15 years ago.

While this is going on, education in the developing world – where many of the biggest tobacco firms continue to sell their products to children – is improving steadily. As countries in Africa and Asia become increasingly developed, children will begin to understand that smoking is bad for you.

These regulatory factors make investment in tobacco ever-more unsustainable, according to Peter Michaelis, head of sustainable and responsible investment at Alliance Trust.

In an article for Blue & Green Investor last year, he wrote, “To own British American Tobacco or any of the other tobacco companies, you need to believe that the Framework Convention Alliance for Tobacco Control will have little impact and that the rest of the world will follow a very slow fall in the rates of smoking.

We believe there are real risks to this scenario. The FCTC shares the lessons learned by governments in the campaign to end smoking and covers 90% of the world population. We would expect much more rapid control and decline in tobacco volumes as a result.”

We are seeing tighter regulation globally and improving education in the developing world. This is leading to a growing consensus of investors believing that tobacco companies will slowly start to lose value.

Perhaps the tobacco companies themselves see this, too. Many have pumped huge amounts of money into developing e-cigarettes in recent years, for example.

However, a better way to adapt to the coming changes would be to reframe the mission of Imperial Tobacco, British American Tobacco, Philip Morris and co. These firms have some very skilled individuals and huge reach and influence globally. Why not use this expertise to deliver vital drugs to those most in need instead?

Michaelis concluded in his article, “In short: society is acting against tobacco companies and they will see their earnings decline. We are currently in a sweet spot where tobacco companies are growing. This will not last, and investors who extrapolate this growth are likely to see severe losses.”

The divestment case for tobacco is therefore – in many ways – even more incontestable than the one for fossil fuels, where many investors opt for engagement in an effort to shift a firm’s long-term priorities.

Arguing that you need to make a profit is simply not good enough anymore. Though if you are adamant about this being your sole investment mission, tobacco – given what we know – would be an unwise thing to invest in.

Further reading:

Blowing smoke in Africa: big tobacco and child smokers

Fighting the long fight against tobacco

Describing tobacco as a ‘defensive stock’ is offensive

Raise tobacco taxes to save 200m lives, scientists say

Tobacco: investing in death

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2017 Was the Most Expensive Year Ever for U.S. Natural Disaster Damage



Natural Disaster Damage
Shutterstock / By Droidworker |

Devastating natural disasters dominated last year’s headlines and made many wonder how the affected areas could ever recover. According to data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the storms and other weather events that caused the destruction were extremely costly.

Specifically, the natural disasters recorded last year caused so much damage that the associated losses made 2017 the most expensive year on record in the 38-year history of keeping such data. The following are several reasons that 2017 made headlines for this notorious distinction.

Over a Dozen Events With Losses Totalling More Than $1 Billion Each

The NOAA reports that in total, the recorded losses equaled $306 billion, which is $90 billion more than the amount associated with 2005, the previous record holder. One of the primary reasons the dollar amount climbed so high last year is that 16 individual events cost more than $1 billion each.

Global Warming Contributed to Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey, one of two Category-4 hurricanes that made landfall in 2017, was a particularly expensive natural disaster. Nearly 800,000 people needed assistance after the storm. Hurricane Harvey alone cost $125 billion, with some estimates even higher than that. So far, the only hurricane more expensive than Harvey was Katrina.

Before Hurricane Harvey hit, scientists speculated climate change could make it worse. They discussed how rising ocean temperatures make hurricanes more intense, and warmer atmospheres have higher amounts of water vapor, causing larger rainfall totals.

Since then, a new study published in “Environmental Research Letters” confirmed climate change was indeed a factor that gave Hurricane Harvey more power. It found environmental conditions associated with global warming made the storm more severe and increase the likelihood of similar events.

That same study also compared today’s storms with ones from 1900. It found that compared to those earlier weather phenomena, Hurricane Harvey’s rainfall was 15 percent more intense and three times as likely to happen now versus in 1900.

Warming oceans are one of the contributing factors. Specifically, the ocean’s surface temperature associated with the region where Hurricane Harvey quickly transformed from a tropical storm into a Category 4 hurricane has become about 1 degree Fahrenheit warmer over the past few decades.

Michael Mann, a climatologist from Penn State University, believes that due to a relationship known as the Clausius-Clapeyron equation, there was about 3-5 percent more moisture in the air, which caused more rain. To complicate matters even more, global warming made sea levels rise by more than 6 inches in the Houston area over the past few decades. Mann also believes global warming caused the stationery summer weather patterns that made Hurricane Harvey stop moving and saturate the area with rain. Mann clarifies although global warming didn’t cause Hurricane Harvey as a whole, it exacerbated several factors of the storm.

Also, statistics collected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 1901-2015 found the precipitation levels in the contiguous 48 states had gone up by 0.17 inches per decade. The EPA notes the increase is expected because rainfall totals tend to go up as the Earth’s surface temperatures rise and additional evaporation occurs.

The EPA’s measurements about surface temperature indicate for the same timespan mentioned above for precipitation, the temperatures have gotten 0.14 Fahrenheit hotter per decade. Also, although the global surface temperature went up by 0.15 Fahrenheit during the same period, the temperature rise has been faster in the United States compared to the rest of the world since the 1970s.

Severe Storms Cause a Loss of Productivity

Many people don’t immediately think of one important factor when discussing the aftermath of natural disasters: the adverse impact on productivity. Businesses and members of the workforce in Houston, Miami and other cities hit by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma suffered losses that may total between $150-200 billion when both damage and sacrificed productivity are accounted for, according to estimates from Moody’s Analytics.

Some workers who decide to leave their homes before storms arrive delay returning after the immediate danger has passed. As a result of their absences, a labor-force shortage may occur. News sources posted stories highlighting that the Houston area might not have enough construction workers to handle necessary rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Harvey.

It’s not hard to imagine the impact heavy storms could have on business operations. However, companies that offer goods to help people prepare for hurricanes and similar disasters often find the market wants what they provide. While watching the paths of current storms, people tend to recall storms that took place years ago and see them as reminders to get prepared for what could happen.

Longer and More Disastrous Wildfires Require More Resources to Fight

The wildfires that ripped through millions of acres in the western region of the United States this year also made substantial contributions to the 2017 disaster-related expenses. The U.S. Forest Service, which is within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, reported 2017 as its costliest year ever and saw total expenditures exceeding $2 billion.

The agency anticipates the costs will grow, especially when they take past data into account. In 1995, the U.S. Forest Service spent 16 percent of its annual budget for wildfire-fighting costs, but in 2015, the amount ballooned to 52 percent. The sheer number of wildfires last year didn’t help matters either. Between January 1 and November 24 last year, 54,858 fires broke out.

2017: Among the Three Hottest Years Recorded

People cause the majority of wildfires, but climate change acts as another notable contributor. In addition to affecting hurricane intensity, rising temperatures help fires spread and make them harder to extinguish.

Data collected by the National Interagency Fire Center and published by the EPA highlighted a correlation between the largest wildfires and the warmest years on record. The extent of damage caused by wildfires has gotten worse since the 1980s, but became particularly severe starting in 2000 during a period characterized by some of the warmest years the U.S. ever recorded.

Things haven’t changed for the better, either. In mid-December of 2017, the World Meteorological Organization released a statement announcing the year would likely end as one of the three warmest years ever recorded. A notable finding since the group looks at global land and ocean temperature, not just statistics associated with the United States.

Not all the most financially impactful weather events in 2017 were hurricanes and wildfires. Some of the other issues that cost over $1 billion included a hailstorm in Colorado, tornados in several regions of the U.S. and substantial flooding throughout Missouri and Arkansas.

Although numerous factors gave these natural disasters momentum, scientists know climate change was a defining force — a reality that should worry just about everyone.

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How to be More eco-Responsible in 2018



Shutterstock / By KENG MERRY Paper Art |

Nowadays, more and more people are talking about being more eco-responsible. There is a constant growth of information regarding the importance of being aware of ecological issues and the methods of using eco-friendly necessities on daily basis.

Have you been considering becoming more eco-responsible after the New Year? If so, here are some useful tips that could help you make the difference in the following year:

1. Energy – produce it, save it

If you’re building a house or planning to expand your living space, think before deciding on the final square footage. Maybe you don’t really need that much space. Unnecessary square footage will force you to spend more building materials, but it will also result in having to use extra heating, air-conditioning, and electricity in it.

It’s even better if you seek professional help to reduce energy consumption. An energy audit can provide you some great piece of advice on how to save on your energy bills.

While buying appliances such as a refrigerator or a dishwasher, make sure they have “Energy Star” label on, as it means they are energy-efficient.

energy efficient

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By My Life Graphic

Regarding the production of energy, you can power your home with renewable energy. The most common way is to install rooftop solar panels. They can be used for producing electricity, as well as heat for the house. If powering the whole home is a big step for you, try with solar oven then – they trap the sunlight in order to heat food! Solar air conditioning is another interesting thing to try out – instead of providing you with heat, it cools your house!

2. Don’t be just another tourist

Think about the environment, as well your own enjoyment – try not to travel too far, as most forms of transport contribute to the climate change. Choose the most environmentally friendly means of transport that you can, as well as environmentally friendly accommodation. If you can go to a destination that is being recommended as an eco-travel destination – even better! Interesting countries such as Zambia, Vietnam or Nicaragua are among these destinations that are famous for its sustainability efforts.

3. Let your beauty be also eco-friendly


Shutterstock / By Khakimullin Aleksandr

We all want to look beautiful. Unfortunately, sometimes (or very often) it comes with a price. Cruelty-free cosmetics are making its way on the world market but be careful with the labels – just because it says a product hasn’t been tested on animals, it doesn’t  mean that some of the product’s ingredients haven’t been tested on some poor animal.

To be sure which companies definitely stay away from the cruel testing on animals, check PETA Bunny list of cosmetic companies just to make sure which ones are truly and completely cruelty-free.

It’s also important if a brand uses toxic ingredients. Brands such as Tata Harper Skincare or Dr Bronner’s use only organic ingredients and biodegradable packaging, as well as being cruelty-free. Of course, this list is longer, so you’ll have to do some online research.

4. Know thy recycling

People often make mistakes while wanting to do something good for the environment. For example, plastic grocery bags, take-out containers, paper coffee cups and shredded paper cannot be recycled in your curb for many reasons, so don’t throw them into recycling bins. The same applies to pizza boxes, household glass, ceramics, and pottery – whether they are contaminated by grease or difficult to recycle, they just can’t go through the usual recycling process.

People usually forget to do is to rinse plastic and metal containers – they always have some residue, so be thorough. Also, bottle caps are allowed, too, so don’t separate them from the bottles. However, yard waste isn’t recyclable, so any yard waste or junk you are unsure of – just contact rubbish removal services instead of piling it up in public containers or in your own yard.

5. Fashion can be both eco-friendly and cool

Believe it or not, there are actually places where you can buy clothes that are eco-friendly, sustainable, as well as ethical. And they look cool, too! Companies like Everlane are very transparent about where their clothes are manufactured and how the price is set. PACT is another great company that uses non-GMO, organic cotton and non-toxic dyes for their clothing, while simultaneously using renewable energy factories. Soko is a company that uses natural and recycled materials in making their clothes and jewelry.

All in all

The truth is – being eco-responsible can be done in many ways. There are tons of small things we could change when it comes to our habits that would make a positive influence on the environment. The point is to start doing research on things that can be done by every person and it can start with the only thing that person has the control of – their own household.

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