English professor publishes biography on Thoreau

first_imgOn the cusp of Henry David Thoreau’s 200th birthday in July, Laura Dassow Walls released her latest book — “Henry David Thoreau: A Life” — with the intention to rediscover the American icon and bring him to a broader audience.Walls, an English professor at Notre Dame, said she was working on a list for her graduate students in 2010 for “what kinds of work needed to be done in the field.” When it came to the idea for a new biography of Thoreau, however, she said she couldn’t bring herself to add it to the list.“It was like paralysis,” Walls said. “I knew that I was going to write it.”Both Wall’s Ph.D. dissertation and first book were on Thoreau and she said it was this “deep education background” that made writing such an expansive book in seven years possible. “I knew from my previous work that I was not satisfied with the biographies that were out there,” she said. “They didn’t match what I knew was there in the primary writings.”Despite the work she and many of her colleagues have been doing for a number of years, Walls said Thoreau is still incorrectly cast as a “hermit and a misanthrope.” “If you unpack his life [at Walden] and the rest of his life, you realize he was deeply engaged with the people around him,” Walls said. “Even as he steps out of the community to create this separate space for creative work, he still had a lot of responsibilities. That’s just not the story he wanted to tell.” The “character” Thoreau creates for himself in “Walden” does not make him inauthentic, though, Walls said. “When he speaks to people about his ideals, he speaks to them from the depths of his heart and with his most passionately held beliefs,” she said. “That is the voice that rings true. If it didn’t, we wouldn’t find it interesting or compelling. The icon never would have come into existence.” Thoreau’s moment in history contributed to his status as an icon, Walls said. “This is a very difficult time in the United States,” she said. “There was slavery; Thoreau was an abolitionist. Women’s rights were being argued. War with Mexico was being discussed and he was opposed to the war. Native American genocide was ongoing, which infuriated him. “There was a sense that people were justifying and rationalizing that it was OK to do these things and he said ‘it cannot be OK — how can I find a way to understand why it’s not OK? What is the basis, the foundation for my beliefs and moral behavior?” Walls said that, once again, the country is in a difficult time and that engaging with Thoreau can provide a sense of direction.“ … To see how he plays a role in his time is to be reminded that we have agency in this time. We’re not helpless,” she said. “We don’t have to be the victim of forces that are so much bigger than we are. “We can take responsibility for our actions in the world and take seriously what’s become kind of a cliche around here: ‘I want to change the world.’ Thoreau is absolutely serious about that and it’s not a cliche for him.”It’s been only two months since “Henry David Thoreau: A Life” was released, but Walls said she has already received some confirmation that she found the diverse audience she was writing for. “I’m getting emails constantly from all sorts of people, of all walks of life … this is wonderful,” Walls said. “They write me out of the blue to say they read my book and that it touched them. That’s incredibly moving for me — I’ve never experienced that with anything else that I’ve written.”Tags: biography, Henry Thoreau, Laura Walls, Thoreaulast_img read more

ESG ‘not a priority’, says German pension fund association

first_imgThe role ESG factors play in investment decisions will also depend on the asset class, said aba.A recurring point in its submission was the implications for investment along ESG lines of the structure of workplace pensions in Germany.This is one where the IORPs (institutions for occupational retirement provision) “are always linked to a sponsoring employer and sometimes in addition to social partners of a special industry”.The aba said: “The sponsoring employer might already have an ESG strategy in place that will then have an impact on the investment strategy of the IORP.“In addition, the field in which the sponsoring undertaking operates will influence ESG decisions – for example, the IORP of a company running a nuclear plant will not put nuclear energy on a negative list.”According to the aba, the main reasons why institutional investors and asset managers take ESG factors into account in their investment decisions are risk management, alignment of investment policies with the beneficiaries’ long-term interests, pressure from the investors’ clients and reputation.The latter two could lead to greenwashing, said the association.The answers were chosen from a multiple-choice list, although ‘reputation’ was a free input from aba.Reliability, usefulness, availability and cost of information/data is an issue when it comes to ESG matters, according to the association.“Different actors analyse the issues and publish the information in different ways, making it difficult to compare,” said aba. “In addition, most research is equities focused.”The association also raised the risk of “greenwashing” by companies in this context, noting that it might occur “in areas where it is difficult to measure improvement”.ShareAction, a London-based responsible investment charity, yesterday published a survey indicating that lack of data was preventing institutional investors from incorporating the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into their investment process.German investors were among the respondents.The UN-backed Principles on Responsible Investment (PRI) are “a good starting point” for many investors looking at long-term risk assessment, said aba.However, the most important directive for occupational pension funds, according to the association, is the IORP Directive, and it “should be kept in mind”.Fiduciaries ‘busy people’ A revised IORP Directive is in the process of being negotiated by the European Council, the EC and the European Parliament (EP), with the EP’s proposed version mandating the integration of ESG factors in fiduciary duty.The aba is against this and reiterated its position in this latest consultation response.“To avoid uncertainty for IORPs and sponsoring employers and to allow them to address the challenges they currently face,” it said, “the review of the IORP Directive should not lead to additional regulatory changes in this field.”In Germany, overall interest from beneficiaries in ESG matters “is perceived to be relatively low”, said aba.Still, external events such as the UN climate change conference in Paris and scandals, such as about investing in cluster bombs, can trigger individuals to contact their pension scheme, noted the association.Asked about barriers to more integration of medium to long-term risk indicators, including ESG matters, into investment decisions, aba identified five factors that affect investor behaviour in this area.These included “fear of a lower return, reduced investment universe, higher costs, the fact many ESG factors are not specific and a lack of human resources”.“In addition,” it says, “day-to-day investment decisions are often outsourced to external asset managers, with the investors not providing additional indicators relating to ESG factors.”Investment consultants, said aba, “almost never, unless it is already included in the concept”, consider an asset manager’s approach to ESG issues and active asset ownership when advising institutional investors about selection of managers.Elsewhere, it said “fiduciaries are busy people, and ESG is not a priority”, citing a 2006 and 2015 updated report from Freshfields on the matter.Sustainable and long-term economic growth is a pre-occupation for many European policymakers, who are trying to recruit the financial sector, in particular institutional investors, to play a greater role in unlocking the investment needed to achieve this aim.The EC’s consultation, for example, builds on the ‘Communication on Long-Term Financing of the European Economy’ and the Commisson’s Capital Markets Union action plan. In the UK, meanwhile, a fresh initiative came from the Investment Association, which yesterday launched an action plan aiming to solve the country’s “productivity puzzle” and fostering long-term investment thinking. Environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors have “taken a back seat” at German occupational pension funds amid the prevailing low-interest-rate environment, the country’s industry association has said.Responding to a European Commission consultation on long-term and sustainable investment, aba said “the security of the investment that achieves the necessary return is more important for investors than ESG factors” and that some investors did not therefore include ESG factors in their investment decisions.“Their primary responsibility of strategic investment decisions is to maximise the returns to fulfil the pension commitments for the members,” added the association, which represents German occupational pension funds.“Other priorities are a reasonable mix and diversifications of the assets, while maintaining an adequate level of liquidity. Investors often fear the higher costs of ESG research.”last_img read more