If you’re like me, you’re probably a wreck today as we await the results of the American election. It’s a terrible feeling to just wait, doomscrolling and fretting, so this week let’s look at something we can do that will have an impact regardless of what happens at the polls. And let’s integrate a couple Beyoncé songs, because today we could all use some empowering bangers.
We’ve talked before about divestment from fossil fuels in our investments and pensions, but unless you’ve got all your money stashed under your mattress or as buried bullion, there’s another way most of us are in bed with the tar sands and other noxious environmental products: with our banking.
Exploring for reserves, extracting fossil fuels from the earth, and turning them to energy is an expensive process, and any project needs outside funding to operate, which means they need banks. And where do banks get their money? From us, of course.
Thus, environmental activists have long been pressuring banks to stop lending money to dirty energy projects, though internationally fossil fuel funding has gone up every year since 2016’s international climate change pledge, the Paris Agreement. This is especially mind-boggling because we already have discovered more fossil fuels than we can exploit without the world going full fire and brimstone. Yet banks continue to fund not just extraction but exploration for yet more fossil fuels we cannot use. And remember, these projects don’t just come at an environmental cost, but a direct and immediate human one. Right now these banks are funding pipeline projects, like the Coastal GasLink, that cross through unceded land and are currently being protested by Indigenous land defenders.
Here’s a chart from the Rainforest Action Network’s impressive Banking on Climate report, with the top ten fossil-funding banks:
Not looking good on Canada. But banks are starting to show glimmers of environmental responsibility. For example, at the beginning of October RBC announced there would be no new loans to new coal-fired power generators, thermal coal mines, or coal mines that require mountaintop removal. Which is nice to see and everything, but is still pretty minimal, considering RBC is the world’s fifth-biggest fossil fuel funder (and the #2 funder of the tar sands, behind TD). So that small commitment seems mostly a PR move. The good news, I suppose, is that doing something ecologically responsible looks like good PR.
So how can we extract ourselves from extraction?
Check your bank’s report card.
Pop over to BankTrack.org and look up your bank. The easy-to-use site gives it a score for various kinds of energy as well as human rights. Chances are if you bank with the big five in Canada (or with one of the web banks they own, like Simplii or Tangerine), you’re not going to like what you see. Canadian banks have abysmal report cards, scoring between 0.5 and 3 out of 200 — grades so terrible even the class bad boy would be humiliated.
But don’t fret, there are a couple ways forward, each with its own Beyoncé theme song.
Strategy 1: Serve your bank notice
This strategy comes from an effort coordinated by Climate Pledge Collective in Canada and Stop the Money Pipeline in the U.S. Their philosophy is that while moving your business has an impact, getting the banks to change their policies can be seriously transformative.
Here’s what they want you to do:
If you’re in Canada, let them know you’re taking part by signing up here. (This allows them to keep track of numbers for media purposes.)
Write a letter to your branch manager (Climate Pledge Collective has templates for all the majors: TD, RBC, CIBC, BMO, Scotiabank) and tell them that if they don’t reform their policies you’ll be moving your money on April 22, 2022 (Earth Day). (You may need to book an appointment to get their email.)
Follow up sometime next year to see how they’re doing.
Start researching other alternatives in the meantime. (See strategy 2.)
Moving your savings or chequing will have some impact, but if you really want to hit them where it hurts, threaten to move your mortgage, should you have one. (Also, interest rates being rock bottom, not a terrible time to shop for a new mortgage, anyway.)
If you’re with an online bank (I am), you won’t have a branch to write to, but go direct to the major bank that owns the direct banking division.
This strategy brought to you by Beyoncés “Irreplaceable”: “You must not know ’bout me, you must not know ’bout me / I can have another you by tomorrow / So don’t you ever for a second get to thinking / You’re irreplaceable.”
Strategy 2: Get gone
Maybe you don’t want to stick around in a bad relationship and let your money fund any more destruction. In which case, it’s time to look for alternatives. The most ethically sound are generally credit unions, and Canada has over 1,000, serving 10 million members. A couple are so large they work more like major banks, with some of the drawbacks. For example, Desjardins has divested their investment funds (amazing!) but is likely still loaning to pipeline projects (sad trombone). Credit unions tend to be regionally based (so, VanCity, for example, is for people in B.C.), but some, such as Alterna, which has branches in Toronto, have opened banking divisions that allow them to work nationally. That regional foundation does have advantages too, and as with a co-op grocery store, is designed to benefit the local community.
Although it’s a newer product, another option could be something like a Wealthsimple Cash account, which pays interest and will have all the functions of a debit account. Currently the savings features are in place, with the spending features to be rolled out soon. I’m watching this option closely, though it won’t have the community benefits of a co-op.
If you move your money, make sure you tell your bank why you did! Here’s a sample letter you can adapt, courtesy the Rainforest Action Network.
This strategy inspired by Bey’s “Sorry”: “Middle fingers up / Put them hands high
Wave it in his face / Tell ’em ‘boy, bye’”
Here’s hoping this message also finds its way to a certain president. Boy, bye.
Banks are vital to the funding of fossil fuel projects, and though we already have more fossil fuels in reserve than we can exploit, the money keeps flowing.
If you don’t want your hard-earned cash to fund the destruction of the planet, write your branch manager and tell them you’ll switch by Earth Day if you don’t see major movement on their underwriting and investment in fossil fuels. Or just leave, but send them a fierce break-up letter and start a happy new relationship with a credit union.
Wins of the Week
“I’ve really been trying to adopt the idea that hope is a discipline. It’s an action. If you can find even one small way to put your hope for a better world, future, and society into action, you both make yourself feel better by contributing and actually put something into motion to help build that hoped-for future. Our actions are louder and more productive than our anxieties.” — Mary Ann, Brooklyn, New York, in Anne Helen Peterson’s Culture Study newsletter
Thank you to everyone who sent me birthday wins last week! This week we’ve got an all-gents slate of wins, which is always a treat.
Nathan put his laptop charger, USB hub, and second monitor on a power bar that he turns off at the end of the day. No vampire energy, and a handy off-switch for work!
John’s been picking up litter along the ditch line on his daily walks. (Trash in rural ditches doesn’t take the fast lane to other bodies of water like in cities, but it’ll get there eventually.)
Peter is part of a small group in the Ottawa area that has re-treed and continues to care for a strip of land between the airport and downtown. They host planting and pruning sessions in the spring and fall, and now the strip contains honey locust, oak, blue and white spruce, pine, and maple — including two sugar maples, planted four years ago, who are offspring of the original maple in Toronto that inspired the song “The Maple Leaf Forever.” (I love that this project shows continued care: that’s how new plantings have the best chance at survival.)
I appreciate you all. And if you’d like to make a deposit in my wins bank, click reply to this email or get in touch!
Regardless of what happens when all the ballots are counted, let’s get out there with some BBE (Big Bey Energy) and take care of business.