Banking: your personal contribution to extinction

It’s easy to blame RBC for the tar sands, and we should. But RBC are by no means the only Canadian financial institution which is enabling perhaps the biggest climate crime ever committed by humans against their own habitat. The Rainforest Action Network’s “Climate friendly banking” site pegs TD-Canada Trust’s’ Co2 from total financed emissions at 124 million tonnes, or nearly a tonne per 10,000$ of checking account holdings. This isn’t to say TD is as bad as RBC; according to Tar Sands Watch,

TD Bank pursued a different course from RBC, engaging with senior RAN [Rainforest Action Network] representatives and signing some environmental accords. In June 2007, TD Bank announced a new environmental policy that pledged to “manage and minimize the impact of environmental risks and issues from its business operations.”

Still, TD is a corporate bank, which means it’s primary duties are to its shareholders not humans or the planet or the people who’s land they help poison. This is obvious from a 2010 report TD released to its shareholders on tar sands investments. The report contains no reference to first nations communities, or even the term “first nation”, “native”, “indigenous” (I even searched “indian”, nothing came up). On the topic of environmental issues there is shit short bullet point, which looks like it would be more at home in 2001 than 2010:

Environmental issues, specifically cumulative impacts on watershed and airshed, may become increasingly difficult and costly to deal with

– Alberta has been very oil friendly and very development friendly and no project has been rejected outright

– more likely an issue of time, cost and patience than go/no-go – Kyoto?

What’s even more frightening is found under the heading “Key Drivers”:

Long life assets – projects normally have 30+ years of reserves – non-declining production

Expected growth from expansions – virtually all projects have been expanded and contemplate further expansions

To look at this report today, in the year 2010, is deeply depressing. The banks have no fear that these projects will be compromised by an eventual recognition of the catastrophic environmental impacts they have on a local and global level. And why should they be afraid – we live in a political context where it is normal for a federal environment minister to quit without notice to take a post at a financial institution. The state of corruption with respect to environmental catastrophe and the world we are leaving for our children is deep. While comparisons to Nazi germany are rarely useful, we might think about comparing the current state of Canada and the world to the last few decades of the USSR – the combination of a sense of overwhelming chaos, but a faith that the state of things could be held together with force. But, in fact, the corruption in the current global powers is far worse because they are not merely gambling away the welfare of their citizens, but the welfare of citizens of other states, and of future generations.

We will live through an era where individuals will be forced to make serious choices about the role they will play in resisting, or through tacet consent approving of crimes against future generations. These crimes will be committed in the name of national interest, the economy, and human welfare, but are in fact pursued for the sake of existing power structures. In this context of perpetual disguised emergency, we can not afford to not learn what we can from other kinds of resistance movements – to try to understand what works and what doesn’t work, and under what conditions different tactics can be effective.

But, before we contemplate serious questions about the legitimacy of violence, we can start with where our money is being invested, and what is being done with the profits made from the loans we take out. Insofar as the people actually have any money, their money is actually required for business to maintain its power – if we take the money away, they can’t build the projects. Banking is perhaps the most misunderstood aspect of modern society – it’s potentially democratic (well, it would be in an equitable society anyway), and yet we treat our banking like consumers rather than as citizens – insofar as capitalism means you vote with your money, this is meaningfully done not as a consumer but as a conscientious investor. On this question I don’t actually have an answer – do any readers of this blog have good information on the investments of various Canadian banks and credit unions? Are there Canadian banks or credit unions which offer mainstream financial services, but which are committed to divesting from projects which empower forces against action on climate change?

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10 thoughts on “Banking: your personal contribution to extinction

  1. I am planning to write open letters to the banks I use arguing that they should divest from coal, as well as unconventional oil and gas.

    There are ethical issues, certainly. There is also a strong case to be made that these investments are financially unwise. There will come a day when policy-makers finally recognize just how threatening climate change is, and start shutting down expensive but carbon intensive facilities.

  2. before we contemplate serious questions about the legitimacy of violence

    Violence from the weak almost certainly won’t help

    Eventually, it will be the strong threatening violence. The United States and China will be saying: “Climate change is terrifying, so we have decarbonized our economies. Get on board, Qatar and Alberta, or we will bomb you to hell.”

  3. “There will come a day when policy-makers finally recognize just how threatening climate change is, and start shutting down expensive but carbon intensive facilities.”

    Do you need to provide an argument, or evidence for this claim – or are we to simply believe it because of its self-evidence?

    The fact the TD report I linked to has such a small section on environmental and political concerns indicates how unimportant such long-term considerations are to investors today. For long-term considerations to become important to investors a major shift in the structure of capitalism would have to take place.

  4. Do you need to provide an argument, or evidence for this claim – or are we to simply believe it because of its self-evidence?

    If climate change goes totally unmitigated, and we find ourselves with global sea levels rising by a few centimetres every year, it seems inconceivable that government’s won’t finally accept the reality and seriousness of the situation.

  5. ” it seems inconceivable that government’s won’t finally accept the reality and seriousness of the situation.”

    To me it seems quite believable that extremely irrational leaders could rise to power if climate change began manifesting itself as environmental catastrophe. I don’t think it is irresponsible to fear a descent into fascism, where the problems are blamed on others and people rally around protecting their own rather than the planet in general. In fact, I don’t think this fear is very different from what you’ve expressed elsewhere as a fear that climate change will become a cause of war.

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