Christy Winegarden with her goodbye letter to CIBC
When I asked the youth activists with Climate Strike Stratford what I can do to help as an adult/parent, they replied “educate yourself”; and I did. I’ve since read the most recent report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and was slapped awake by how rapidly we are nearing levels considered too hot to support life as we know it. We are currently heading towards warming the planet by 4 to 6 degrees above pre-Industrial levels.
We all must face the fact that humans risk being extinct by the end of the century. I see this as motivation for change.
Remembering the heat wave of July, and experiencing this winter come 6 weeks later than any other year in my area, I’ve realized that climate change has been visible in my own backyard.
After reading more of the science of global warming, rather than thinking I was doing my part by buying metal straws, organic food, and litterless lunches for my kids, I came to see that switching banks was the most important item on my to do list. Greta Thunberg was right, once I really knew the facts about climate change; there was no going back.
I have a native plant garden, and am aware that there may be a time when there will be no bees in my garden due to extreme heat. There will be more days when it is too hot for my children to play outside, along with a multitude of uncomfortable changes due to a hotter planet.
As an emerging artist, I completed a photographic series of images in 2018 in Tobermory, Ontario, some of them underwater. I returned to Tobermory in 2019 to witness rising water levels, and saw Singing Sands beach completely submerged. At the time, I did not register that this was due to climate change, programmed as we are to think this is a ‘one off’. I read a local paper after I returned home that confirmed these events were contributed to by climate change. I now see that a passive sort of climate denial has been occurring within me.
“After reading more of the science of global warming, rather than thinking I was doing my part by buying metal straws, organic food, and litterless lunches for my kids, I came to see that switching banks was the most important item on my to do list. Greta Thunberg was right, once I really knew the facts about climate change; there was no going back.”
Another moment of awareness came when I began to think about how, as neurotypical people, we become apathetic about important social issues, and why this might be. I have a daughter with Asperger’s syndrome, and some of her many amazing attributes are her drive, focus, and clarity of thinking. She often makes me aware of our collective human tendency to be aware of an issue, yet also look the other way.
My daughter was completely alarmed by a homeless man asking for money for food and having no home. Without hesitation she declared that we needed to turn around and help him. Just as this was alarming to her, it should be alarming to all of us. Similarly, I feel that in terms of our awareness of climate science, alarm is also warranted.
As climate change feels so big and overwhelming, many of us wonder what we can do that will really make an impact? I want to do something tangible to provide support to the climate movement. I have been donating money to organizations on and off for years, signing this and that petition or e-mail to such and such politician, and despite this, the same issues are still there – now even bigger and more urgent.
This is when I took on the challenge posed by youth climate activists to educate myself.
As a result, I am now supporting a bank that has options for investing in renewable energy projects and is not a major investor in fossil fuel developments.
A PROBLEM WITH A PERSONAL SOLUTION: SWITCH YOUR BANK
I’ve realized that there are other ways to engage in climate activism besides being part of a climate change demonstration. We can change banks, to pull out the pillars of support holding up the fossil fuel industry by divesting, then ask others to divest. We need to pull funding from leading polluters. You can also ask your pension plan if they invest in fossil fuels, coal, or pipeline projects.
The five major Canadian banks — RBC, CIBC, BMO, Scotiabank & TD — financed US$ 338 billion to fund fossil fuel projects in the 3 years after the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement alone! As well, there are many other ways banks fuel climate breakdown: through their financing of deforestation, their investments in and the management of high-carbon assets, and more.
Canadian banks say they’re changing. Most no longer finance thermal coal projects and several — including RBC, TD and BMO — reject fossil fuel drilling in the Arctic.
You can find out how your bank stacks up by looking up some reports like the Banking on Climate Change Fossil Fuel Finance Report 2020, which was authored by the Rainforest Action Network, Indigenous Environmental Network, and others.
Above: Report Cover from Banking on Climate Change, Fossil Fuel Finance Report 2020, by the Rainforest Action Network, Bank Track, Indigenous Environmental Network, Oil Change International, Reclaim Finance, and Sierra Club
Charts from Banking on Climate Change, Fossil Fuel Finance Report 2020, by the Rainforest Action Network, Bank Track, Indigenous Environmental Network, Oil Change International, Reclaim Finance, and Sierra Club, p. 10 & 11
The Banking on Climate Change report emphasizes that it is crucial that banks align their policies and practices with a 1.5° Celsius world in which human rights are fully respected.
This includes that they halt existing projects and divest from companies active in tar sands oil, Arctic oil and gas, offshore oil and gas, fracked oil and gas, liquefied natural gas, coal mining, and coal power, and end expansion financing of these subsectors. The divestment of the major banks will assist in respecting “all human rights, particularly the rights of Indigenous peoples, including their rights to their water and lands and the right to free, prior, and informed consent, as articulated in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.” (Rainforest Action Network Banking on Climate Change Report, p.82.)
We may not be able to keep fossil fuels in the ground on our own, but together there is hope. We do not need to wait for our leaders in order to act.
Why not let your bank know that you don’t support their fossil fuel investments? Climate Pledge Collective is leading a campaign from now to Earth Day to ask the big five banks if they can do better for you and our climate future and then, if not, to switch to a financial institution that isn’t so harmful to the planet. Check out the Climate Pledge Bank Switch campaign information online and their day of action coming up on January 29th. They are also co-hosting a webinar with ClimateFast a webinar on January 24th to provide information about the Bank Switch campaign.
“Say NO to the big five Canadian Banks that continue to invest in fossil fuels, thus putting us and future generations, the environment and the planet at risk. Make the switch! And, when you do, tell the big five banks why you are closing your account. Even send them a goodbye letter stating why!” ~From 350 Ottawa, Switch to a Fossil Free Bank (Downloadable letters are available on their site.)
Today credit unions are a common alternative to the big five Canadian banks. Tim Nash, on his Sustainable Economist blog, provides several reasons why credit unions may be a better choice:
- They are not driven by profit, instead their goal is to maximize member satisfaction
- Their governance is more democratic with the one-member-one-vote rule, and not the one-share-equals-one-vote rule
- Money often stays in the community
- They offer many of the same services as traditional banks
Credit unions offer the services you expect from a bank, including chequing and savings accounts, online banking, mortgages, mutual funds, investment advice, and business accounts. They are not for profit and provincially regulated in Ontario. Over 5.8 million Canadians use a credit union for their banking needs already. In Ontario, your deposits are insured by the Deposit Insurance Corporation of Ontario.
Credit unions are an excellent alternative to the big banks for the climate-conscious Canadian or institution. While they offer some investment options that include fossil fuels and major banks, they also offer some unique green investment options and prioritize supporting the local economy. (See some quotes from our local credit unions below.)
When I switched, my credit union did most of the work for me, and was happy to have my business, even paying my penalty fee for switching my investments.
WHAT HOPE CAN THIS GIVE US?
If we work together to create action on this issue, banks will take notice, and will be more likely to create investment products that meet their customers’ requests, such as fossil free investments and investment opportunities that focus on renewable energy. Your money already works for you. Why not let it also work for the environment? Banks need to position themselves to seize climate-smart opportunities that consumers, workers, and investors are looking for.
Will you join me to switch banks?
During Covid19 many have woken up to the climate emergency. But not everybody in the media is making the connection to our financial systems and consumerist ways. If we are to have any chance of keeping warming below dangerous levels, we must act now.
Halting global warming involves scaling down non-essential industrial sectors, ushering in renewables and action from financial institutions. We cannot usher in renewables if banks continue to fund fossil fuel developments.
I have realized we must live within the boundaries of our ecosystems/ecologies. This requires different ways of seeing ourselves in comparison to the living world. If we can work together we can see the future.
We in high income nations will not be insulated from the climate crisis. Metal straws, litterless lunches and reusable flasks are not enough. We can all remember feeling alone and unheard as children and youth. We need to listen and respond to the youth climate strike movement such as Climate Strike Stratford, and get educated. Please join me to make their voices heard and respond to their call to action.
We can’t waste any more time. Together we can mobilize through love for our brothers and sisters, children and grandchildren to repair and restore. We can be brave enough together to face this challenge instead of looking away. Consumer pressure can make a difference! Imagine if millions of people demanded that their banks divest from fossil fuels, what a difference it would make.
Share your stories on social media of approaching your bank and making a switch, no contribution is too small.
ACTION STEPS & RESOURCES
Reach out to your bank and ask about their fossil fuel policies. These are suggested demands from the Climate Pledge Collective Bank Switch campaign as inspired by BankTrack:
- publicly clarify its position on the relation between climate change and the extraction and burning of fossil fuels
- publicly commit to immediately end its support for all new fossil fuel projects, including exploration, extraction, transportation and power
- publish a robust plan for phasing out its support for all existing fossil fuel projects and companies on a timetable consistent with what is necessary to meet the Paris targets
Attend the Climate Pledge Collective and ClimateFast webinar on Sunday January 24th, from 3 to 5pm, to learn more about the Bank Switch campaign and join the Fossil Banks No Thanks day of action on January 29th organized by Climate Pledge Collective and For Our Kids. Here’s the For Our Kids webpage about how to participate on January 29th.
Switching from the big 5…
- to find a credit union near you, go to CREDIT UNIONS OF ONTARIO or Canadian Credit Union Association. The local credit unions in Stratford area are YNCU, Libro Credit Union and Kindred Credit Union. Find statements from each of them below.
Switch Your Bank Account in 5 Steps (350 Ottawa, Switch to a Fossil Free Bank)
- Choose a local financial institution
- Explore if the financial institution can meet your needs. Meet or talk with a representative
- If it meets your needs, open an account
- Update your direct deposit information with your employer, and direct debits for any automatic bill payments and deductions
- Once you’ve received your new card and your direct debits have shifted, close your old account and tell a bank manager why you left
350 Ottawa encourages you to “share on social media to amplify your impact using solidarity hashtags like #BankExit #MoveYourMoney #DeFundPipelines. Also, we would love to hear back from you on your experience in switching (or attempts to switch) away from the five largest banks.”
They also have downloadable template letters on their campaign site.
INFORMATION RECEIVED FROM LOCAL CREDIT UNIONS
YNCU has a Green Neighbourhood investment product that includes environmentally conscious companies.
“Ensuring policies and actions reflect the values of our membership is a core principle of YNCU. Not only does the organization focus on improving communities through support of local charities, YNCU intentionally offers responsible investing options to its membership. Responsible investing considers Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) factors as well as returns in its approach.”
Kindred Credit Union
“In response to the growing interest in fossil fuel divestment in recent years, Kindred financial planners have been offering our members a selection of fossil fuel free mutual funds. And while Kindred has no direct lending to the oil and gas sector, we have started to include climate-related risks in our risk framework and are actively working with national and international peers on understanding, and being able to report on, the carbon impacts of our portfolio.”
“Libro is a registered B Corp, which means we’re committed to limiting our impact on the environment and we are independently assessed on that impact as part of the global B Corp movement. And we try to make sure Libro Owners can make choices based on positive values. For example, we offer socially-responsible investment options as part of the Responsible Investment Association. We will continue to have this conversation at all levels within Libro and continue to recognize climate change as a problem we must all face together.”