After the 2008 financial meltdown, I was slow to transfer my cash from the Wall Street bank I had used for 20 years to the Rogue Credit Union. I was daunted by the effort required to redirect all my automatic deposits and withdrawals. Yet, in 2011 I finally made the switch. I’m glad I did.
When I restarted this column, I recommended that we pursue two strategies to address the deep crisis of our nation that Trump’s election reflected — engage politically at the global level and withdraw economically at the local level. One way to withdraw from a globalized economy that is wreaking havoc on human societies and the planet itself is to produce and buy locally — I wrote about doing this in regard to our food. Another way is to bank locally. It’s extraordinarily important to accrue and invest capital close to home.
My action in 2011, modest as it was, contributed to a local “Move Your Money” campaign that resulted in a huge increase of the credit union’s assets. By April 2016, they reached $1.137 billion, compared with $461 million in 2009. Much of the increase had come from Rogue’s purchase of the failed Chetco FCU in 2012, extending Rogue’s reach to Curry and Coos Counties, but even more from growth in personal deposits.
If keeping our money at work in our communities is insufficient incentive to use local banks and credit unions, becoming aware of where the large financial institutions invest their depositors’ money should be. For example, if you support action to mitigate global warming and you’re keeping your money in Bank of America, JPMorganChase, Wells Fargo or CitiBank, then you’re funding the production of those very same fossil fuels from which you’re trying to wean the world.
On its website, Rainforest Action Network grades these four banks and others (though not US Bank, about which I have no relevant information) by their investment record in tar sands, Arctic oil, deep oil-well drilling, coal mining and coal-fueled power generation. In the first three categories, all four got Ds. Chase is the No. 1 Wall Street funder of production of tar sands bitumen, one of the dirtiest fossil fuels on the planet. It’s what will be transported from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries through the Keystone XL Pipeline. Chase and Citi did manage to get C grades on their investment records with coal-fired plants (the other two got Ds), and all got a B-minus regarding coal mining.
But even that last achievement appears to have been prompted by the financial woes of the large coal companies, not by the banks’ social consciences. Now that Peabody Energy, Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources have emerged from bankruptcy with their balance sheets scrubbed clean and President Trump has vowed to help the industry, investments have picked up. Chase’s coal lending went from $32 million in 2015 to $654 million in 2017. The same pattern, if not the amount, can be observed elsewhere on Wall Street, even though some of the banks had used their earlier reductions to project a public image of corporate responsibility.
Bringing the matter even closer to home, Chase, along with four Canadian banks, is the top banker of Pembina, successor to Veresen, the corporation behind the proposed Jordan Cove Connector pipeline and the LNG plant in Coos Bay.
Given the complex interconnectedness of contemporary economic life, it’s almost impossible to avoid complicity with injustice. But when we can, let’s do it.
Herb Rothschild’s column appears in the Tidings every Saturday.