As seen in The New Yorker
On Friday, the Comptroller of the Currency, Brian Brooks, proposed a new rule that would prohibit banks from refusing to lend to “entire categories” of lawful businesses. It is, Brooks explained, an attempt to stop the “weaponization of banking,” insuring fair access to loans for controversial businesses. He cited private prisons and weapons manufacturers as possible beneficiaries, but there can be no doubt about another reason for the rule (which may or may not have time to take effect before the Trump Administration departs): activists have begun persuading banks to stop some of their massive lending to the fossil-fuel industry. In particular, five of the six largest American banks have said that they won’t fund oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a project that Trump is desperate to have under way before he leaves office. (Bank of America is the last holdout, apparently uncertain whether wrecking America’s largest wildlife refuge in search of more oil to further warm the climate is an idea sufficiently evil not to try to make some money off of it.)
The idea that the banks are discriminating against the fossil-fuel industry is, of course, absurd. They’ve lent it trillions of dollars in the four years since the signing of the Paris climate accord; JPMorgan Chase, alone, has sent more than a quarter-trillion its way. But the pressure of campaigns like Stop the Money Pipeline (my involvement included getting arrested at a Chase branch in January) has clearly begun to tell: last month, Chase said that, henceforth, it will “align” its lending with the Paris targets. That’s a breezy promise with as yet no real meaning—and activists know that distribution of a covid-19 vaccine means, among many other things, a chance to resume civil-disobedience campaigns.
In the meantime, however, most people need a bank and a credit card. As it happens, there are alternatives to the big players.