Big risks evidently still promise big rewards.
JPMorgan Chase has a big sustainability strategy that takes up pages of their website. The TD Bank runs a big Friends of the Environment Foundation that is emblazoned on the top of my cheques. Yet according to the Financial Times, along with the Royal Bank of Canada, they are the three lead banks investing in what are called "extreme fossil fuels"- in tar sands, Arctic and ultra-deepwater oil extraction, liquefied natural gas export, coal mining and power.
It is environmentally, reputationally, and often financially risky for banks to back these fossil fuel projects and companies. More and more, the public is tying the impacts of fossil fuels to the financial institutions backing the sector.
Indeed. I feel kind of silly now, having butterflies and environmental messages on my cheques. I am not surprised that they have money stuck in the tar pits of Alberta; everybody does. But to be increasing its investment when other banks are cutting back on extreme oil? That is a bit much for me. As Alison Kirsch of the Rainforest Action Network notes:
At a time when some European banks like BNP Paribas and ING are adopting policies that sharply restrict their lending to some of the worst fossil fuels, US and Canadian banks like JPMorgan Chase and TD are moving backwards in lockstep with their wrongheaded political leaders.
As for JPMorgan Chase, they specifically talk about going renewable on their own properties, and "advancing financing opportunities and investment strategies with a commitment to facilitate $200 billion in clean financing by 2025." Their CEO says, "Business must play a leadership role in creating solutions that protect the environment and grow the economy."
The report concludes by noting:
"In a carbon-constrained world, banks need to recognize and act on the contradiction between their commitments to the Paris Agreement, their own policies, and their funding patterns. In particular, funding for the extreme fossil fuels highlighted in this report must be ended due to the climate, environmental, and human rights impacts."
They go on to demand a prohibition of all financing of companies with operations in the tar sands, Arctic or deep water drilling, LNG export projects, financing for coal mines and for coal power plants, and financing for fossil fuel expansion.
All of which are supported and encouraged by the current American government, while the oil sands of Alberta remain the third rail of Canadian politics. And all of which takes us back to Vaclav Smil, who reminds us that "every economic activity is fundamentally nothing but a conversion of one kind of energy to another, and monies are just a convenient (and often rather unrepresentative) proxy for valuing the energy flows." Energy is money, and extreme fossil fuels move an extreme amount of money. You can bank on it.