The Biggest Protest You Can Make Against Climate Change Is Easier Than You Think

Where, when and how we spend our money is often a point of contention (as well as guilt and stress) for so many of us. Are we indulging too much of our hard-earned cash on ourselves? Do we have enough of it? Should we be saving more of it for later in life? All questions that feel more pertinent than ever this Earth Day as we slide deeper into economic crisis.
An issue that may not get enough space in our minds is how our paycheques are handled once they hit our bank accounts, and what impact this has on our carbon footprint.
UK high street banks invest in other companies in order to make more money out of the cash we stash with them – they are businesses, after all. Unfortunately, a large number of these investment opportunities are funding projects that are damaging our environment on a huge scale, and contributing to the climate change crisis.
This means that even if you’re a recycling nut, you cycle to work and you always have your morning beverage in a reusable coffee cup, the place that looks after your money could be making your largest pollution contribution for you – without you even realising.
In the three years since the Paris Agreement, Barclays and HSBC (two of the UK’s top five banks) have invested $85 (£65.5) billion and almost £45 billion respectively in fossil fuels, according to research by BankTrack
Environmental campaign group Extinction Rebellion (XR) has recently turned its campaigning attention to Barclays in particular due to the bank's continued investment in oil sands extraction, also known as tar sands, which has been called the "world's most destructive oil operation" for indigenous people and the environment. As part of XR's Clean Up Your Act Campaign, protestors turned up to quite literally clean the floors of Barclays branches in cities all over the UK.
Luckily, there are signs of things heading in a more eco-conscious direction. Last year, the European Investment Bank announced plans to drop all investment in fossil fuels from 2021; closer to home, there are new banking options that don’t involve dirtying your green credentials.
Sustainable bank Triodos launched its first current account in the UK back in 2017. As well as being 100% transparent about where consumers’ money is going, all projects they invest in have ethical grounding and a sustainable ethos – think Fairtrade hot drinks Cafédirect and Rockdove Rising Housing Co-op in Manchester.
Triodos’ investments have led to the equivalent of over 32 million organic meals being produced per year, 2.5 million households worldwide have been provided with green electricity and 41,000 elderly people have been cared for. 
The Co-operative Bank has also been lending to and supporting the renewable energy sector since 2007, typically hydro and wind farms in the north of England. So banks can choose to do good for the planet.
Millennial favourite Monzo has been graded one of the UK’s most ethical current accounts by not-for-profit organisation Ethical Consumer. This is largely due to its decision not to make large-scale investments, including the financing of fossil fuels. These modern, largely app-only banks – other examples being Starling and Atom – are a much more ethical option than your average high street bank, according to Natalie Fee, the founder of environmental campaign group City To Sea. 
"Not only are these new banks easy and intuitive to use, they're a way of making sure our finances aren't contributing to the planet's destruction," Natalie says.
If you’re wondering which of your bank accounts to prioritise, make sure that any savings accounts in particular are put somewhere with ethical banking policies. The more money you have in an account, the more likely it’s going to be invested, so make sure it’s going somewhere with the planet’s interest in mind. And if you’re in doubt, ask. 
Model and environmental advocate Lily Cole was shocked to find that she was the first person to visit a local branch of her old bank and ask about its investment policy. When she finally got the information she needed, she knew it was time to put her money elsewhere. "Switching is a powerful way to make a positive impact on the planet and its people," she says. "Decide for yourself the things that you really care about, and then find a bank that matches your values."
Without a doubt, the switch to a more sustainable bank can come with speed bumps and problems. Triodos, for example, charges £3 a month for a current account. While this may feed into the argument that sustainable living is for those who can afford to make these small changes – and no one else – Natalie argues that it is yet another example of the bank’s transparency, something we should all look for and value in a bank. "There’s a lot of hidden costs in banking, it’s just that they are much more upfront about their fee," she says.
The administrative process behind switching banks can also be enough to put anyone off. However, modern app-based banks like Monzo are purpose-built for a life that is largely on the move and lived off a phone. Plus, no annoying branch appointments because guess what? They don’t have any branches. If the effort of switching is a key part of holding you back, Natalie recommends using the government’s Current Account Switch Service, which ensures that your new bank takes care of the switch process for you. Easy. 
Wherever you decide to bank, the key is transparency. Both Natalie and Lily stress the need to communicate with your chosen bank – write to them, ask them how your money is being invested, hold them to account. 
When it comes to living more sustainably in general, change in other areas is afoot. In the wake of shoppers’ demand for plastic-free cosmetic options, Tampax has brought out a menstrual cup and Colgate has introduced a bamboo toothbrush to its range. According to Natalie, the exact same thing can happen in the banking world if enough people make the switch, or speak up about the kind of places they want their money to go. 
"When banks see trends of consumers changing their behaviour, they will feel the pressure to start making those changes as a result, and green up their portfolios," she says.
"Switching banks is an act of saving the world – you’re taking your business away from climate-damaging projects and voting for change with your wallet."

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