I’ve Been Funding Deforestation And I Didn’t Even Realise

How Attenborough made me move my money

Image credit Scrambled Studio

Now, I love David Attenborough and Netflix as much as the next millennial, but in all honesty I had been putting off watching his latest film, Life on Our Planet, for some time. I knew it was going to tell me the hard truths which, in the context of Trump, racial inequality and loo-roll stockpilers, I didn’t quite feel strong enough to be reminded of.

But last week, I buckled up and settled in to watch Dave say his piece, and I’m so glad I did. It was the most beautiful, uncomfortable and hopeful thing I have seen all year.

Beautiful because of the jaw-dropping footage of the exquisite natural world that has evolved and flourished over billions of years. Cue breakdancing birds and smiley sloths. It’s Planet Earth and Sir David at their finest.

It was hit-you-in-gut-uncomfortable to hear Attenborough, one of my favorite grown-ups in the world, shift from soothing narrator, to pleading with us to do things differently. Laying out the stark numbers of just how much damage is being done through fossil fuel extraction, deforestation and mass consumption. We have hit our limit. We are already seeing the effects, and if we don’t do something about it in the next 10 years, our home will be uninhabitable in the next 50.

That is within the lifetime of my own sweet, oblivious baby daughter.

Ok now, deep breath. Because most importantly the film’s story is hopeful, and Oh-My-Giddy-Aunt do we need hope right now. The film imagines a thriving future of what the world could look like by 2070 if governments, corporations and individuals were to use the next decade as an opportunity to do things differently. To work together with nature and not against it. Leaving toxic fossil fuels in the ground, harnessing nature’s unlimited clean energy sources, restoring biodiversity and replanting the forests. We already have the technology, resources and people we need to help nature bounce back. Imagine that, a wonderfully rich, thriving world of fresh air, bumblebees and delicious palm-oil-free peanut butter.

After watching the film I felt this persistent knot in my stomach, grasping for something that would have an impact beyond using the odd reusable nappy and rinsing out the yoghurt pots. I decided to turn that fear into action. Attenborough’s words prompted me to think about things I’d read and conversations I’d had about the banking industry’s investments in fossil fuels. I’d always known that most banks were shady, so this was no surprise, but somehow I had never connected the dots that I had the power to take climate action by moving my finances. I could quite literally put my money where my mouth is.

When I spoke to my friends about it, most of them had never made the connection either. Although we may try to make ‘sustainable’ choices with our spending (shopping local, choosing green energy, buying wonky veg) so many of us rarely think about how our money is being used by those ‘looking after’ it.

The fact is, my hard earned dough has been sitting in the same place for years, purely out of convenience. 20 years ago I strode out of my local Barclays branch as a spotty teenager, clutching my plastic card with pride. So imagine my shock to discover that Barclays Bank is one of the biggest, baddest investors in fossil fuels, oil extraction and deforestation (other offenders include HSBC, Lloyds & RBS). The banking sector is directly funding the things that will destroy the future I so desperately want for my daughter. I even work for a company that helps organisations operate more sustainably, so frankly, this revelation was embarrassing.

So that’s why, this week, thanks to Attenborough’s smiley sloths and a lot of research, I switched to an ethical bank that invests in the future I want for my girl. In fact the bank I chose, Triodos (other options are listed below), had to put me on a waiting list after seeing a sudden increase in people signing up. Here’s me thinking I’m some kind of financial trailblazer, and turns out everybody’s at it. Even the lovely customer service bloke I spoke to had lost his voice from helping so many people switch their accounts that week — now that was heartening to hear.

When I called Barclays to tell them why I was switching, I was put on hold while they scrambled around for what I presume was their ‘Disgruntled Mothers’ script. I was hurriedly told to check out their website (I had and couldn’t find anything) and that a leaflet about their target to become net-zero by 2050 would be in the post. Too late guys, far too late.

On reflection, I realised that I’ve never felt fully equipped or confident when it comes to my personal finances. Dealing with money has always made me squirm a bit — sorting the bill at the end of the meal being my worst nightmare. But making the switch was easy, it has not only made me feel like an absolute hero, but has empowered me to educate myself on how to manage my bank balance better, and in a way that aligns with my beliefs. The financial sector can often feel so impenetrable that it’s easy to think of ourselves as just consumers using a ‘service’ while the experts do the rest, when of course we are more than that. Above all we are people, citizens with the power and ability to choose the kind of future we want to fund.

Imagine if more of us were to do this, If we were to make the connection between our values and our bank accounts. If we encouraged our parents and the companies we work for to move their money and their pensions, imagine if we did this and told our banks why we were switching, imagine the collective impact that would have on the future of our precious planet.

So how about making the switch? Do it for your loved ones, do it for the breakdancing birds, do it for Sir David.

If this article has resonated with you, I have posted 3 things below you can watch, read and do to take positive action on the climate crisis by moving your money.

  1. Watch Life on Our Planet Netflix
  2. Find a list if ethical UK banks to choose from
  3. Sign open letter to Barclays CEO Jes Staley telling him to stop funding climate breakdown