I’ve had an account at the Royal Bank account for some thirty-five years, much longer than I have lived in Kingston. I have, however, just removed virtually all the money from RBC as part of a “divestment” effort by fellow seniors who are appalled by the bank’s lending practices.
By lending tens of billions of dollars – including my modest savings – to fossil fuel schemes, banks like RBC are helping to fry the planet. And there are alternatives. Global banks like HSBC and Barclay’s are moving to discontinue funding projects that spew massive volumes of CO2 into our shared atmosphere. Why can’t RBC do the same?
RBC is the primary funder of Coastal Gaslink being built through traditional Wet’suwet’en lands in British Columbia. Yet the bank is also a sponsor of Truth & Reconciliation Week, making the florid claim that it “stands for indigenous inclusion and prosperity.”
“When it comes to climate action, RBC talks a big game,” says Kyla Tienhaara, Canada Research Chair in Economy and Environment at Queen’s. “But the reality is that the bank is putting 99 per cent of its energy finance into fossil fuels and only 1 per cent into renewables.”
RBC is trying to polish its tarnished image. Its website acknowledges that climate change (I prefer climate “breakdown”) is “one of the most pressing issues of our age, assuring us that “RBC and our partners work to accelerate clean economic growth and the transition to the net-zero economy.”
Prof. Tienhaara disagrees. “RBC is supporting pipeline projects within Canada and abroad that lack the consent of local communities, threaten livelihoods, and will damage sensitive ecosystems. These pipelines also lock-in further oil and gas extraction, which is incompatible with keeping global warming below 1.5C.”
This is why I walked over to Market Square to deposit the money from RBC into my credit union account. Canada’s biggest bank is trying to put a shroud of bafflegab over rank refuse of unchained greed.
I joined the Seniors for Climate Action Now! (SCAN!) when my granddaughter was born in 2021. By the time Nora gets to be my age, the end of the 21st century will be in sight.
Why seniors? Why now? Because I’m a senior who’s getting more and more anxious about Nora’s future — not to mention that of children all over the world. But especially in poor countries. Because now is the time to turn things around by divesting from RBC and other climate culprits.
I can’t know whether Nora will ever have children or grandchildren. Indeed, some are so worried about the planet’s dire future that they’re reconsidering the once-unquestioned idea of even having children.
We can’t predict what things will look like by century’s end. But the signs are foreboding. Will Nora’s world resemble a scary horror movie?
Birds fell from the sky during the latest heat wave in India. Last year, floods destroyed four-million acres of crops in Pakistan. British Columbia has been ravaged by fire and flood. Record hurricanes have ripped apart the coasts of Newfoundland and PEI. Canada’s rapidly thawing northern permafrost is generating unimaginable carbon dioxide and methane emissions — a terrifying carbon bomb.
I worry that if today’s elders – people of a certain age, like me – don’t take action on climate breakdown now, while we still can, future generations will judge us harshly. There’s that now, again.
Dave Wyatt, 72, and his wife Judi, 71, have just divested every dollar of their savings and investments from RBC.
Dave’s story is different than mine, although our fathers were both bankers who started their careers during the Great Depression. My dad Joe retired from his decades at the Bank of Montreal as a branch manager in Montreal.
Dave’s father Hal started as a junior clerk at the Royal Bank’s branch in Eyebrow, Saskatchewan. When he retired he was at the top, RBC’s Vice-chair and a senior Director.
Explaining his decision to turn his back on his father’s bank — and his own decades as a customer — Dave is pretty frank. He says that his father “would be completely disgusted” with RBC’s prominent role as a leading lender to fossil fuel industry.
It’s a matter of public pressure. This kind of boycott sometimes seems miniscule in the face of corporate behemoths. After all, RBC’s 2021 assets amounted to $1.71 trillion dollars. But symbols of moral disgust can count. Recall the release of Nelson Mandela and the end of South Africa’s odious apartheid system: Facing public revulsion and pressure to divest, massive pension had divested from South Africa in the 1980s. Although resistance from Black South Africans certainly led the way, the divestment movement’s role was also a factor. Money talks.
“For the future of our grandchildren and their children, we have to get the bank to start taking concrete action to divest from the oil industry,” says Dave Wyatt. “And one way of doing that is for bank customers to divest. Last week my wife and I divested from the Royal Bank and I would encourage other customers to do likewise.”
When I pulled out of the RBC, I gave the teller a letter that SCAN! prepared for RBC workers, explaining our position. (I also passed along a photo of Nora who is, let it be said, very cute) Our letter emphasizes that people behind the counter are not to blame for RBC’s policies. As part of an RBC divestment campaign, SCAN! supporters in Kingston will soon have collectively divested up to $1.5 million from RBC.
On March 21 SCAN! Kingston teamed up with Queen’s Backing Action on the Climate Crisis and 350.org to stage a spirited rally at the main RBC office downtown.
Kingston writer and SCAN! member Jamie Swift is the author of numerous books.
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