Every investment is a moral decision

The Rev. Michael Van Dusen is escorted by police out of the RBC branch.
The Rev. Michael Van Dusen is escorted by police out of the RBC branch.
 on May 30, 2024

On the morning of April 9, nine people from Faith and Climate Action sat in a branch of the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) in downtown Toronto. Two of the nine were Anglicans. They were protesting RBC’s multi-billion-dollar investments in fossil fuel developments, among the highest in the world over the five years (2017 to 2022) for which records are available. The group included Quakers, Roman Catholics, United Church members and Unitarians, as well as Anglicans.

As they sat, they prayed and sang hymns of gratitude for creation. Outside the branch, another group of about 20 protesters, including more Anglicans, held up banners and signs and handed out leaflets explaining the action. The people had been trained in non-violent direct action to ensure that the demonstration was peaceful.

RBC’s $42 billion (U.S.) investments included being the leading financier of Tar Sands developments in 2022. Why is that important? In January, Nature Briefing reported research showing that “Canada’s oil-producing tar sands generate as much pollution-causing emissions as all of the country’s other human-generated sources combined… Actual emissions were up to 64 times greater than reported by industry.” RBC also invests in fracking, Arctic and Amazonian exploration and pipelines crossing First Nations lands.

Supporters protest outside.

But Faith and Climate Action sees RBC’s investments as going beyond the economics, science and Indigenous rights issues, as important as they are. In our baptismal covenant, Anglicans vow that we will “strive to safeguard the integrity of God’s creation and respect, sustain and renew the life of the earth.” Other faiths have similar statements of belief in the sacred relationship between the Creator and creation. The collective view is that investing in climate-damaging fossil fuels is a moral matter. Paraphrasing Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Si, every investment is a moral decision.

The demonstration did not happen without preamble. The group had tried to engage executives of the bank in discussion about its fossil fuel investment policies in late 2023. It first sent an email to John Stackhouse, RBC’s senior vice president who is identified as having a special involvement in environmental issues for the bank, then followed up with a letter that read, in part:

“We urge RBC to:

  1. publicly commit to immediately end your support for all new fossil fuel projects, including exploration, extraction, transportation and power;
  2. publish a robust plan for phasing out your support for all existing fossil fuel projects and companies on a timetable consistent with what is necessary to meet the Paris targets;
  3. ensure that you do not lend to companies that operate in Indigenous territories without free and informed prior consent.

“We are wondering: why does RBC continue to finance new and existing fossil fuel projects at unmatched levels when doing so poses a threat to the survival of our children and grandchildren? We would like to meet with you in person at your earliest convenience to hear your response to this question.

“The United Nations Secretary General and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have made it clear that greenhouse gas emissions from existing and planned fossil fuel infrastructure will push global heating beyond 1.5 degrees, and that no more fossil fuel sources can be opened if the world is to avoid catastrophic heating.

“However, according to the most recent Banking on Climate Chaos report, RBC was the world’s  biggest fossil fuel financier in 2022, providing over $42 billion (U.S.) in funding to fossil fuel companies (with over $250 billion U.S. in financing since 2016). Meanwhile, we will continue to mobilize members of our own and other faith communities to take action to resist the continued financing of climate polluting fossil fuel projects which put our collective survival at risk.”

The letter was signed by five individuals with their faith group identified, stating that “faith organizations listed are for identification purposes only” not as official endorsement by the different denominations. I signed the letter, identifying myself as an Anglican deacon.

Despite these requests, we received neither a meeting nor even an acknowledgement. The demonstration and sit-in was the first step of a follow-up to the non-response. The group regards the protests as a campaign, not an event. Other actions will follow until the bank responds.

Each of us protestors in the bank that morning was ticketed for trespass and fined $65. A number of us have asked to appear in court to fight the fine on the basis of our moral obligation to creation and our Creator.

RBC is only the worst of the major Canadian chartered banks investing in climate-wrecking pollution, not the only one. This campaign intends to tackle the worst offender first.


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