I Quit My Bank. Am I Saving The World?

Illustration by Yifan Wu

I had a real spring in my step after leaving Chase Bank in December. I didn’t just leave the branch, I left the bank — properly and for­ever: Closed my account, took my money back, peaced right out of there. I felt like doing that Fred Astaire move where he jumps up and clicks his heels, but I didn’t.

I’m kind of a nervous person and there were teen­agers close by. I was giddy because I’d finally fulfilled a promise to myself, that I would leave Chase and stop helping them destroy the planet.

I joined a credit union and posted a picture of my chopped-up Chase cards on Instagram. Sudden­ly, all of my friends and their friends were clamour­ing to know how they could do the same. I broke the internet. It was exactly like the time Kim Kardashi­an released photos of her shiny bare bottom, except this time it was just me, and a constructive action taken to prevent total climate collapse. Everybody wanted to know how they could leave too.

Bank’s deadly habit

I’d been meaning to leave for ages, ever since I learnt about how Chase and other American banks invest their customers’ money in the fossil fuel in­dustry. Last March, I called Chase and the lady in customer services hung up when I asked her about the bank’s deadly habit. I wish I could have left then and there, but I wanted to pay off my credit card bill first.

You have to earn the right to be hopeless. Unless you have truly exhausted all of the options you can’t truthfully claim it.Maeve Higgins

I owed Chase thousands of truly unnecessary dollars because my credit card had a mind of her own! She was forever putting me into Lyfts instead of letting me walk or take the train, constantly or­dering food online instead of allowing me to cook, and staying up late buying too many skincare prod­ucts on Amazon.

The funny thing is, walking calms me down, I like cooking, and I never worried about my skin until I started buying all those potions. It is not lost on me that the things I spent money on — the real reasons I got stuck with Chase — took a heavy toll on other people, land and animals.

Profiting from behaviour

Buying, taking and using exhausts me and depletes everything around me, except the compa­nies profiting from my behaviour. My credit card put me in a car driven by a person trying to get by in a punishing gig economy. Unlike Lyft drivers, public transport workers are unionised and paid a fair and regular wage (and, of course, the carbon emissions are lower than cars).

My old credit card made Seamless an easy choice too, but ticking the box that mockingly says “Spare me the napkins and plasticware. I’m trying to save the earth” made me furious. The food ar­rives in plastic boxes and bags, and the fact that Earth is not capitalised is just too on the nose.

I’m regularly surprised by how enmeshed I am in the ways we wreck this world of ours. Do I have hope? Well, hoping does not change what’s going to happen. I that Michael B. Jordan will fall for me and together we will move to an island and set up a donkey sanctuary.

But hoping won’t make that happen — action will. Until I find out where he lives and linger on the streets calling out “Oh Michael, sweetie, where are you?” in a spooky voice, we may never even end up together! Being hopeless is equally ludicrous.

Predicting doom

It is fashionable today to predict doom with a nonchalant sort of nihilism, but behaving as though the apocalypse is inevitable negates the work of so many people trying to prevent it. You have to earn the right to be hopeless. Unless you have truly exhausted all of the options you can’t truthfully claim it.

In a mess this big, the only right choice is to take action. It shouldn’t be hard, but it is: It took me months to leave Chase. Curbing my own behav­iour is difficult when I know that 20 fossil fuel com­panies are responsible for one-third of all carbon emissions. I’m living under the Trump administra­tion, which is almost laughably dedicated to endan­gering us all.

But it’s getting more difficult to ignore my complicity — and that discomfort makes me act. That and Sadie, my pink-cheeked and gentle niece in Ireland who looked up at me the last time I flew (I know!) home and said, “Sometimes I wonder, is that moon following me?” Sadie is four years old: She deserves a fair chance at a healthy and safe life, just as every child does.

The actions I’m taking are small, but I hope they’re building up. And you know what I’m about to say: If everybody took action — I mean every single one of us — we would be plain sailing. Well, almost. So, what will you do?

Hold corporations to account, sue your gov­ernment, be responsible for your own carbon foot­print, change the bank you use, change the way you live? Do something. I’ll try too.

Orginally published in The New York Times

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