Don’t Bank on It

How B of A and other megalenders back coal to foul the world


I used to wonder what really good surfers thought about—I mean, besides sharks. Now, after watching and watching again his brilliant YouTube video, I have a good idea about what at least one wave rider is thinking: let’s alter global finance together.

With sun-bleached hair and faded T-shirt, this tanned teenager says to the camera, “My name is Kyle Thiermann, and I’m a surfer from Santa Cruz. And recently I went on one of the best trips of my life, to Constitución, Chile.” Bam. Scene change to South America, downbeat to Chilean music and we dive under the surface of his purpose-driven vacation to see the stunning landscape and hear the charged voices of Chilean men and women who don’t want a coal power plant built on their coastline any more than we would want one at China Camp or Goat Rock. Who is funding it? In part, Bank of America customers including those in Marin, Sonoma and Napa counties.

Bank of America and Citigroup have long been funders of coal power; one bank-funded developer has even been implicated in the alleged murder of Colombian coal miners attempting to unionize. It’s disturbing to learn what your paycheck or your savings can do without your permission.

A freshman majoring in green business, Thiermann explains in his video how B of A, using the combined funds from customer-supplied deposits, loans money to coal corporations that develop plants around the world. Rainforest Action Network reports that the 150 new coal-fired power plants in development in the United States alone will “emit an estimated 600 million tons of greenhouse gases every year” and “negate, in just 10 days of operation, Home Depot’s efforts to curb climate change by funding the planting of 300,000 trees across the country; negate, in just one month, Wal-Mart’s investment of a half billion dollars to reduce the energy consumption and GHG emissions of their buildings by 20 percent over the next seven years; and negate, in just eight months, California’s recently passed legislation that would cut GHG emissions in new cars by 25 percent and SUVS by 18 percent starting in 2009.” The Rainforest Action Network has targeted the world’s largest banks in an attempt to stop the funding of more coal power plants and to start funding alternative energy projects instead.

In a phone interview, Thiermann explains that his video was a student project through Gaia University. “I’ve never been interested in banking before, but I got the idea when I learned that the only thing that might stop the [Los Robles] coal plant from going forward was if they couldn’t get funding from a bank,” Thiermann says. “So since it’s our dollars doing that, it’s very easy for everyone to stop funding the problem and start funding healthy projects. All we have to do is put our money into local banks that fund local projects.”

To accomplish his goal of educating the public about banking practices, Thiermann wrote a successful grant to the Carter Foundation, allowing him to take his surfboard along with photographer Ryan Craig to Chile for interviews and some spectacular surfing on some of the best waves in the world. These same waves will be fouled along with the fishing industry if the Los Robles coal-plant is built. Presently, due to protests and activism, coal plant developer AES Gener has placed the Los Robles plant temporarily on hold because, yes, there appears to be a problem with funding. (In 2008, AES’ utilities revenues in South America were over $6 billion.)

Since his video was posted on July 7, Thiermann calculates the money moved from big banks to local ones amounts to about $350,000, and is growing. That number will jump into the millions, Thiermann says, when a Los Angeles&–based clothing company, Livity Outernational, moves its account from Bank of America to the San Francisco&–based New Resources Bank. The owner of the company called Thiermann after seeing the video. “Everyone has a bank account,” Thiermann says. “It’s one of the easiest and most powerful tools we have to affect change in our community as well as worldwide.”

To watch Thiermann in action, go to