Westpac: the bank that kicks you out for withdrawing $1!

Over the last week, people across New Zealand have taken part in a week of action targeting Westpac bank - a bank that claims to care about climate change, but in reality is busy funding five new coal mines in New Zealand. Ashlee Gross – who took part in the week of action tells us how and why she got kicked out of her bank. There’s something she needs your help with – read how you can help at the end!


This Wednesday I got kicked out of my bank…

I won’t pretend I wasn’t expecting to get thrown out; after sending them letters for the past two months and meeting with them last week, I was pretty aware that genuinely listening to me as a customer wasn’t that high on their list of priorities. Also, I was with 15 other people wearing t-shirts asking them to “stop using our money to finance climate change”.  

My bank – Westpac – happens to be really proud of its crafted public image of caring about sustainability, and has purportedly strong policies on climate change.  When we first started getting people to write to Westpac to ask them to stop financing plans for 5 new coal mines, I thought this might actually make them inclined to listen when we pointed out that these mines were one of the largest new planned sources of climate change from New Zealand.

But at this point, I didn’t figure wearing our request on a t-shirt – that other customers and the general public could see – rather than sending a letter to the CEO, was really going to go down that well. But anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself, you probably want to know what actually happened on Wednesday…

Myself and about 15 other customers went in and tried to each take $1 out of our accounts. We wanted to send a message to the bank that as customers we were serious about wanting them to stop re-loaning out our money to a company called Bathurst Resources, who plan to open a series of 5 new coal mines on and around the Denniston Plateau on the South Island of New Zealand…and that we could end up taking out a lot more than a dollar.

As I said, we expected to get kicked out – and did after just the third or fourth person tried to take out a dollar. But I still felt surprisingly frustrated, genuinely let down by my bank, and well, honestly, just a bit flummoxed.

The problem with the global fossil fuel industry’s plans (including Bathurst Resources’ plans) to dig up five times the fossil fuels that we can afford to burn couldn’t get any clearer. It’s a great big maths problem, and we’re trying to have a conversation with a bank, an institution that is all about numbers – how can they not clearly see the solution?

Yet somehow, in sitting in a meeting last week with reps from Westpac, and in reading messages trotted out by the New Zealand Government on why they were approving permits for the mines despite the Denniston Plateau being supposedly protected conservation land (and a globally unique ecosystem), it seems to keep coming back to the idea that ‘we have to go ahead with opening these new coal mines for the sake of the economy.’ 

Apparently Westpac, Bathurst Resources and the New Zealand Government can’t see any other options for keeping the New Zealand economy afloat except to expand our coal mining regardless of the CO2 emissions, or to open up huge sections of our coastline to exploratory deep sea oil drilling, which also started happening just last week. 

Which leaves me thinking back to 7th grade algebra class and feeling like they’ve forgotten to balance both sides of the equation. That’s where I’m hoping you, as 350 supporters from around the world might be willing to help. 

I think that Westpac, Bathurst Resources and the NZ Government have forgotten to add to the other side of the equation one of the biggest parts of New Zealand’s economy; the value of our “clean, green”, “100% Pure” image.  I also think they are very clearly forgetting to add the costs of climate change. 

If you have 10 to 15 minutes over the next week, it would be great if you could help remind them of the value of these things. Whether you’ve been to New Zealand and valued it’s beaches and forests, or know the lost value of a clean environment or the cost of climate change.  It would be amazing if you could write a letter to the editor of the New Zealand Herald letting them know what you think the real value of a genuinely clean, green New Zealand is, letting New Zealanders know that you stand with us on hoping to see the Denniston Plateau saved from coal mining, and encouraging Westpac and its customers to do their part by stopping financing to Bathurst.  You can send a letter online at http://dynamic.nzherald.co.nz/feedback/letters/index.cfm?  Or get more info at http://gofossilfree.org/nz/westpacdumpcoal/

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