Wall Street’s costly reputation problem

Not since the Great Depression have Americans harbored so much ill-will against what were once called “the monied interests.”

This should worry Wall Street and the big banks.

The latest evidence: Bank of America’s decision this week to drop its plans to charge customers $5 a month for making purchases with their debit cards, in the wake of a customer revolt.

Jay Leno

On change.org, a 22-year-old Washington, D.C., activist named Molly Katchpole started a petition against the BofA fee that gathered 306,000 signatures in less than a month. Politicians chimed in (for better or worse) and even Jay Leno got into the act, saying on Halloween night:

One kid wanted to charge me five bucks to give him candy…I said, “Who are you supposed to be?” He said, “Bank of America!”

BofA reversed itself after rivals Wells Fargo, J.P. Morgan Chase, Sun Trust and Regions Financial said they’d drop customer tests of new debit fees. Analysts say this will cost the banking industry as much as $8 billion in foregone revenue.

In other words, the banks are giving up billions of dollars because people don’t trust them to do the right thing.

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Must-see TV: What’s wrong with our energy policy?

Today, few words but a couple of videos instead, one from the left and one from the right (because we strive to be nonpartisan here at www.marcgunther.com).

The first, from the activist group Rainforest Action Network, is about the tragedy of mountaintop removal coal mining. RAN is running a campaign against banks that finance mountaintop removal, notably PNC, Citi and UBS. More here.

One thing I learned from the video: MTR coal accounts for just 7% of the coal burned in the U.S. Is this really necessary?

The second one-minute video comes from the conservative end of the political spectrum, namely, Fred Smith, the founder and CEO of FedEx. An advocate of electric cars, Smith is bothered by America’s dependence on imported oil.  He’s got a business agenda of course–high oil prices hurt FedEx–but the benefits of electrifying the U.S.’s transportation sector go well beyond cost to include reduced greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution and national security:

Thanks to Mitch Jackson for posting this on the FedEx blog. More info here. I’d encourage Fred Smith to talk to some of his Republican friends about why the threat of climate change is worth taking seriously.

JP Morgan Chase’s coal problem

Activists target Chase

Do we really want to keep blasting the tops off mountains, destroying forests and dumping the rubble into waterways, in order to extract and burn coal that is messing up the climate?

For now, the answer to that question is yes, despite vigorous efforts by environmentalists and activists in Appalachia to stop mountaintop removal mining. Some are behind a bill in Congress sponsored by Lamar Alexander, a Republican, to end the practice. Others are calling on big banks–in particular JP Morgan Chase–to stop financing mountaintop mining.

The pressure on JP Morgan Chase is coming from activist groups including the Sierra Club, the Rainforest Action Network and an Appalachian group called Climate Ground Zero which calls itself an “ongoing campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience in southern West Virginia to address mountaintop removal coal mining.” All are stepping up their efforts in advance of JP Morgan Chase’s annual shareholder meeting on May 18. They plan to release a list of the worst funders of MTR mining before then, and chances are Chase will be at or near the top.

What’s wrong with mountaintop removal mining? Lots. Here’s an overview from a [click to continue…]

Climate: where are we headed?

Here’s an interesting use of social media by a group called Climate Interactive. It’s an attempt to track progress being made at the Copenhagen climate negotiations. Climate Interactive (“vigorous sharing of user-friendly simulations”) grew out of modeling done at MIT, and has support from universities, nonprofits and business (Citi, Morgan Stanley, Nike, Schlumberger). Given the unavoidable uncertainties of climate science, these projections should be understood as best estimates. But the organization is admirably transparent about its methods and assumptions, as best as this non-scientist can tell.

Here’s a short video explaining the scorecard.

The question is, can organizing tools like this one motivate people to care about the impact of our actions today on generations to come?