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Big bank hypocrisy: inconsistent morals to drive consistent profits


For decades, Alaskans have been leading the way in responsible energy development. Our petroleum industry supports over 110,000 jobs, meaning 1 in 3 Alaskans pour their efforts into properly balancing the need for oil extraction with careful protection of our state’s unique ecosystems. But Alaskans’ deep connection to our oil reserves goes even further; the Alaska Permanent Fund has paid out over $25 billion directly to Alaskans, helping them afford their rent and mortgages, health care expenses, higher education, and food for their family’s tables. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter – a staunch environmentalist by any standard – designated the 10-02 area of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for energy development as part of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). For decades, Alaskans, including the Arctic Inupiat who live near ANWR, have looked toward the promise of drilling with hope and excitement.

In 2017, after nearly 40 years of fighting, we finally made the 10-02 area of ANWR available for oil extraction. Alaska was buzzing at the prospect of billions more for our families, schools, hospitals, and Native villages. That was before the world’s most prominent corporate banks decided they knew how to take care of Alaska better than Alaskans.

Earlier this year, as the lease sales for ANWR were set to begin, bank after bank decided the concerns of a handful of internet environmentalists outweighed the views of Alaskans and the Alaska Natives whose very livelihoods depend on oil revenue. Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, and Goldman Sachs announced that they would not be financing any oil drilling in the 10-02 area of ANWR. These banks and their multi-millionaire CEOs announced these policy changes were driven by both concern over climate change, and the desire to hear from Indigenous leaders in the Arctic. These are undoubtedly worthy goals, but the hypocrisy of these banks is laid bare after just a few moments of research.

I’ve called Alaska home for a long time, and recognize just as any other Alaskan does that a warming globe poses a threat. So the question must be asked: why do these banks continue to invest in drilling in other countries, but not in the U.S.? The answer is summed up in one word: hypocrisy. In 2006, China surpassed the United States in carbon emissions, becoming the world’s No. 1 polluter and driver of climate change. With this in mind, one might expect big banks to decline to fund Chinese oil drilling just as they have in the American Arctic. But just last month, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs – environmental activists when it comes to American oil – helped facilitate $56 billion in oil infrastructure construction in China. Why would these banks side with the Chinese Communist Party and their dirty oil drilling operations over the Arctic Inupiat of Kaktovik who live closest to ANWR? One word: hypocrisy. 

The opponents of drilling in ANWR have frequently cited the need to listen to Alaska Native voices and respect their wishes as they relate to energy development. The Gwich’in, whose ancestral homelands are hundreds of miles away from ANWR, have been the only Indigenous voices involved in the banks’ decisions against drilling. My late wife was Alaska Native, my children and grandchildren are Alaska Native; I agree that we should be including all Alaska Natives in the conversation. But that isn’t what these banks have done; they have engaged with only one group, while completely ignoring the Arctic Inupiat and others who support responsible resource extraction. The Inupiat of Kaktovik, the Native village entirely within ANWR, depend on oil revenues to build schools, construct safe water infrastructure, and provide health services, among other basic necessities. The Inupiat, like the Gwich’in, also subsistence hunt for Caribou. These Alaska Natives know firsthand that the environment can be protected simultaneously with drilling for oil. But their opinions aren’t the popular ones; they don’t sit well with left-wing activists on Twitter, so big banks ignore them. Why would these multibillion dollar financial institutions claim they want to include the voices of Alaska Natives while at the same time ignore the views of the Alaska Natives in ANWR? One word: hypocrisy.

We live in a unique time where more and more corporate brands promote the perspectives and views they align with, and banks are no different. A private business is entitled to their views, but one look at these banks’ activities across the world shows that their moralizing is nothing more than an act; performative activism for a left-wing audience. Alaska Natives use their oil revenue to educate their children, protect their centuries-old culture, and keep their families healthy. These actions aren’t worthy of investment by Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and other big banks. Meanwhile, China is currently carrying out one of the most significant human rights abuses in history through the imprisonment and reeducation of up to 3 million Uighur Muslims. It gets worse; recent evidence has surfaced revealing that Chinese authorities have subjected Uighur women to mass sterilization and forced abortions. It’s not just China. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia continues to benefit from billions of dollars in financing from these very banks, all while suppressing women’s rights, jailing political dissidents, and silencing journalists. If these large financial institutions find themselves wondering why people don’t believe their activism is truly heartfelt, they can look to their hypocrisy and embrace of authoritarianism-for-profit as the reason why.

The great people of Alaska appreciate and respect our beautiful and unique ecosystem. We also know that oil can be safely extracted while protecting the environments and respecting the culture and traditions of Alaska Natives. These big banks haven’t shown us profiles in courage by any means. On the contrary, they have simply given into the groupthink and mob mentality of left-wing environmental extremists. Alaskans see through their virtue-signaling hypocrisy, and know that it is nothing more than a stunt to protect bank profits in deep-blue states far removed from Alaska. Our state supports drilling, our governor supports drilling, Republicans and Democrats who have served in our congressional delegation support drilling, and the Alaska Natives who actually call ANWR home support drilling. It’s time for these banks to listen to the people who matter.

Don Young represents Alaska at-large and is the Dean of the House.

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