"I lived the banking lifestyle in my 20s and 30s, before I understood the damage it caused"
Andrew Medhurst is a busy man. After 17 years in fixed income sales and trading with HSBC in Asia and a scattering of buy-side jobs in London, he's become an activist. Medhurst is the 'banker-turned-Extinction Rebellion protestor' who was interviewed by Bloomberg standing in London's Trafalgar Square last week (before the police banned the protestors from the entire city). As the team leader for XR's UK finance working group he has a different sort of demanding life - not least because he now takes the train when he travels overseas, as he's doing this week for a speaking assignment in Madrid.
"Senior bankers and fund managers have ultra-carbon lifestyles," says Medhurst. "Yes, I lived that livestyle in my 30s and 40s (e.g. taking a posh foreign holiday to recover from a hellish year of 14 hours days at the bank) but I was ignorant of the damage I was doing. I'm not now."
Subsequent to his revelation, Medhurst hasn't flown for 18 months. He says bankers who fly for client meetings (or for pleasure) should visit the website Shameplane.com. "You need to understand that one round trip, business class between London and New York emits more carbon than you can save by being vegetarian, not driving and eating locally produced food for a whole year," says Medhurst. "The price of frequent business flights is a severely degraded future for our children and our grandchildren."
Medhurst says some of his former colleagues have been critical of his new life, but that most are supportive. "I bumped into a former boss (from my HSBC days in Tokyo in 1993-1995) and he asked me how he could donate to Extinction Rebellion," he says, adding that others have praised him for following his conscience. "Far too few ask themselves whether they should join protesters on the streets."
Most banks now issue chunky environmental and social reports in which they broadcast their carbon neutral credentials. Medhurst says this isn't enough. Banks also need to measure and report on the emissions of the services they provide to their clients. "These are known as 'financed emissions' and are far larger than 'direct emissions," he says. JPMorgan, for example, is committed to deriving 100% of its energy from renewables by 2020, but is accused of raising $75bn (£61bn) in funding for companies expanding in sectors such as fracking and Arctic oil and gas exploration.
Extinction Rebellion is frequently perceived as an anti-capitalist movement (a 'primeval anti-capitalist cult' in the words of the Telegraph), although the movement is agnostic beyond its demands that carbon emissions be cut fast. "If the market was working then banks wouldn't be funding fossil fuel infrastruture that, if used for its predicted life, assures us of temperatures > 3-4°C within the lifetimes of our children," says Medhurst. Medhurst is averse to a carbon tax on the grounds that the less well-off are penalized, but he's pro a carbon rationing system which is, "perceived to be fair to everyone."
These days Medhurst doesn't eat much meat, but isn't a vegan. He often walks, never flies, and eats a lot of home cooked food. "The 10% richest people on the planet (that's me and almost all the people reading this article) account for 50% of global carbon emissions," says Medurst. "If they reduce their personal footprint to the EU average that would be a 30% cut in global emissions...The question is whether bankers and fund managers care more for their own (current) lifestyles than a decent future for their kids."
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