Standing Rock’s Surprising Legacy: A Push for Public Banks
By Deonna Anderson
In February 2017, Seattle became the first city to pass legislation to divest from a financial institution because of its role in funding the Dakota Access pipeline.
Months of rallies, public testimony at city council meetings and protests at Wells Fargo branches across Seattle led to the unanimous vote to divest billions from the bank. Los Angeles and Philadelphia would follow. But when the time came to withdraw its money from the bank at the end of 2018, Seattle instead renewed its contract with Wells Fargo. The political decision to divest city money from one of the biggest banks funding DAPL was reversed because the city hadn't found an alternative financial institution to house its money.
Pipeline Divestment Starts at Standing Rock
Throughout 2016 and after, indigenous activists (often referred to as water protectors) protested the DAPL at the Standing Rock camp in North Dakota. Despite opposition, the camp at Standing Rock was cleared in February 2017, and oil started flowing through the DAPL in June 2017.
But the camp wasn't the only site of resistance. In October 2017, organizers—under the name Mazaska ("money" in Lakota) Talks—launched a campaign that urged individuals and larger entities, especially cities, to take money out of banks funding the DAPL and other pipeline projects transporting oil from Alberta's tar sands, including Keystone XL, Trans Mountain, and Energy East.
The idea was that removing money from the banks could put a stop to the projects. The phrase "Kill the funding. Kill the pipelines" was commonly spoken by divest advocates.
Wells Fargo was one of 17 funders of the DAPL; others included Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, and JPMorgan Chase. In September 2017, Mazaska Talks reported that the divestment movement was responsible for over $5 billion being withdrawn from DAPL-funding banks. That figure included the billions divested by Seattle, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles and more than $80 million in individual accounts.
Public Banks as an Alternative
Moving city money out of Wells Fargo was a way for local politicians to put their money "where their values are," said Seattle resident Matt Remle, co-founder of Mazaska Talks and a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. That's because council members would be removing city money from financial institutions that fund projects that hurt the environment and communities. Some of the banks that fund fossil fuel projects also fund private prisons, detention centers, and weapons manufacturers.
"We want an avenue through which ordinary people can access banking services regardless of income and in a way that does not engage in any exploitative practices," said Seattle City council member Kshama Sawant, who was a co-sponsor for the divestment ordinance.
Once Seattle had committed to move its money, the city needed somewhere to move it to.
"When we were organizing around getting [Seattle] to divest, the question all along was what to do with the city's money," Remle said. "And our philosophy was it's not going to be a victory to close accounts with Wells Fargo and go to Bank of America."
Organizers saw public banks as the solution.
A public bank is an institution owned by a governmental body, funded with taxpayer money, and mandated to serve the public interest. In summer 2017, Remle and other Seattleites started advocating for the city to establish a public bank, a process that could take years.
Sawant said a public bank "would be accountable to the people of Seattle in a way that you could never hold a private bank accountable," adding that the city could better direct the bank's resources, like loans, to projects that support community-directed goals. Remle noted affordable housing, homelessness services, and funding for higher education as causes the city might fund.
Ultimately, the city's historic move to divest from Wells Fargo was undermined. It intended to end its relationship with the bank at the end of 2018, but the city failed to find a new place to house its $3 billion.
So it renewed its contract with Wells Fargo for three more years.
"At that moment there was no other choice but to continue with Wells Fargo, but it's a reminder of how the movements work. Winning the Wells Fargo divestment was sort of step one," Sawant said.
The next step, the council member said, is to demand that obstacles—such as the inability for credit unions to serve municipalities and the Washington law that bars cities from establishing any type of business entity—are removed so that the city or state can establish a public bank.
Bank of North Dakota
As it stands, North Dakota is the only place in the continental U.S. with a state bank. Bank of North Dakota was founded in 1919 and, for public bank advocates, it serves as a model.
Opponents of public banking have pointed to the failures of the 1800s public banks in Vermont and Indiana as examples of why public banks don't work. While serving as the director of financial regulation studies at the Cato Institute, Mark Calabria argued that the public banks of this era were "characterized by rampant corruption."
But advocates point to the success of Bank of North Dakota, established at a time when farmers in the state had trouble obtaining credit for their businesses, as evidence that a state bank could work. The bank was started to provide farmers credit and serve as the state's financial repository. It has since evolved to finance the state's infrastructure projects.
"We need banks that are publicly owned so we can take our very substantial public deposits and public revenues and public resources and leverage them for local purposes instead of sending them to Wall Street," said Ellen Brown, founder of the Public Banking Institute. "Cut out the middle man, basically, which is what the Bank of North Dakota does."
While some profits from Bank of North Dakota are used to fund mission-driven loan programs related to economic development and infrastructure, the bank has also faced criticism for lending nearly $10 million for the law enforcement response to the #NoDAPL protests in North Dakota.
With that in mind, advocates in Seattle and elsewhere have been considering how to ensure transparency and accountability in municipal bank charters.
Barriers to Public Banks
Seattle is just one entity looking to move its money out of corporate banks and into socially responsible ventures from which local communities would benefit.
Philadelphia, New Haven in Connecticut, and Santa Monica and Davis in California have divested money from large banks, and others—like Santa Fe in New Mexico, Oakland in California, and Washington, D.C.—have completed feasibility studies for public banks. But not many of these efforts have really taken off. Each location comes with its own set of challenges.
One barrier to getting a public bank off the ground is high startup costs. This was the case in Massachusetts, where a 2011 report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston—which used Bank of North Dakota as a model—estimated that startup costs for a state-owned bank in Massachusetts would have been $3.6 billion. Some advocates say this figure is an overestimate; banks generally need tens of millions to start, Brown said.The figure varies based on the bank's location, growth prospects, and risk profile, according to the Partnership for Progress, a program of the Federal Reserve System.
Because proposed banks have unique business plans, market competition, and local economic context, among other factors, the FDIC does not prescribe a minimum of initial capital. But the agency does suggest that organizers examine "the risks inherent in the institution's business model, the potential variability in earnings projections, and the skill and ability of the management team to carry out the business plan" when planning to apply for insurance.
There are also legal challenges to establishing public banks in some locations. Many states and cities—including Sante Fe,San Francisco, and Los Angeles—have clauses in their charters that inhibit them from establishing public banks. There's movement in some cities and states to overcome institutionalized policy barriers to establishing public banks. In Los Angeles, a measure on the November ballot would amend the city's charter and allow it to explore establishing its own financial institution. And in San Francisco, a task force was established in February 2018 to examine legal barriers and startup needs, such as insurance, a government-issued charter, and costs. In November 2018, the task force will have wrapped its examination.
Both Los Angeles and San Francisco are part of the California Public Banking Alliance, with members across the state working to establish city and regional public banks that are "socially and environmentally responsible," as noted on the coalition's website. Additionally, the alliance has pushed for state legislation that would instruct the California Department of Business Oversight to issue a special license for cities to form public banks and allow them to bypass regulations that apply to private banks.
Taking the First Steps
Over the years, Seattleites and Washingtonians have been pushing for a public bank. Since 2009, state Sen. Bob Hasegawa—who represents Seattle's 11th state Senate district—has introduced nine bills to establish a state bank, and he championed a city-owned bank during his mayoral campaign in 2017. While none of the bills passed, state legislators funded a feasibility study in the 2017–19 operating budget.
The main obstacle to starting a public bank in Washington is that the state constitution prohibits the state and its cities from loaning money or credit to individuals, associations or corporations.
The fight against the DAPL brought new energy to the effort in Seattle. Organizers believe a public bank could allow the city to have more funds to address the needs of residents.
"Recapturing some of that would create major savings that could help us fund things like education, housing, and transit," wrote organizer Alec Connon on a blog for the climate justice group 350 Seattle. "Done right, a public bank would save city money, create jobs, and provide affordable loans to small businesses."
While Seattle had to postpone its divestment from Wells Fargo, organizers—and city council members—have continued to push for the idea.
"That movement for divesting from Wells Fargo not only did the groundwork, but also set a line in the sand that this is something that we believe the city of Seattle should be going toward," Sawant said, noting that there is still hope of establishing a public bank in the city.
"We don't expect a straightforward path but we also believe that this is the correct thing to do."
In December 2017, city council members voted to allocate $100,000 to conduct a feasibility study for a municipal bank. The study was released in October 2018 and concluded that creating a public bank would be an involved and long-term process. One of the next steps identified was for the city of Seattle to develop a business plan for a municipal bank that would meet all the legal and regulatory requirements in Washington. Council member Sawant has submitted a request for a business plan in the budget development process for 2019.
"We're still looking at very long term. Even if the study comes back positive, the city council says yes, the mayor approves—we're still looking at probably, I would assume, another year plus to get the actual infrastructure and everything kind of set," Remle said. "But the wheels are definitely in motion."
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2019 edition of YES! Magazine. It's been updated here to correctly designate Bank of North Dakota as a public, not a municipal bank, and to include the results of the city of Seattle's study on creating a municipal bank.
Reposted with permission from our media associate YES! Magazine.
Material Revolutions: Shirts Made from Shellfish, Biodegradable Rum Bottles and Reusable Fast Food Containers
In the age of consumption, sustainability innovations can help shift cultural habits and protect dwindling natural resources. Improvements in source materials, product durability and end-of-life disposal procedures can create consumer products that are better for the Earth throughout their lifecycles. Three recent advancements hope to make a difference.
1. Allbirds Shirts Made From Shellfish<p>Sustainable sneaker start-up <a href="https://www.allbirds.com/pages/apparel" target="_blank">Allbirds</a> is known for its thoughtfulness for consumers and the environment. The four-year-old shoe company has become hugely popular by creating comfortable shoes made from responsibly sourced materials like tencel and wool, reported <a href="https://www.fastcompany.com/90565358/allbirds-new-clothing-line-includes-t-shirts-made-from-discarded-crab-shells" target="_blank">Fast Company</a>.</p><p>Recently, Allbirds launched its debut apparel line with garments for men and women made with eco-friendly materials that have a low carbon footprint, the report said.</p><p>Introduced along with the line is a new t-shirt material called "TrinoXO," which is made from wool and discarded snow crab shells from Canada's seafood industry, reported <a href="https://www.cnbc.com/2020/10/20/sustainable-sneaker-start-up-allbirds-is-selling-sweaters-t-shirts.html" target="_blank">CNBC</a> and <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/20/business/allbirds-sustainable-apparel/index.html" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">CNN</a>. The shells are the "number two discarded resource on earth," Allbirds claims, reported <a href="https://www.menshealth.com/style/a34427585/allbirds-apparel-clothing-line-review/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Men's Health</a>.</p><p>"Discarded material is the holy grail when it comes to sustainable fibers," Jad Finck, Allbirds head of innovation and sustainability, told Fast Company. "It's far better for the environment than getting raw materials from scratch."</p><p>The shells have antimicrobial properties that keep clothes fresh even after hours of wear, without the need to add "extractive" materials like zinc or silver, Men's Health reported. This allows for longer periods of wear between washes, reducing clothes' environmental footprint.</p><p>"We knew we wanted to be a real brand, and had this vision that we'd be an innovation company first, and a product company second," co-founder Joey Zwillinger told <a href="https://www.vogue.com/article/allbirds-launches-clothing" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Vogue</a>. "And our products would solve problems for people in a natural way, and show the world that you don't have to compromise on the planet for amazing products."</p>
2. Bacardi Biodegradable Rum Bottles<p>By 2023, <a href="https://www.bacardi.com/us/en/" target="_blank">Bacardi</a> rum will be sold in 100% biodegradable bottles, <a href="https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20201021005281/en/Bacardi-First-in-Fight-Against-Plastic-Pollution-With-100-Biodegradable-Spirits-Bottle" target="_blank">Business Wire</a> reported.</p><p>The alcohol giant is collaborating with Danimer Scientific, a leading developer of biodegradable products, to create the new bottles using the natural oils of plant seeds such as palm, canola and soy, the report said.</p><p>According to <a href="https://sports.yahoo.com/bacardi-to-make-100-biodegradable-spirits-bottle-124436841.html?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAE1Wl8ONNdph3ID8reylzGM8dbX575Mk96Jw6z3kHZaGjKCz_UgQgxH0Q1n3RNCzhOMBEZ7fAIf8iiOXLRtY9VVHNZsmb-w1VOJnGlzIbuwhmoBo_KOV4dba8FoWrkgmmwwCyQZnRoTL0Uda6HQ4pE5ewGWh2pwQzjS3gKAe1ynm" target="_blank">Yahoo Finance UK</a>, the new bottle will biodegrade in a wide range of environments, including compost, soil, freshwater and seawater. After 18 months, the bottle will disappear completely without leaving microplastics.</p><p>"Nodax PHA is one of the most promising eco-friendly materials in the world today because it delivers the biodegradability that consumers demand without losing the quality feel they receive from traditional plastic," said Danimer Scientific chief marketing & sustainability officer Scott Tuten, reported <a href="https://www.thrillist.com/news/nation/bacardi-biodegradable-spirits-bottle-plastic-free-packaging" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Thrillist</a>. "The material provides the best of both worlds, and we look forward to working with Bacardí and incorporating PHA into their iconic packaging."</p><p>Bacardi is also creating a sustainably sourced paper bottle, Yahoo reported.</p><p>The manufacturing of both new bottle types will save energy over petroleum-based plastic ones. Bacardi plans to share the technology with competitors to help in the global fight against <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/plastic-pollution" target="_self">plastic pollution</a>, and aims to be 100% plastic-free by 2030, reported Thrillist.</p>
3. Burger King Reusable Fast Food Containers<p>Fast food giant <a href="https://www.bk.com/" target="_blank">Burger King</a> plans to launch reusable Whopper boxes and soda cups by next year. Partnering with TerraCycle's zero-waste packaging division Loop, Burger King will nudge customers to return the specialized packaging for hygienic washing and reuse, similar to how milk bottles used to be returned, reported <a href="https://www.marketwatch.com/story/can-burger-kings-reusable-packaging-change-fast-food-forever-11603392581" target="_blank">MarketWatch</a>.</p><p>"During COVID, we have seen the environmental impact of <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/air-pollution-food-delivery-plastic-waste-2648454324.html" target="_self">increased takeaway ordering</a>, which makes this initiative by Burger King all the more important," said Tom Szaky, TerraCycle and Loop CEO, according to MarketWatch.</p><p>Customers who don't feel comfortable can opt-out of the service, <a href="https://www.abc10.com/article/entertainment/television/programs/the-buzz-burger-king-to-test-reusable-packaging-in-2021/77-f01f1b70-05b7-436d-9971-a7dd6081249b" target="_blank">ABC News</a> reported. Those who are willing to try will be charged a small deposit upon purchase, and when the packaging is returned, they will receive a refund, reported <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/22/business/burger-king-reusable-packaging-sustainability/index.html" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">CNN</a>.</p><p>Burger King and TerraCycle are aiming for a container that can be used at least 100 times, reported <a href="https://www.fastcompany.com/90566995/burger-kings-new-whopper-packaging-isnt-greasy-cardboard-its-reusable" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Fast Company</a>.</p><p>"The benefit is, you're able to serve your guests without having to create that single-use item in the first place," Matt Banton, global head of innovation and sustainability at Burger King, told <a href="https://www.fastcompany.com/90566995/burger-kings-new-whopper-packaging-isnt-greasy-cardboard-its-reusable" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Fast Company</a>. "This product is durable enough to go through the system multiple times, so it's ultimately reducing our environmental impact, and minimizing the amount of single-use packaging that we have to produce as well."</p><p>Burger King has also committed to sourcing 100% of its customer packaging from renewable, recycled or certified outlets, and recycling all customer packaging at its restaurants in the United States and Canada by 2025, reported CNN.</p>
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The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.
"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."
The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.
They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.
They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.
But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.
"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.
What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.
It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.
To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.
First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.
Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.
University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.
"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."
Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.
"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.
There are many different CBD oil brands in today's market. But, figuring out which brand is the best and which brand has the strongest oil might feel challenging and confusing. Our simple guide to the strongest CBD oils will point you in the right direction.
In 'Road Map for a More Sustainable Future,' NY Regulator Tells Banks to Consider Climate Risks in Planning
By Brett Wilkins
Regulators in New York state announced Thursday that banks and other financial services companies are expected to plan and prepare for risks posed by the climate crisis.
A NASA spacecraft has successfully collected a sample from the Bennu asteroid more than 200 million miles away from Earth. The samples were safely stored and will be preserved for scientists to study after the spacecraft drops them over the Utah desert in 2023, according to the Associated Press (AP).