The New York Times reports on a welcome development: some banks are getting cold feet about lending to projects that are legal but still produce environmental damage:
After years of legal entanglements arising from environmental messes and increased scrutiny of banks that finance the dirtiest industries, several large commercial lenders are taking a stand on industry practices that they regard as risky to their reputations and bottom lines.
The article does note that in some cases, there may be less to this than meets the eye. Some banks may simply be using good citizenship as a cover for exiting businesses in which they are not competitive. Although the article emphasizes pressures applied by various environmental groups on a wide range of issues, this does not seem a sufficient proximate cause.
It seems instead that the banks in question are recognizing that the lines are shifting in this area and that concerns about global warming and resource scarcity mean the odds are high that taxes or more restrictive regulations may be imposed that could have a significantly detrimental impact on the profit of companies that engage in questionable practices (the Times story clearly mentions the financial considerations but does not present them as central). Thus while the Times presents the banks as reluctant cops, it might be more accurate to see them as leading indicators, since they have the most to lose if wrong footed by changes in government policies on environmental damage.
Thus the banks’ growing caution is a sign that more stringent environmental protection standards are indeed likely in the years to come