Where Will The Money Come From?

By: Tom Pike

I dream of a world where every roof has solar panels, every basement has rainwater basins, every community has free heating and cooling, every vehicle is public, every dam is a battery, and every human is free. This makes me an ecosocialist.

But, to the sometime frustration of my fellows in the struggle, I am also a pragmatist. I would rather be taking an effective but incremental action than waiting idly for an opportunity for a transformative project that may never come.

Frustratingly, these transformative dream projects are all technologically feasible. We know how to store energy in dams. We know how to build public transportation. The barrier to dreams is always the same: But Where Would The Money Come From?

Speaking as a pragmatist, I learned only recently that there is actually an answer.

Take my adoptive home city of Los Angeles. When the city takes tax revenue, it doesn’t spend it right away. While it waits, it doesn’t stuff it under a mattress, either. It invests it in a bank, like you or me. Like anyone.

Banks, of course, have no ethical rules about how that money can be spent. They invest our tax dollars in arms trade, private prisons, and, yes, fossil fuels. The sales tax on your deli sandwich funds the destruction of our planet.

It doesn’t have to be this way!

A public bank, accountable to the people, could have rules about what it could and could not invest that money in. Let’s start by saying it can’t invest in any of those blood trades, where banks are literally complicit in murder or incarceration. Even that would be a massive blow to fossil fuels, but why stop there?

Germany’s Sparkassen public banking system invests in their renewable energy market. Germany is going renewable at an incredible rate. That’s remarkable, given their climate features a lot of cloud cover, and many months of the year with long nights. So why is sunny California lagging behind?

Because Germany figured out Where the Money Would Come From.

Los Angeles is attempting to be only the third jurisdiction in America to implement a public bank, after North Dakota and American Samoa. Los Angeles Charter Amendment B, which is on the ballot for November 6th, would remove a prohibition that prevents the city from creating a public bank. There would still be a road ahead for actually creating this bank, and getting the loans secured for renewable energy projects, but it represents one of the most promising possibilities for practical, transformative change I’ve witnessed in my lifetime.

America’s cities are looking to these examples. Across California, and recently, the rest of the nation, a nascent public banking movement has taken hold. As a canvasser, I can tell you that people quickly warm to the idea… once they understand it. At first, it can be difficult to grasp. Why would the City need to run a bank? No one seems to know what their tax money currently supports. I know that until recently, I did not.

The first task of this movement is simply awareness. We, as ecosocialists, must even spread awareness within our own movement! Many ecosocialists are dreamers, and they are frustrated by institutional inertia, or bogged down by IPCC-induced despair.

We must let each other know there is a new funding mechanism on the horizon, and it could be the first step toward fundamentally changing the relationship between capital and climate. The public need not be at odds with the planet.

I am a pragmatist, and I will always fight for the best possible outcome. But the range of what is possible shifts completely once public banking enters the picture. All of a sudden, the task of putting solar panels on every roof doesn’t seem so daunting. Turning the 2 dozen dams in LA County into giant batteries becomes an accounting puzzle, rather than a feverish fantasy.

Call your Angeleno friends, and tell them to vote Yes on Charter Amendment B.

Then call a meeting with activists in your area, and start power mapping. It’s time to step up and spread the movement to your own city.

As for me, I see no reason to choose between pragmatist and dreamer. I will be both.