That’s a good question, and one without an easy answer. Aside from the direct environmental effects that financial firms may have in common with any other large businesses, such as the amount of paper used, the energy efficiency of their buildings, how much of their workforce commutes to work and how far, etc., I can’t see any factor that would make firms in the financial services sector any more or less harmful to the environment than any other office-based business. The indirect effects may be greater depending on what the firm does with their money–for instance, if a large part of their financial holdings are invested in oil, gas and coal stocks, then yes, I can see how a financial firm might have a bigger impact than another. There is also the indirect effect of the economic wastefulness of these firms, which is expressed in terms of “opportunity cost,” or more simply put, what else the money that these firms generate (or consume) could have been used for. Could the $125 million that the CEO is getting as a bonus be better used invested in green technology? Well, yes. But there’s also an argument to be made that financial firms have some benefit as well. If the money generated by Wall Street trickles down into research and development–for example, maybe venture capital to a start-up that’s building solar power systems–this could be a net positive for the environment depending on what research comes out of it. I think it’s hard to make a blanket statement one way or the other, and it’s also hard to disentangle the financial services firms from the many other sectors of the American economy that they touch in one way or another.
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