Big Banks are Driving the Climate Crisis, so We're Pushing Back
March 21st will be a Tuesday, it will be the best palindromic day ever…And it will be the biggest day yet in the fight to shut off the flow of cash from Big Banking to Big Oil, a fight that is may be the most important front left in the effort to keep the planet habitable. Sign up here!
On that day, people will be fanning out across the country to demonstrate—they’ll be cutting up their credit cards from Chase and Citi and Wells-Fargo and Bank of America, and doing it where they’ll be noticed: underwater on Florida’s dying coral reefs, against California’s fire-scarred forests. There will be protests outside bank branches, and likely inside them too: this activist phase of the banking campaign was just about to break in the spring of 2022 when covid intervened. Now it’s on.
Today’s post exemplifies why this is a fighting newsletter, and why it needs to be free to all. Above all we need you in the street! But if paying the modest subscription fee wouldn’t be a hardship, it would help a lot. Thanks!
And—because of that delay—it comes with a much sharper analysis. We’ve learned an awful lot about the banks, all of it bad. In a nutshell
These four big banks are the well that keeps pumping money for fossil fuel expansion. The Banking on Climate Chaos report makes it clear, year after year, that they continue to pump hundreds of billions of dollars annually down a hole that climate scientists have said, unequivocally, we must be plugging. Some of that money—particularly outrageously—has gone to support Putin’s hydrocarbon companies; all of it is is serving to damage the poorest and most vulnerable people on earth. The most up to date numbers come from the Rainforest Action Network and its invaluable new report, Wall Street’s Dirtiest Secret. Read it and weep. (And then sign up to fight).
We can now quantify exactly how much damage money in that banking system is doing. This year’s report from Bank Forward and its partners shows that if you have $125,000 in the mainstream banking system, where it’s being lent out for new pipelines and such, it’s producing more carbon than all the heating, cooling, driving, flying and cooking in the average American life. For big companies, their cash on hand produces more carbon than their warehouses or delivery trucks; for American cities, their bank accounts produce more carbon than their subways and buses. America’s megabanks are literally a third of the money flow to the people wrecking our climate.
And we know now that these banks are shameless greenwashers. A year ago in Glasgow they all trumpeted their virtue as they signed up for the “Financial Alliance for Net Zero.” But this year, when the rulemaking began to make those pledges really matter, the big American banks balked and threatened to pull out. So the rules were changed to let them keep on lending.
No one is demanding an end to banking for fossil fuel companies. For at least a few more years, thanks to three decades of Big Oil intransigience, Exxon and its ilk will be supplying needed energy, and so they will need banking services. But it’s the expansion of the fossil fuel enterprise that must end. That’s it—the whole ask is that these big banks drop the minuscule percentage of their dealmaking related to expanding the size of the fossil fuel industry.
Groups of all kinds will be participating in this day of action—first proposed by Third Act, where we organize people over the age of 60, it’s found widespread support from all ages and all corners, everyone from the Hip Hop Caucus to the Sierra Club, and from 1000 Grandmothers to 350.org. It’s a first step, not a last one: the point is to raise enough awareness that the campaign grows to include big companies that can’t meet their net zero pledges as long as their banks are dirty, and the treasurers of blue states and cities who need to at least match the pressure coming from their peers in the oil patch.
You don’t need to travel to participate: these banks have helpfully put 30,000 of their branches in the highest-traffic retail locations across America. Trust me, there’s one near you. And you don’t need to have moved your mortgage—organizers know it’s hard work to find new credit cards or to move accounts, so many participants will be there simply to put pressure on these institutions to change.
That pressure won’t work immediately: these banks are, quite literally, the capital in capitalism. But they’re not invulnerable, not if we stand up. Palindromically!
In other climate and energy news:
+The big banks aren’t just funding fossil fuel expansion; they’re also ponying up for deforestation.
A new Global Witness analysis of investment patterns in the year since COP26 suggests that GFANZ members are proceeding with business-as-usual. We found that 360 asset managers participating in GFANZ held forest-risk investments worth $8.5 billion as of September 2022. This sum comes close to matching the $9 billion of US taxpayers’ money pledged by President Biden to fight deforestation at COP26.
+The oil and gas industry has spent $30 million in the last year lobbying California legislators. It’s a reminder that they never give up, and even in blue states that money produces at least incremental wins. Among other things, “he oil and gas drillers have also spent $9.2 million to date to gather signatures for a ballot referendum to overturn SB 1137, the new law to mandate 3200 foot setbacks between oil and gas operations and homes, schools, hospitals and other facilities.”
+Third Act Educators are pushing hard to get more colleges and universities divested from fossil fuel:
More than 1,500 institutions of higher learning, foundations, pension funds and faith-based organizations from around the world, including such famous universities as Harvard University and the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford, have committed to remove fossil fuels from their portfolios. One of the world’s largest and most influential investors, the New York State Common Retirement Fund, with $226 billion in assets, announced in late 2020 that it would fully divest from fossil fuels by 2040. The total amount of capital committed to be removed from the fossil fuel energy sector now stands at more than $40 trillion.
By contrast, the vast majority of American colleges and universities continue to hold endowment investments in fossil fuel. Of the approximately 140 universities and colleges with endowments over $1 billion, we estimate that fewer than a quarter have committed to fully divest from fossil fuels as of this writing. (Compare this with the 65 percent of universities in the United Kingdom that have pledged to divest.) This means that of their aggregated endowment—which amounted to nearly three-quarters of a trillion dollars for fiscal year 2021—a substantial portion continues to underwrite companies that have brought us to the brink of climate chaos.
+A remarkably insightful essay from Maurice Mitchell of the Working Families Party on how to build resilient organizations that fight more with the bad guys than with themselves.
+Climate denialists are flooding the new Twitter, and making common cause with their friends in Holocaust denial, democracy denial, and so on.
+An important law review article from Jessica Wentz and Benjamin Franta points out that one way Big Oil may open itself to liability is by hiring pr firms and ad agencies to shamelessly lie for them.
+I was very happy to read the reports of a big conference on people who are figuring out how to use sail-powered craft to move freight. Among other things, did you know there’s now something called Community Supported Shipping? You can own a piece of a schooner!
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