It’s not as if Wall Street hasn’t been warned. The environmental group Rainforest Action Network started campaigning to get Bank of America to end coal financing in 2010. In 2016, Indigenous-led protests demanding that banks end their financing of the Dakota Access pipeline shut down bank branches across the country. Cities, including Seattle and San Francisco, committed to cutting ties with the banks funding the pipeline.
In response to this pressure, US banks have released a spate of climate promises, committing to achieve net zero by 2050 and reduce emissions by 2030. But the hard truth remains: Wall Street’s financing of coal, oil and gas was higher in 2021 than it was in 2016, the year after the Paris agreement was adopted. Last year alone, US banks provided $64bn in financing to the corporations most rapidly expanding their coal, oil and gas operations – never mind the fact that such development will lead to a level of climate change that will make today’s extreme heat seem like a breezy day in the park.
As we swelter and freeze through these early days of the climate crisis, we should keep in mind that our banks are deeply culpable for climate breakdown and that they are often using our money to make it even worse. And once we realize that, the real question is: what are we going to do about it?
Taking Direct Action
We’ve organized protests in dozens and dozens of cities ― from Chicago to Madison, Providence to Colorado Springs, Boston to Portland. We’ve shut down streets outside of the headquarters of the big banks in New York (Chase and Citi), San Francisco (Wells Fargo) , and Charlotte, NC (Bank of America). We’ve disrupted banks at PR events, and gotten in the faces of CEOs and top executives, making sure they and their neighbors know about their complicity in the climate crisis.
In 2020, banks finally cracked and many passed policies that exclude some coal mining companies and specific projects in the Arctic. It’s a baby step compared to the enormity of the climate crisis.
Bank shareholders are even catching on. In 2022, investors introduced first-of-their kind resolutions calling on banks to stop financing any company engaged in fossil fuel expansion, and investors representing $65 billion in capital voted in favor.