My Turn: Don’t bank at banks that fund fossil fuels

By RUSS VERNON-JONES

Published: 03-16-2023 5:04 PM

My friend Hannah recently got an advertisement in the mail urging her to open a new account at Chase Bank. Although it offered some attractive features, she decided to reject the offer.

Why? Hannah rejected it because she cares about tackling climate change. She cares that climate change is causing hardships for local farmers, wildfires for Californians, deadly floods for Pakistanis, starvation for millions of people living in the Horn of Africa, and a global rise in sea levels.

What does climate change have to do with where you bank? It turns out that the big banks, and Chase Bank in particular, are a major factor in climate change. They have been providing billions of dollars of financing to the fossil fuel industry each year to help them find new sources and drill new oil and gas wells and build new pipelines.

The fossil fuel industry is using this money to continue to expand, just when the well-being and possibly the very survival of our species depends on keeping fossil fuels in the ground.

Don’t we still need oil and gas to heat our homes, make electricity, and power our vehicles? Yes, for now, while we make a swift transition to 100% renewable energy. But we need to eliminate fossil fuel use very rapidly.

What we don’t need are new oil or gas wells. There is enough fossil fuel in the wells already drilled to get us through the transition to 100% green energy. The big banks are financing additional wells — maybe good for their profits, but disaster for the planet.

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The International Energy Agency, the experts on the global energy system, said last year, “[If we] are serious about the climate crisis, there can be no new investments in oil, gas and coal, from now — from this year.” They found that without any new investments in fossil fuels, the world can meet global energy needs, as long as we move rapidly to renewable energy.

According to the agency, we can have “stable and affordable energy supplies, providing universal energy access and enabling robust economic growth” throughout the world as we transition to a net-zero carbon energy system by 2050.

So, a global movement of people who care about climate has been pressuring financial institutions to stop financing fossil fuels and start financing green energy economies. Several years of pressure led HSBC, the largest bank in Europe, to decide that it will make no new fossil fuel investments and will seek to invest $1 trillion in green energy by 2030.

In the United States, however, four banks invest more money in fossil fuel climate destruction than any other banks in the world: Chase, CitiBank, Wells Fargo and Bank of America. TD is also a major funder and responsible for financing the extra-dirty Alberta tar sands oil and the Dakota Access pipeline through Indigenous lands.

Third Act,” a growing climate organization of senior citizens across the U.S., has called for a National Day of Action to Stop Dirty Banks on Tuesday, March 21. This is happening just as Chase Bank is about to open its first-ever branch in Northampton at King and Main streets. Local climate organizations are inviting everyone who cares about climate change to a “Don’t bank at Chase” rally at Pulaski Park at 4:30 p.m. that day.

There will be music, and art, and brief inspiring speeches, and we will walk past TD Bank and Bank of America to the Chase Bank building. The goal will be to inform everyone that Chase Bank finances climate destruction and to urge people not to bank at Chase.

We also will be urging everyone who has money in any of the big banks that finance climate destruction to move their money to one of our excellent green local banks or credit unions, and tell your old bank why. I’m sure participants will also hear some about the racist practices of Chase Bank, both past and present.

The rally will also feature a large pair of scissors cutting up a giant Chase credit card to inspire everyone with a credit card from one of the dirty banks to switch to a MasterCard or Visa from a green bank, such as “Green America.”

António Guterres, the secretary-general of the United Nations, said the fossil fuel companies and the banks that finance them “have humanity by the throat.” He called the banks “accomplices” in creating climate disaster and insisted that they “must not escape responsibility.” Let’s not give these accomplices our money. They will lend it to projects that harm the earth, its creatures, and its peoples.

I invite you to join me at the rally on March 21 and to move your money and switch your credit cards. More information about the rally on March 21 is available at https://bit.ly/ChaseRally. We will be joining people all over the country. Together we are powerful.

Russ Vernon-Jones of Amherst was principal of Fort River School for 18 years and is a member of the Steering Committee of Climate Action Now (CAN). The views expressed here are his own. He can be reached at russvj@gmail.com . He blogs regularly on climate justice at http://www.russvernonjones.org.

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