Progressive Christian Social Action
Resisting Banks that Fund Climate Change
Re-posted here on United Methodist Insight e-magazine.
On September 25, 2019, during the week of the Global Climate Strike, I participated in an action in San Francisco that focused on big banks, in solidarity with the millions of children, young people, and their allies who are calling for emergency action on climate change. Since the Paris Climate Agreement’s adoption in 2016, 33 global banks have poured $1.9 trillion into financing fossil-fuel projects that emit greenhouse gases that induce climate change. In our San Francisco action, I was one of about 500 people who gathered at the financial district, blocking the doors to banks that invest most heavily in finance fossil fuel projects, primarily the top four banks: JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citi and Bank of America, all based in the U.S. We also created a two-block long series of murals that portrayed the world that we want to see. The action included song, dance, chanting, signs and banners, walking a labyrinth (one of the murals), clowning, and street theater.
These actions of creative imagining and resistance to the financial powers highlighted the systemic changes that need to be made if we are to effectively address the climate crisis, changes that go far beyond reducing our individual carbon footprints, investing in renewable energy, trying to convince others that climate change is real, or contacting our elected representatives and voting every four years. For instance, if we follow the money, we will see that there are powerful (embodied) forces at work that are invested in continuing the fossil fuel party until the last reserves of oil, gas, and coal are used up, even though this would result in absolute climate catastrophe and extinguish hope for an abundant future of life on earth.
These embodied institutional forces include fossil fuel companies, which have sown doubt about the reality of climate change despite knowing since the 1970s that their products warm the planet. They include transnational banks and other dominant financial institutions, which invest in fossil fuel projects and lobby government officials who are beholden to them to prevent strong climate action. They include the governments of the world, which (according to the IMF) subsidize fossil fuels at the rate of $10 million per minute.
In my book Shaking the Gates of Hell: Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization, I write, “The system is designed for the results it is getting, and it is paying off handsomely for those for whom the system is designed.” Published in 2007, with a revised version coming in January 2020, this is still true today.
Of course, we need to go through normal political channels to work for the changes that need to be made. But there comes a point when we the people need to exercise more political muscle than is possible through so-called “normal” channels. It becomes imperative for us to call for change in more dramatic ways, in ways that will shake the gates of hell and make a more hopeful future possible. We must fully face the extremity of our situation. Creative nonviolent direct actions highlight the profound changes that will need to be made if we are to faithfully respond to the cries of the children and to the call of God in this time of climate emergency.
For more information:
See more photos of murals, close up: San Francisco Climate Strike Street Murals Take Over Wall Street West.
See the report, Banking on Climate Change, which names the banks that have played the biggest role in funding fossil fuel projects. A half-dozen environmental groups — Rainforest Action Network, BankTrack, Sierra Club, Oil Change International, Indigenous Environmental Network, and Honor the Earth — authored the 2019 report, which was endorsed by 160 organizations worldwide. It tracked the financing for 1,800 companies involved in extracting, transporting, burning, or storing fossil fuels or fossil-generated electricity and examined the roles played by banks worldwide.
- Close your bank accounts in protest if you bank in any of the banks named in “Banking on Climate Change.” Transfer your money and business to a local bank or community credit union.
- Speak to a manager and ask them to call their main branch to demand that they stop investing in fossil fuel projects and instead invest in clean solutions. You can take this action privately or do it publicly as part of a demonstration after contacting the media and organizing a support rally.
- Demand that banks divest from fossil fuels.
See article by Sharon Kelly, Global Banks, Led by JPMorgan Chase, Invested $1.9 Trillion in Fossil Fuels Since Paris Climate Pact.
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Other blog postings about climate change can be found here.