By Sharon Delgado
This year the World Council of Churches put forth the initiative, “Climate-Responsible Finance: A Moral Imperative towards Children,” which links the deadly impacts of climate change on the world’s children with the strategy of engagement with banks that are invested in fossil fuels. At the launch of this initiative in May 2022, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, “It is now time for financial service providers to accelerate the shift to renewables. They have the power – and the responsibility. The scientific and moral imperative is clear: there must be no new investment in fossil fuel expansion, including production, infrastructure, and exploration.”
Clearly, the climate impacts of our investments are linked to ethical decisions about our money. Here in the United States, an organization called Third Act, which is geared toward elders, is taking this connection to heart. Formed by seasoned climate organizer (and United Methodist) Bill McKibben, Third Act promotes both democracy and effective climate action. Right now the organization is promoting their Banking on Our Future Campaign, which focuses on the four top banks that fund fossil fuel projects: Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, and Citibank. This “money pipeline” from banks enables fossil fuel companies to build new extraction, transportation, processing, sales, and export infrastructure that lock us into increasing fossil fuel use and accelerating global heating for decades–decades that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says we don’t have. Without the money pipeline, fossil fuel producers would have to stop funding new infrastructure, stop engaging in climate change denial, and make good on their promises to transition to renewable forms of energy.
In addition to my role as coordinator of the California-Nevada Annual Conference Climate Justice Ministries Task Force, I am the United Methodist liaison on the board of Third Act Faith, a working group of Third Act. One of my jobs is to interpret the good work of Third Act to the United Methodist Church and its members, to explain how participating in their Banking on Our Future Campaign is an act of faith, to share practical ways that United Methodists can be involved at every level of church life, and to encourage participation. A tall order! But when I break it down, I realize that all I have to do is interpret, explain, share, and encourage action. Perhaps some of you who read this will carry this work further, and God, “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Eph. 3), will take it from there.
Interpreting the work of Third Act to the United Methodist Church, especially to retired clergy and laity, has been made easy by Bill McKibben and others who have explained it clearly. To understand Banking on Our Future’s rationale read Your Money Is Your Carbon and Want to Address Climate Change? Change Your Bank. Why focus on elders? People over sixty own seventy percent of the wealth in this country. There are 70 million of us, most of us vote, many of us have grandchildren or other children whom we love, and we hope to leave them a planet with abundant life that we have enjoyed. (See the PBS News Hour’s special with McKibben’s “brief but spectacular take” on Third Act and fighting for the climate and our democracy).
Likewise, explaining to United Methodists how participating in Third Act’s Banking on Our Future Campaign is an act of faith involves highlighting points that the World Council of Churches and others have made about the morality of our money in this time of climate emergency, and framing such points in Wesleyan terms: social holiness, the value of God’s creation, the world as our parish, and so on. Remember, John Wesley was a social reformer who saw the connections between personal finance and injustice. A staunch abolitionist, he wrote, “Better no trade than trade procured by villainy…Better is honest poverty than all the tears, and sweat, and blood, of our fellow creatures.” (Thoughts Upon Slavery, 45-46). Bringing it back to the climate emergency in our time, others have expressed a similar sentiment in simple terms: “It’s wrong to profit by wrecking the planet.”
In practical terms, this campaign offers suggestions, action opportunities, and resources at varied levels of commitment, including writing letters to the big banks, pledging to divest if your bank continues funding fossil fuels, engaging with bank managers, or participating in public demonstrations. By participating, we join with many other groups offering resources and taking similar actions, including Stop the Money Pipeline and Customers for Climate Justice. On March 21, 2023, there will be a big day of action, with people publicly divesting: 32123! Big Banks are Driving the Climate Crisis So We’re Pushing Back.
Finally, I encourage you to rise to the challenge that the climate emergency presents to us in our time, as United Methodists and as people of faith and conscience. Taking steps toward “faithful banking” is one way to take action. Join the Third Act email list. Join a Working Group– the Faith working group and/or a local working group. Find out how you can Take Action Today.
For questions, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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I went to Third Act and Take action, then to contact your bank. Only I don’t have an account in any of those big banks, although I have stood outside the local Chase bank (what is that bank doing in Illinois?) with a sign to stop green washing its investments in fossil fuels. Green Peace had me do that, I think it was. No, my bank is local to the southland of Chicago. Only two outposts.