Fight Climate Change With Your Bank Account

By Krystal Ford

It’s been three years since I went from vaguely aware of global warming to oh-my-god-this-is-bad-I-have-to-do-something. Unfortunately, there is no reward for being “woke” except for experiencing a rollercoaster ride of fear, grief, hope, despair, and joy on a daily basis. But maybe the consolation is that I am not alone, that I am building relationships and community, and that I learn something new about the climate crisis and solutions, every single day.  The latest solution I learned about is sitting right there in your wallet. Your bank card.

The fight to stop the climate crisis is headed to a bank near you.

What do banks have to do with fossil fuels? The answer is obvious (to me now): money.  A few weeks ago I was in Washington DC for Jane Fonda’s last Fire Drill Friday. The topic for week 14 was Divestment from Fossil Fuels. Every week since she started in October, Jane Fonda, her famous friends, and activists, highlighted a different aspect of the climate crisis, and then they would get themselves arrested. That week, we heard from Annie Lenox, from Greenpeace, Naomi Klein, author of On Fire (and many other great books) and others.

These activists made the very clear link between banks lending money to fossil fuel companies so that they could then build that new pipeline, gas-fired plant, Arctic drilling project, or tar sands mine. It turns out that a shocking amount of money, money from everyday people’s deposits included, is lent to fossil fuel companies. The money from our paychecks and mortgages are literally paying for the destruction of our habitable earth. In the last three years JP Morgan Chase lent over $195 billion to gas and oil companies. Wells Fargo lent over $151 billion, Citibank lent over $129 billion, and Bank of America lent over $106 billion. Without the hundreds of billions of dollars in loans from banks, fossil fuel projects would come to a halt.

Let me repeat this: Cutting off the cash flow may be the single quickest step to reining in the fossil fuel industry.

This is huge. We currently have a government unwilling to address climate change. The administration is, in fact, bending over backwards to please the fossil fuel companies, including rolling back 50-year-old environmental regulations to make it easier to build pipelines and mines. The fossil fuel companies can at this point be characterized as psychopaths. They have proven over and over again their unwillingness to change their line of business. But this provides an opening, for all of us ordinary citizens, to push on; to Stop the Money Pipeline.

And that is just what we are going to do. On January 10th, Jane Fonda’s last Fire Drill Friday went out with a bang. While I and 147 other people were getting arrested on the steps of the Capitol (including actor Martin Sheen and Joaquin Phoenix), two dozen other people including Bill McKibben (author and founder of sat on the floor next to the A.T.M in a Chase Bank Branch not too far away waiting to get arrested.

When I got back to New York, I was ready to get to work. I called up Citi Bank and cancelled my credit card, and told them I was closing the account because I am morally opposed to them lending to fossil fuel companies.  Most of my banking has always been through my local credit union, so this was a 2 minute effort on my part, but still, it felt good to say the words aloud and cut up the card.

A die-in held at Chase Bank headquarters in NYC on January 23rd.

Then, last Thursday, I joined 65 other activists from Rise and Resist, 350 NYC, 350 BK, and Extinction Rebellion for an action at Chase Bank headquarters in NYC. We held a silent vigil, followed by a die-in. Some activists wore particle masks to highlight that burning of fossil fuels, heat storms and the ravaging of the world’s forests for extractive industry and farming is fueling devastating fires that kill 4 million people annually and have killed a billion or more animals in Australia during the recent fire season (that hasn’t ended yet). They passed out flyers demanding JPMorgan Chase (headed by CEO Jamie Dimon) divest from fossil fuels immediately for the sake of humanity and the planet’s future.

And I know what you’re thinking: sure it sounds simple, but it isn’t easy. You’re right. It’s not easy. It will require lots of making noise, showing up inside bank branches, writing letters, closing bank accounts, and keeping the pressure on. But if there is a spark of hope, it’s that the years-long pressure campaign on the Asset Management firm BlackRock, may be working. Last week, Laurence Fink, issued a letter addressed to CEOs entitled “A Fundamental Reshaping of Finance”, Fink wrote that “climate change has become a defining factor in companies’ long-term prospects…  awareness is rapidly changing, and I believe we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance.”

He added: “The evidence on climate risk is compelling investors to reassess core assumptions about modern finance.” He said that investors were increasingly “recognizing that climate risk is investment risk. Indeed, climate change is almost invariably the top issue that clients around the world raise with BlackRock.”

Similar sentiments were echoed at the 2020 World Economic Forum in Davos from UBS, Swiss Re, and The Eurasia Group (not to mention Greta Thunberg).

The biggest obstacle to addressing climate change has been everyone’s short-termism: short-term thinking, short-term profit motives, short-term election campaigns. Well the good and bad news is climate change is no longer “in the future.” It’s right here, right now. The billions of dollars of damage from wildfires alone, is happening IRL. We don’t have the luxury of ignoring climate change anymore.

Banks, insurance companies, and asset management companies—you are officially on notice: Pull your money out of fossil fuels, or we’ll pull our money out, from you.

Take the Next Step:

  • Learn more about how you can Stop the Money Pipeline.
  • Close your bank account and join a local credit union.
  • If you have a retirement account or invest in the stock market, consider transferring some portion of investments to an index fund that is divested from fossil fuels, such as SPYX.
  • Contact JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon to say it’s time for them to start divesting from fossil fuels. If you write a letter, make sure to include your address at the bottom of the letter.
  • Watch and share Jane Fonda’s message (2 min) for why we need to Stop the Money Pipeline.

About Krystal Ford

Krystal Ford is a writer, mother and an activist. She is a trained Climate Reality Leader, the President of GUFS PTA, and volunteer with Citizens’ Climate Lobby.