Bill McKibben is an indefatigable climate activist and an implacable foe of the fossil fuel industry. The founder of 350.org, he has been arrested more times than Mike Tyson. His latest encounter with so-called “law enforcement officers” occurred on January 10th when he and a small group of climate protesters blocked an ATM machine at a Chase Bank in New York City.
Why? Because since the Paris climate accords are negotiated in 2015, JP Morgan Chase has loaned more money to the fossil fuel industry than any other bank — $195 billion according to an opinion piece McKibben wrote for The New York Times. Wells Fargo ($151 billion), Citibank ($129 billion), and Bank of America ($106 billion) were not far behind. Combined, that group of 4 banks provided almost $600 billion to companies who are despoiling the Earth with their business activities.
In a perfect world, the executives who control those banks and fossil fuel companies would be in jail, charged with crimes against humanity, but in the less than perfect world we live in, McKibben says the best thing individuals can do is pressure the banks to turn off the money spigot that funds oil and gas companies.
McKibben has special contempt for JP Morgan Chase because it is funding “the very worst projects — projects that expand the reach of fossil fuel infrastructure and lock in our dependence on fossil fuels for decades to come. In Minnesota, for example, the Line 3 pipeline replacement project, financed in part by JPMorgan Chase, adds 337 miles of crude-oil-carrying pipeline across Minnesota.
“If approved this year, the pipeline will carry 760,000 barrels of crude oil every day from Canada to terminals on the edge of Lake Superior. This project reroutes and expands existing pipelines so that more crude oil can flow to refineries in Minnesota, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan and Ontario.”
McKibben says, “If we could get just one offending bank to move toward divesting from fossil fuels, the ripple effects would be both swift and global. Imagine an announcement from JPMorgan Chase that it was immediately ending funding for new fossil fuel projects. It would echo around the world in hours, and there would be nothing the Trumps or Putins or Bolsonaros of the world could do to stop it.”
McKibben and Lennox Yearwood Jr. have formed a new online organization called StopTheMoneyPipeline to spread the message that funding fossil fuel interests is harming the planet and killing people. “We sat in and were arrested at Chase Bank on Friday for nothing smaller than the future of our planet,” he writes. “If you care about the climate, it’s worth moving your accounts away from these offenders. Cut up your credit cards. If you want to stop climate change, follow the money.”
Are there alternatives? McKibben recommends Amalgamated Bank, Aspiration, or Beneficial State Bank as financial institutions that avoid investments in fossil fuels. He also notes most local credit unions also avoid such investments.
People often ask what they can do to oppose the expansion of the fossil fuel industry. There are many answers, from driving an electric car to adding solar panels to your roof to growing some of your own food. Refusing to do business with financial institutions who fund companies that are actively leading to the destruction of the Earth is another small but important step we all can take.