police arresting a protester at Citigroup

Police arrest a climate protester at Citigroup's headquarters in New York City on June 12, 2024.

(Photo: Bank On Our Future/X)

'Financing the Arsonists': Scientists Arrested During Citigroup Climate Protest

"I invite you to join us, at any level of risk tolerance," said one participant in the New York demonstration. "It feels deeply meaningful—even joyful—to be a part of this movement and to stand on the right side of history."

Police arrested 28 people, including several scientists, protesting outside Citigroup's headquarters in New York City on Wednesday as climate campaigners continued a series of actions targeting the bank for financing oil and gas projects.

Dozens of scientists and allies, some wearing white lab coats, marched to the bank's entrances holding signs and banners with messages like "The Science Is Clear," as they condemned Citigroup for financing nearly $400 billion in fossil fuel extraction in the eight years after the 2015 Paris agreement was signed.

Several scientists gave speeches before or as they were being arrested.

"I have studied climate change since 1982," Sandra Steingraber, a biologist and retired scholar in residence at Ithaca College, said in a speech outside the Wall Street giant's entrances. "I've testified. I've sent letters to the White House. I've met with the science advisor. I went to the Paris Climate talks. But carbon dioxide levels just reached a new high, and Citi here is financing the arsonists."

Police arrested Steingraber, who, as she was being taken away in handcuffs, declared: "I'm not interested in writing eulogies for the species that I study!"

The scientists' protest was part of a series of climate actions undertaken as part of the Summer of Heat, a program organized by Climate Defenders, Climate Organizing Hub, New York Communities for Change, Planet Over Profit, and Stop The Money Pipeline (STMP).

A total of 28 people were arrested Wednesday, including several scientists, Alec Connon, STMP co-director, told Common Dreams. Dozens of campaigners were also arrested at Citigroup's headquarters on both Monday, in a highly-attended kickoff to the summer activism series, and Tuesday, in an orca-themed follow-up.

During Wednesday's protest, the scientists delivered a joint letter, published Monday by the Union of Concerned Scientists and addressed to Citigroup's leadership, urging the bank to stop financing fossil fuel projects scientists delivered a letter addressed to Citigroup's leadership urging the bank to stop financing fossil fuel projects.

Activist pressure on major banks has risen in recent years following revelations—notably in the annual Banking on Climate Chaos report, published by nonprofit groups—about the key role they've played in funding oil, gas, and coal projects. The most recent report found that the world's 60 largest banks had provided $6.9 trillion in funding to the fossil fuel industry in the eight years after the Paris Agreement.

The pressure has had an effect on some banks: HSBC and, more recently, Barclays have declared that they would stop financing new oil and gas projects. However, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has reported that HSBC remains involved in fossil fuel deals.

Bank loans to fossil fuel companies are used not just to continue extraction at existing sites but also to explore and develop new reserves, even though the International Energy Agency has said there can be no more such development if climate goals are to be met. Citigroup has funded more new extraction than any bank in the world, the Banking on Climate Chaos report found.

Yet in response to Monday's action, Citigroup claimed it was part of the transition to a green economy.

"Citi respects the advocacy of climate activists, and we are supporting the transition to a low-carbon economy through our net zero commitments and our $1 trillion sustainable finance goal," a bank spokesperson said a statement, according to media outlets. "Our approach reflects the need to transition while also continuing to meet global energy needs."

The statement did not win over climate activists. "This is the sort of bald-faced corporate lie that could cost us our planet," Peter Kalmus, a NASA climate scientist, wrote in a Newsweek op-ed published Wednesday.

Kalmus attended Wednesday's protest. Standing outside Citigroup's headquarters, he said, "We've written thousands and thousands of papers and they have not listened to us. They're fools. They’re stupid. They're being unwise. They have to start listening to scientists."

Summer of Heat organizers have events planned throughout the summer. In the op-ed, Kalmus reached out to readers to join the effort.

"I invite you to join us, at any level of risk tolerance," he wrote. "In my experience, and in the experience of many other climate activists I know, civil disobedience has been a very effective way to create social change. And a big change is happening: A transition from a profit-above-life, colonial-extractivist, genocidal mindset, to a loving, sharing, interconnected mindset. It feels deeply meaningful—even joyful—to be a part of this movement and to stand on the right side of history."

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