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Big Banks Are Fueling the Climate Emergency

The only "green" the big banks are interested in is your hard earned money.

No money for climate killers. That's what Greenpeace activists demanded earlier this year at the headquarters of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt. Coming from the air, they unfurled a twelve by six metre banner from the roof of the entrance building with the slogan: "Stop funding Climate Killers!" (Photo: Felix Schmitt / Greenpeace)

No money for climate killers. That's what Greenpeace activists demanded earlier this year at the headquarters of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt. Coming from the air, they unfurled a twelve by six metre banner from the roof of the entrance building with the slogan: "Stop funding Climate Killers!" (Photo: Felix Schmitt / Greenpeace)

Every Earth Day, your inbox becomes inundated with corporate messaging about sustainability and vague pledges from brands to protect our planet. Usually, the emails are instructional: "Cut your carbon footprint with our new product!" What we don't hear so much about is how financial institutions are poisoning the planet.

That's right, the world's biggest banks are responsible for fueling the climate crisis. According to a report from the Rainforest Action Network, the world's 60 biggest banks have financed $3.8 trillion worth of fossil fuel companies, just since the passage of the Paris Climate Agreement. America's largest banks—JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and CitiGroup—have each put more than $200 billion of fossil fuel interests in the past five years.

"While we must demand that regulators do more to hold banks accountable for their role in the climate crisis, we should also encourage an exodus from companies that invest in extractive industries."

To put that in plain English: if your money is in one of those banks, you're inadvertently helping to fund oil drilling.

Of course, the banks don't want you to know that. So they put a positive spin on things with press releases that wholeheartedly agree that climate change is the "critical issue of our time"—like from JP Morgan Chase, which gave over $300 million to fossil fuel interests in the past five years. Wells Fargo, the largest financier of fracking in the world, which recently adopted a "net zero financing" pledge—an empty promise, since the commitment does not rule out further funding for fossil fuel interests.

The only "green" the big banks are interested in is your hard earned money.

Of course, these empty promises are common in the banking industry, and they keep you in the dark on purpose. Banks and financial institutions don't want you to know what your money does while you are sleeping. They don't want you to know that your money is going to companies that are destroying the planet. And they certainly don't want you to ask them about it.

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And while we must demand that regulators do more to hold banks accountable for their role in the climate crisis, we should also encourage an exodus from companies that invest in extractive industries.

The good news is, sustainable options are more widely available, in large part because of the work climate activists have led in creating greater awareness around Wall Street's role in this crisis. Consumers are demanding that the way they spend, save and participate in the economy mitigates the harm to the planet—that's leading them to turn to sustainable cash management services and investment products. Unlike the big banks, these options don't use deposits to fund oil pipelines, fossil fuel companies, or other investments that contribute to climate destruction.

While the big banks pad their corporate profits and pay their CEOs millions of dollars in compensation, funded by their investments in harmful industries, there is a different approach. Banking can, and should, provide the operating system for the good economy.

You probably won't see it in an advertisement this Earth Day, but overcoming the climate crisis will require an end to banking and personal finance as we know it. Fortunately, there is a path forward to building a truly environmentally conscious and socially conscious banking industry that benefits consumers and the economy. And we can force that change by putting our dollars behind our values, and choosing to take our money out of circulation from institutions that harm the planet.

The future of our Earth is at stake.

Joe Sanberg

Joe Sanberg

Joe Sanberg is a progressive entrepreneur, business leader, and policymaker on a mission to end poverty. He founded CalEIT4Me, which helps millions of low-income California families claim the state and federal Earned Income Tax Credits, putting more than $4 billion back in their pockets. He is the co-founder of Aspiration, an online provider of socially conscious financial services.



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