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Climate demo outside JP Morgan Chase

A banner is displayed as Indigenous and frontline land defenders and community members, who are directly impacted by extraction and destruction funded by JPMorgan Chase, demand that the bank stops all financing of fossil fuels during a protest outside the JPMorgan Chase Glasgow Headquarters in Glasgow on November 10, 2021, during the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference. (Photo: Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images)

What Can Individual Bank Customers Do for Climate Justice? Unite.

Big bank executives should be given a clear choice: ignore thousands of their customers or stop funding fossil fuels.

Sarah Lasoff

For years now, climate activists have been campaigning hard on U.S. banks. They have shut down bank branches, disrupted Wall Street CEOs public speaking events, organized shareholder revolts and swamped bank executives with thousands of phone calls and millions of emails, demanding that they stop funding fossil fuels. But there is one major block of power that climate activists have yet to activate: bank customers.

Working with Stop the Money Pipeline, a coalition of nearly 200 organizations, I recently helped to launch a new campaign called Customers for Climate Justice. The goal is simple: support thousands of Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Citibank customers in advocating for climate justice within their financial institutions. The first step that we’re asking customers to take is to sign-on to an open letter to their bank’s CEO asking them to stop financing fossil fuels and deforestation. In the two weeks after launching the campaign, over 6,000 customers signed on to our open letters. In the coming months, we plan to support customers in letting bank executives know about their concerns, setting up meetings with branch managers and financial advisors, and organizing other customers in their area.

We already know that banks are fueling the climate crisis, even though they try to make it seem like they’re part of the solution. In the run-up to the Glasgow Climate Talks, every major U.S. bank flaunted their admission to the Net Zero Banking Alliance. Yet, in spite of their net zero commitments, banks are still increasing their financing of fossil fuel and deforestation companies. This is Paris all over again. In 2015, Wall Street banks voiced their support of the Paris Agreement and then proceeded to continue with business as usual. Since then, JP Morgan Chase has provided over $316 billion in financing to top fossil fuel companies, completely contradicting the very climate commitments they claim to uphold.

The majority of Americans know that climate change threatens their livelihoods and their futures. In the United States, 59% see the climate crisis as a serious threat, and that number rises to 68% among young people. In fact, a Data for Progress poll conducted early this year found that 60% of voters agree the federal government should enforce more financial safeguards on big banks and insurers to prevent a future financial and economic crisis driven by climate change. Most Americans, it is clear, do not want their money being used to make the climate crisis worse. And more and more customers are realizing that their banks are the world’s biggest funders of fossil fuels and deforestation

Equally important, customers of these banks have special leverage to make a significant impact within their financial institution. Retail banking is a ferociously competitive market so banks are incentivized to listen to and, at the very least, claim to care about their customers’ concerns. In May 2021, during a Senate Banking Committee Hearing, Wells Fargo CEO Charles Scharf said, “Doing what is right for customers must be at the center of everything we do.”

Yet, by financing fossil fuels and deforestation, Mr. Scharf and other Wall Street CEOs are complicit in the climate impacts that threaten millions of their customers’ homes, communities, and livelihoods. If banks want to do what’s right for their customers, they must stop funding fossil fuels and deforestation.

Every year we see more evidence that everyday people are turning the tide on climate accountability within corporations. In the spring of 2019, a group of workers in Seattle organized thousands of employees to demand that Amazon adopt more substantial climate policies. Their organizing efforts put enough pressure on Jeff Bezos that he was forced to make numerous concessions and commit the company to do better on climate. This was a huge win, but there is still work to be done. Like these Wall Street banks, Amazon has yet to make the climate commitments needed to address the scale and urgency of this issue. So Amazon Employees for Climate Justice is still organizing and pushing Amazon to take even greater and bolder climate action.

Now, Stop the Money Pipeline is setting out to organize tens of thousands of bank customers to sign on to our open letters to the CEOs of the world’s largest funders of fossil fuels. Once tens of thousands of customers have signed on, we intend to work with a group of customers who will demand a meeting with their banks’ CEO to discuss their concerns. These bank executives will then have a clear choice: ignore thousands of their customers or stop funding fossil fuels.

Bank customers can make a significant impact if they organize, form community, and take collective action. Bank with Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, or Citibank? Sign on to the open letter here and join thousands of customers in taking action to make sure your bank stops fueling the climate crisis.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Sarah Lasoff - contributor

Sarah Lasoff

Sarah Lasoff is a campaign organizer with Stop the Money Pipeline.

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