Why the Climate Movement’s Next Big Target Is Wall Street

Photo: Getty

Climate activists are taking on a new pipeline: The one that funnels money from Wall Street into planetary destruction.

A coalition of climate, environmental, youth, and indigenous organizations unveiled Stop the Money Pipeline, a campaign to “pressure banks, insurance companies and asset managers to stop financing fossil fuels and deforestation and start respecting human rights and Indigenous sovereignty,” late last week.

Banks, asset managers, and insurance companies may seem like less obvious targets than going directly after, say, oil and gas companies or the Trump administration. But Wall Street plays an essential role in the fossil fuel industry’s expansion. Staunching the flow of money could be an effective way to prevent more oil, gas, and coal from being dug up, which is exactly what has to happen (and then some) to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Though many banking institutions have branded themselves as green, the world’s top 33 largest banks collectively provided $1.9 trillion in financing for coal, oil, and gas companies since countries put forth the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015.

“There are only a few major companies like Exxon Mobil, who can self-finance a project and put up all the money themselves,” Jamie Henn, 350.org co-founder, told Earther.

And even oil majors like Exxon rely on capital from investment firms like BlackRock and insurance from companies like Liberty Mutual (that have also both adopted green branding), said Henn. “If we can knock out this pillar of financing for the fossil fuel industry, we can take out the entire industry itself,” he said.

There’s precedent for successful public pressure campaigns going after money that finances fossil fuel exploitation. The divestment movement led by 350.org has seen colleges and universities, cities, religious institutions, and pension funds to withdraw their investments from fossil fuel corporations. The climate divestment movement itself is modeled after the successful efforts to divest from apartheid South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s.

“When we launched that campaign, we were actually saying, ‘we’re not really looking to make a financial impact,’ we want to make a political impact with this work,” he said. “What surprised us is how much of a financial impact it actually made.”

In late 2018, the movement hit a milestone with 1,000 groups agreeing to divest from fossil fuels. The number has since risen to nearly 1,160 groups managing $12 trillion (though not all of it is in fossil fuels).

Henn said he realized the financial potential of the movement in 2016, when Peabody, the world’s biggest coal company, announced it was going bankrupt and listed divestment as one of the reasons why. A 2018 Goldman Sachs report shows it’s not just Peabody, noting that the “divestment movement has been a key driver of the coal sector’s 60% de-rating over the past five years.”

There are other recent successes beyond divestment as well. Due at least in part to public pressure, Goldman Sachs became the first major U.S. bank to stop funding oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge last month. An in July, Chubb announced it will be the first U.S. insurer to phase out its coal investments and insurance policies within the next three years. The four largest European insurance firms no longer cover coal power-related projects.

“So what we’re doing now is sort of taking this to the next level and going to the banks and insurance [companies] and the asset managers themselves,” said Henn, “to demand that they take action… against all fossil fuels.”

That action can’t come soon enough. The United Nations’ (UN) recent Production Gap Report shows that within a decade, planned fossil fuel production will “more than double what’s allowable to avoid 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming.” This year’s UN climate talks in November will also focus specifically on the role of finance in furthering the climate crisis. By that time, the campaign hopes to see firm commitments from banks and insurers to not finance projects that worsen climate change, and to instead fund renewable energy and reforestation.

The organizations running the campaign—which launched at the last Fire Drill Friday protest hosted by Jane Fonda in Washington, DC—have identified three initial primary targets. One, JPMorgan Chase, is the top global financer of fossil fuels. It has poured $196 billion in financing to fossil fuel companies since 2016, roughly 10 percent of all fossil fuel financing from major global banks. And Lee Raymond, Exxon’s former CEO, is on their board. Despite such a seemingly large investment in fossil fuels, shifting away from financing projects wouldn’t kill Chase. Janet Redman, Greenpeace’s climate campaign director, told Earther that fossil fuels roughly seven percent of Chase’s business.

“So while that is an incredible amount of money and it means a lot to the planet,” she said, “some of these institutions can make small shifts in their portfolio—really less than 10 percent effectiveness—and accomplish a lot for the planet.”

Another, Liberty Mutual, is a top insurer of and investor in energy mega-projects like the Trans Mountain pipeline. The company invests over $8.9 billion in fossil fuel companies and utilities. They’ve also withdrawn coverage from and increased the costs of insurance for longtime customers in areas at risk of climate change impacts, such as wildfire-affected areas in California.

And then there’s BlackRock, the world’s largest asset management firm with nearly $7 trillion in assets worldwide. It’s also the largest investor in commodities linked to fossil fuels and deforestation. BlackRock CEO Larry Fink frequently calls on corporations to take on a “social purpose.” But his company is the world’s top investor in public oil, gas and coal companies, and is among the world’s top shareholders in companies that deforest the Amazon to produce and trade soy, beef, palm oil, pulp and paper, rubber and timber.

Stopping these investments would not only be good for the climate, but also for indigenous communities and other vulnerable people worldwide. The Liberty Mutual-backed Trans Mountain pipeline, for instance is routed through First Nations territories. And deforestation in the Amazon, such as that undertaken by BlackRock’s clients, has caused a human rights emergency for indigenous people. Those human rights violations are not only ethically unconscionable, but they could also leave investors open to legal action down the road.

Last Thursday, BlackRock announced that it’s joining the Climate Action 100+, a group of investors that manage assets worth over $35 trillion worth, which pressures the world’s biggest polluters to show how they will reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

In the coming months, the Stop the Money Pipeline campaign will demand each of these targets divest from coal, oil, gas, and deforestation, while pressuring the federal government to strictly regulate the energy industry. Next Thursday, the campaign will be targeting Wells Fargo in Washington, DC for their fossil fuel finance and human rights violations, and on February 13, they’ll hold a nationwide day of action targeting college campuses and state pension funds urging divestment from fossil fuels.

They might not have to wait long to see results. After Blackrock’s shift last week, the firm’s CEO said in his annual letter that the world is “on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance,” and announced that the company will no longer invest in thermal coal.

But the firm and others have a lot of work left to do, so activists will be reminding them of that in the coming weeks. SOURCE
RELATED:

A Climate Emergency Needs an Emergency Response Plan, Not a Pipeline

In response to Canadian MP’s voting to declare a climate emergency, then approving the TransMountain pipeline Cameron Fenton, an organizer with 350.org in Canada issued this response:

“If we’re in a climate emergency, we need an emergency response plan, not a pipeline. You can’t have a real climate plan if you keep ignoring what scientists are telling us – that we need to stop building dangerous fossil fuel projects. This is exactly why we need Green New Deal for Canada to tackle climate change, respect Indigenous rights and make sure no communities or workers are left behind.”

Gabrielle Gelderman, an Edmonton-based organizer with the youth-led Green New Deal campaign Our Time added:

“Young people have spent our entire lives knowing that climate change is an emergency. Approving TransMountain is part of a climate plan that puts us on a dangerous path to exceed 4ºC of warming, that’s why we need a made-in-Canada Green New Deal and a federal leaders debate on climate change to let us know who is going to fight for it.”

SOURCE

RELATED:

Why this election I am voting for a Green New Deal

 

Bill McKibben: To Confront the Climate Crisis, We Need Human Solidarity, Not Walls & Cages

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Bill McKibben, the longtime journalist and co-founder of 350.org, talks about climate migration, the 2020 Democratic candidates, the Green New Deal and more. McKibben’s latest piece for The New Yorker is titled “Money Is the Oxygen on Which the Fire of Global Warming Burns,” and his cover piece for Time magazine is headlined “Hello from the Year 2050. We Avoided the Worst of Climate Change — But Everything Is Different.”

BILL McKIBBEN: It was so much fun to get to back up Fridays for the Future and all the youth organizers here who were doing this, just to be able to watch how good they are at doing this and to really try and build a multigenerational climate movement, which is precisely what we need.

AMY GOODMAN: So, we are here, yes, right after the Climate Action Summit, though there are protests around climate that are happening all over in the next weeks, but also in a presidential primary season. Some eyes might glaze over. How is it possible that for more than a year now we’re going to go through this primary season with these candidates? But others might say, and I think you’re among them, who say, “No, no, no. This is an incredible opportunity.” Candidates are often senators or governors, politicians who are very insulated, in fact, in between times when they have to run. And now there’s this window where they have to respond to the public. And you are certainly using this moment. So I’d like to ask you, of the, what, 20 presidential Democratic presidential candidates that are still out there, the kind of work you’re doing, pressing these candidates to formulate their positions on the climate crisis.

BILL McKIBBEN: Sure. So, 350 Action, which is the (c)(4) political part of our operation, has been doing its best to turn them all into climate candidates. We set up the kind of original climate scoreboard for the various presidential candidates. And there have been young people out bird-dogging every event, every rope line, or making sure that these guys understand what the bottom line for the climate movement is.

And the bottom line is not having someone say, “I care about climate change. It represents an existential risk.” The bottom line is: Are you signing on to something that looks like the Green New Deal? Are you signing on because it’s within your power as president to do it to announce that there will be no mining and drilling on public lands? And are you saying we’re going to stop fracking around the country?

It’s been incredibly impressive to watch how far this field has moved. Look, four years ago, Bernie broke down this door, you know? He started talking in really serious terms about climate change. You’ll recall in the 2016 debates, in the primaries, at one point they asked, “What’s the most important issue facing the planet?” And Bernie just looked up and said, “Well, I mean, that’s obvious. It’s climate change.” That was something that no American politician really had enunciated before in quite that way.

As with many things, it’s spread across the field now, and so we’re getting remarkable commitments from everyone, pretty much everyone, down the line. Elizabeth Warren, the week before last, said she would stop fracking across America. That’s big deal. It’s all big deal. And it’s all because people are out there making this demand.

We’re not — I mean, assuming that a Democrat wins this time, an assumption on which my future mental health is entirely predicated, because I cannot — I don’t know about the planet, but I can’t take another four years of Trump, OK? Assuming a Democrat wins, we’re not really going to have an open primary next time, you know. There will be an incumbent and whatever. This is our chance in the political system for the next eight years to get these guys fully on the line and as committed as it’s possible to be.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you said making sure they sign on to the Green New Deal. Explain what that is?

BILL McKIBBEN: Well, it’s not at this point a solid, fully fleshed-out piece of legislation, but everybody knows what it means now. It means a commitment to systemic change in order to cut in half the emissions that we’re producing over the course of the next decade. That requires things like a federal jobs guarantee, to allow anybody who wants to be part of this transition to do it. You know, it requires real commitments to environmental justice and climate justice in the most hard-hit communities. It requires a hell of a lot of work.

And so, the people who are saying, “Yeah, we’ll do it,” are, I think, signing up for that. At least they’re saying it in public, so we can hold them responsible once they’re in office. It’s worth remembering that politics doesn’t end on Election Day. In fact, that’s just the beginning. After that, it’s the job of — and you’ll recall, I mean, I worked hard for Barack Obama to get elected, and then we organized the largest demonstrations outside the White House during the whole Obama administration in order to make him live up to his words around things like the Keystone pipeline. MORE

Welcome to the US, Greta. With your help we can save the planet and ourselves

Even in such a divided and troubled country, there is hope. Between us we can beat the climate destroyers

Dear Greta,

Thank you for travelling across the Atlantic to north America to help us do the most important work in the world. There are those of us who welcome you and those who do not because you have landed in two places, a place being born and a place dying, noisily, violently, with as much damage as possible.

It has always been two places, since the earliest Europeans arrived in places where Native people already lived, and pretended they were new and gave them the wrong names. You can tell the history of the United States – which are not very united now – as the history of Sojourner Truth, the heroine who helped liberate the enslaved, as that of the slaveowners and defenders of slavery, as a place of visionary environmental voices such as Rachel Carson and the corporate powers and profiteers she fought and exposed.

Right now the US is the country of Donald Trump and of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, of climate destroyers and climate protectors. Sometimes the Truths and the Carsons have won. I believe it is more than possible for Ocasio-Cortez and the Green New Deal to win, for the spirit of generosity and inclusion and the protection of nature to win – but that depends on what we do now. Which is why I’m so grateful that you have arrived to galvanize us with your clarity of vision and passionate commitment. 

Not long ago I talked to a powerful climate organizer who began her work when she was only a little older than you, and she told me that her hope right now is that people recognize that this is a moment of great possibility, of openings and momentum, and a growing alarm and commitment to what the changing climate requires of us. Something has changed, thanks to you and to the young people who have brought new urgency and vision to the climate movement. Many people have become concerned and awake for the first time, and the conversation we need to have is opening up. People are ready for change, or some of us are. This is what’s being born in the US and around the world: not only new energy systems, but new social systems with more room for the voices of those who are not white or male or straight or neurotypical.

The old energy system was about centralized control and the malevolent power of Gazprom and BP, Shell and Chevron, and the governments warped into serving them rather than humanity. The new system must not only be about localized energy, but democratized decision-making, about the rights of nature and the rights of the vulnerable and the future, over profit.

Some of this is already here: not only the larger groups you’re surely heard of – the Sunrise Movement350.org, the Sierra ClubRainforest Action Network – but countless local and tribal groups that have arisen to stop this pipeline or that coal port or these fracking projects, to protect this forest or this mountain or these waters. They are not visible the way the United Nations or the US Congress or European Union is, but their work matters, and perhaps we will build a lot of this transition out from below – but we need the big policy agendas set from above as well.

Everywhere I see remarkable things happening. No matter how much you see of this big country, this huge continent, there is more than you can see. I hope you have a chance to see some of the beauty of the American landscapes, from rainforests to deserts; there is also beauty in the passionate commitment around the country. Coalminers in Kentucky have been blocking a coal train track for a month, because their bankrupt company stiffed them on wages, and coalminers elsewhere recently spoke to this newspaper about their clarity that coal is over and that the Green New Deal and its jobs are welcome. The gigantic coal-burning, sky-polluting Navajo Generating Station in Arizona will shut down later this year, and, Scientific American reported, “Its average annual emissions over that period are roughly equivalent to what 3.3 million passenger cars would pump into the atmosphere in a single year. The Navajo Generating Station isn’t alone. It’s among a new wave of super-polluters headed for the scrap heap,” including giant plants in Kentucky and Pennsylvania.” Last year, US coal plants with annual emissions of 83 million tonnes of carbon were shut down.

Several states – California, New York, Hawaii, New Mexico – have made commitments to 100% renewable electricity in the near future, and while the federal government tries to push us backward, many states lean forward. This summer Texas began to get more energy from wind than from coal. Iowa in the midwest now gets 37% of its electricity from wind, not because of idealism alone, but pragmatism: wind is cheaper. Science magazine reported last month, “Solar plus batteries is now cheaper than fossil power,” and a Connecticut newspaper recently announced that Chubb, the largest commercial insurer in the USA, will stop insuring coal plants and coal mining.

Worldwide, we are in the midst of an energy revolution that dwarfs the industrial revolution: human beings will for the first time not use fire, will not release carbon into the sky, to get most of our energy. We will inevitably transition away from fossil fuels as a primary energy source, and the question is only when. If we do it swiftly, we minimize damage to the climate; if we wait, we maximize it. The damage is here, and it’s not only destroying nature, it’s killing us. When the California town of Paradise burned down last November, at least 86 people burned to death or choked on smoke; millions suffered from the smoke that spread across the region. Heat deaths are up in the south-west, where 235 people died in Arizona alone from this cause during 2017.

But we also know that there are so many uncounted deaths from poisonous fossil fuels. We know that many of the refugees on the USA’s southern border are climate refugees, driven out of their homes in Central America by the failure of agriculture from unpredictable and violent weather, heat, and drought. We know that Alaska was this month for the first time ice-free all along its coast, and the hot dry weather inland led to horrific wildfires. “Starting on the fourth of July and lasting multiple days, temperatures across Alaska were 20 to 30 degrees above average in some locations,” reported National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

To be a climate activist anywhere on Earth now is to stand at a crossroads: heaven on one side and hell on the other. Heaven because the transition we need to make and are making – just not big enough or fast enough – is not only an power-generation revolution, but a decentralization of political power, a shift away from the big energy companies who used governments to make wars and make profits for them, a shift away from the poisonousness of fossil fuel. Hell because the destruction of what it took nature millions of years to create – the exquisite balance of ecosystems, of bird migration in harmony with seasons, of symbioses between species, of the great Himalayan and Andean glaciers whose waters feed so many people, of rainforests and temperate forests – is hideous as well as terrifying. The Amazon is burning because of one rightwing leader and a system that rewards agricultural products but not forest protection, even though we need rainforests more than we need the soybeans and beef raised on the land stolen from the rainforest and its indigenous inhabitants.

I’ve mentioned a bit of what is going on in my troubled, complicated country, the US, but of course these are global conflicts and global situations, and the solutions are advancing almost everywhere, because they are good solutions to terrible problems.

You have come to help us choose the former over the latter, and more of us thank you than you will ever be able to see or hear. More than that, we’re with you, trying to realize the goals that the climate demands of us, to make a sustainable world for those who are young now, those yet to come, and for the beauty of the world that is still with us. SOURCE

‘Everyone Should Mobilize’: Climate Leaders Urge Massive Turnout for Global Climate Strikes

“Our house is on fire—let’s act like it,” says a call-to-action for September 20th and 27th strikes.

Students take part in a climate rally in Parliament Square on May 24, 2019 in London. (Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Students take part in a climate rally in Parliament Square on May 24, 2019 in London. (Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Organizers of upcoming global climate strikes hope their demands for a rapid end to business as usual and a swift start to climate justice will be too loud to ignore.

The strikes, which are set for September 20th and 27th—with additional actions slated for the days in between—are planned in over 150 countries thus far, and over 6,000 people have already pledged to take part.

It has the potential to be the biggest climate mobilization yet, said organizers.

“Our house is on fire—let’s act like it,” says the strikes’ call-to-action, referencing the words of Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. “We demand climate justice for everyone.”

Thunberg echoed that call in a just-released video promoting the upcoming actions.

“Everyone should mobilize for the 20th and 27th of September,” said Thunberg, “because this is a global issue which actually affects everyone.”

It’s been the world’s youth, though, that have played a driving force in recently calling attention to the climate crisis with protests and school strikes.

“Young people have been leading here,” 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben said in the Thunberg video, “but now it’s the job of the rest of us to back them up.”

The two Fridays of action, according to organizers, will bookend a “Week for Future” to sustain the climate call. Nestled between is the United Nations Summit on Climate Change on September 23rd in New York.

“Because we don’t have a single year to lose,” said Luisa Neubauer of Fridays for Future Germany in a press statement Wednesday, “we’re going to make this week a turning point in history.” MORE

Tens of thousands sign petition demanding CBC host climate debate


Protesters, joined by faith leaders and members of Extinction Rebellion Toronto, took over the intersection of Yonge and Dundas streets in downtown Toronto on June 10 as part of a demonstration to declare a climate crisis. Photo by Nick Iwanyshyn

A group of activists in Toronto say they’ll deliver a petition with more than 45,000 signatures to the CBC Friday morning, asking the broadcaster to host a federal leader’s debate on climate change ahead of the October federal election.

The petition was organized by four advocacy groups: Leadnow.ca and North99, along with the climate-change-focused 350 Canada and OurTime, which recently made headlines with a campaign for a Canadian Green New Deal. In a statement, LeadNow said the CBC has a responsibility as a public broadcaster to “provide a platform about this unprecedented national emergency so voters can clearly see where leaders stand on climate and what they’re prepared to do about it.”

“We look to political leaders to lead on serious issues like climate change, but there’s so much misinformation and confusion,” said Amara Possian, Canada Campaigns Manager with 350.org. “A federal leaders’ debate focused on climate change and a made-in-Canada Green New Deal will give voters much-needed clarity on which parties have the best strategy to tackle the climate crisis head on.”

The environment has emerged as the top election issue for Canadians, found a study released Thursday by the Digital Democracy Project.

In the statement, the advocacy groups pointed to wildfires in Western Canada, heat waves in the east and north, shorelines that are disappearing as sea levels rise and severe floods — all extreme events that are becoming more frequent due to the climate emergency.

CBC spokesperson Chuck Thompson said the public broadcaster recognizes how important climate change is, and that will be reflected in its election coverage.

A group of activists plan to deliver a petition with over 45,000 signatures to CBC headquarters in Toronto Friday, demanding the broadcaster hold a federal leaders’ debate on the climate emergency. Story by @EmmaMci #cdnpoli

“As I’m sure you are aware, CBC News has covered climate change extensively, and we will continue to do so,” Thompson said in an emailed statement. “As to whether or not there will be a debate specifically about climate change, that question is best asked of the Leaders’ Debates Commission.”

The commission is an independent organization established by the federal government earlier this year to co-ordinate two leaders’ debates before federal elections. The CBC is one of a group of media organizations appointed by the commission to produce and stream the debates, as part of the Canadian Debate Production Partnership.

Feeling helpless about climate change? There’s lots you can do

‘We can go on the offence’: A more positive way to look at climate action


(Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

According to a recent survey of 14,000 respondents in 14 countries, people basically fall into four groupings when it comes to tackling climate change: “optimists,” “supporters,” “disempowered” and “skeptical.” The optimists and supporters generally feel they can have an impact and are doing their part to mitigate rising emissions and temperatures.

The disempowered, however, think it’s too late to stop the damage and feel, well, paralyzed. But Per Espen Stoknes, a psychologist who has also served as a member of Norway’s parliament, has ideas about how to change that.

Stoknes is the author of a 2015 book called What We Think About When We Try Not to Think About Global Warming, which focuses on the barriers that keep people from making change — and offers ideas to overcome them. Stoknes shared some of his insights with Stephanie Hogan via email.

What is it about climate change that makes people feel helpless?

The barrier of distance makes planetary-scale climate disruptions feel very far away. It is … remote in terms of space, time, impacts and responsibility, except for the relatively few people who are directly hit by wildfire, floods or droughts at any time.

The scale … and the invisibility of CO2 all contribute to the feeling of helplessness and the lack of self-efficacy to contribute real change with an impact. It makes many voters give climate disruption a low priority relative to immigration, unemployment, health issues, et cetera.

Does the way we talk about climate change make a difference?

Language is hugely important.

When communicating about climate, we should never accept the [negative] frames (doom, uncertainty, cost, sacrifice). There is no need to negate them, or repeat them or argue them in order to counter them.

Rather, we can go on the offence with our own framing: that more commercial and political action is needed right away to ensure safety for society, secure our health, be prepared for what comes and realize the amazing opportunities for jobs and better lives that the shifts in clean energy will bring.

What kind of action can help an individual feel more empowered?

Doing something together with others is the basic remedy. Many think of psychology as individualistic and assume that a psychology of climate solutions would be about what each of us as individuals can do separately, that we only get better one by one.

It is clear, however, that individual solutions are not sufficient to solving climate alone. But they do build stronger bottom-up support for policies and solutions that can. Our personal impact on others is much more valuable in giving momentum to the change of society than the number of [kilograms] of CO2 each action generates. It works like rings in water: If I see someone else that I respect taking action, then I want to as well. Enthusiasm is contagious. That is why engaging together with other people is so crucial.

How do you take that action further?

Organize, organize, organize. The key is to make climate disruption into a social issue by taking action together with others. Start a local chapter of Climate Citizens Lobby or 350.org and make it visible to let your neighbours, friends and colleagues see that you are taking action with solar panels on the roof, electric mobility and/or a more plant-based diet. The largest cuts in climate emissions — from solutions in agriculture to buildings to mobility — can be addressed when thousands of people start taking action together. The Drawdown.org project gives a wonderful and inspiring overview of all the solutions. SOURCE