Some tasks seem to take a long time to get started. Doing dishes, weeding the garden, and paying bills come to mind. Once I’ve finally gotten going, I wonder why they ever seemed like a big deal. Divesting my family’s bank accounts from fossil fuels was like that.
I had been thinking and talking about personally divesting from fossil fuels for – ahem – years. This was while I worked for years on public campaigns to convince my alma mater, the University of California, to divest from fossil fuels, which it did.
But until very recently, I hadn’t divested my own family’s funds. This is an embarrassing confession to make. Other tasks always seemed to be more pressing. Even though I knew divestment was important, I felt immobilized by the actual decisions involved: What bank should I move our money to? How would I go about doing it?
Finally, in February 2021, I moved our money out of Chase and Wells Fargo. These are two of the largest banks that are putting money into fossil fuel expansion. While signing lots of agreements to make it sound like they are going green, these banks continue to pour hundreds of billions of dollars into fossil fuel companies. When it comes to funding the causes of our climate emergency, Chase is at the head of the pack, Wells Fargo is a close second, and Citibank and Bank of America are nipping at their heels.
I moved our money into a local credit union. I am happy with my decision, although Chase didn’t make the process entirely easy. They wouldn’t allow an online wire transfer to the credit union. I had to schedule an appointment with a banker and then go into the bank in person to make the transfer. I also had to pay a wire transfer fee and figure out the routing number of the credit union. Even so, the whole process took about 15 minutes. It was actually quite simple, and afterwards, I wondered why it had ever seemed like a big deal.
Before my appointment with the banker, I wrote out a set of questions for my bank. I gave a copy of them to the banker, who asked if I wanted to talk with someone about them. I said yes, but I still await a reply. In addition, I sent copies of a letter about my bank break-up to the CEOs of Chase and Wells Fargo, using a template and addresses I found here: https://tinyurl.com/bank-break-up
Another great source of information about intersections between banking and the environment can be found at https://stopthemoneypipeline.com. Stop the Money Pipeline is an offshoot of Rainforest Action Network and recently has organized a number of large public actions against big-bank investments in fossil fuels.
As Bill McKibben said in his New Yorker article of 9/17/2019, “Money is the oxygen on which the fire of global warming burns.” Indeed. Divesting yourself from the banks that are the largest funders of fossil fuels would be a good step towards dampening the fire of global warming. Don’t procrastinate like I did. We can’t afford to wait. We need to dampen the flames of global warming right now. ~~~
Questions to ask your bank
What percent of the bank’s lending is for environmental (low-carbon, sustainable) businesses as compared to fossil fuel industries?
How much has the bank increased its funding of fossil fuel industries in the last year?
Does the bank fund projects such as power plants, pipelines, and dam construction?
Is the bank a member of groups that advance clean energy, such as the American Wind Energy Association and Solar Energy Industries Association?
How does the bank promote transparency around climate-related risks and business opportunities?
What charitable donations is the bank making to environmental organizations?
What is the bank doing in its local community to improve the environment?
How much of the bank’s corporate operations are powered by renewable energy?
What ties do the bank’s executives have to fossil fuel industries?
Kathy Barnhart is an avid photographer, a retired counselor, and a nature enthusiast. She is a member of Strawberry Creek Meeting in Berkeley, CA (PYM).