Not that everyone has free time on their hands. Many are working at home while trying to take care of their children whose schools have shuttered. But many do have more free time and I would like to suggest ways to fill it that can do a lot of good for the climate.
I am writing a book about the Fire Drill Fridays actions I was doing over the fall and winter in D.C. I love this book a lot. It’s called “What Can I Do? My Path From Climate Despair to Action.” I know it will be infinitely useful for people who care.
So I am sending you some ideas from that book, starting today.
Please read this excerpt for the end of the chapter called “Stop The Money Pipeline.” Each of my book chapters has a section like this. I hope you’ll be inspired to follow these guidelines:
I was a parish priest for 10 years, and I found that if you really want to get at the heart of what people’s values are, you don’t stand up and say, ‘Let’s have a conversation about values.’ You talk about money, and you get at the values very quickly. And if people are invested in the fossil fuel sector, they own the climate crisis.
Reverend Fletcher Harper, Episcopalian priest and Executive Director of Green Faith, a global multi-faith climate organization.
As the environmental author and activist Bill McKibben has written, “Money is the oxygen on which the fire of global warming burns.” If we want to address the climate emergency, we’ve got to move our money out of fossil fuels and deforestation and into climate solutions. Luckily, ‘moving your money’ has never been easier. Thanks to the work of activists and innovators across the country, there are now lots of safe, accessible (and profitable!) places that you can park your money and rest easy knowing that your hard-earned dollars aren’t financing climate destruction.
There are a number of ways that you may be connected with the financial system: a bank account, a credit card, your insurance company, or your retirement account or investment portfolio. Let’s walk through each of these areas and talk about how you can make sure your money is fossil free.
First up is your bank account. As we talked about at the teach in and rally, big banks like JP Morgan Chase are some of the largest funders of fossil fuels, deforestation, and general climate destruction. They also tend to be financing other bad stuff like private prisons, Big Tobacco, and firearms manufacturers. The best way to find out if your bank is fueling the climate crisis is by searching for the latest “Banking on Climate Change Report” by the Rainforest Action Network (RAN). Every year, RAN publishes an up-to-date list of which banks are doing the most to wreck our climate. In 2019, JP Morgan Chase was at the top of the list, followed by Wells Fargo, Citi, Bank of America, RBC and Barclays.
What’s the alternative to a climate-wrecking megabank? We’re not here to provide specific financial advice–picking a bank account or investment strategy is a personal decision–but we can point to some places to start. A great way to start your search for a new bank is by checking out the Divest Invest guide to banking (divestinvestguide.org/banking). It will guide you through the steps of closing your account, picking a new bank, and moving your money. A useful resource for finding a new bank is Green America’s ‘Get a Better Bank’ tool (greenamerica.org/getabetterbank) where you can search for a new bank by zip code. Often, the best option in your area will be a local credit union. If you want to learn more about credit unions, check out ASmarterChoice.org that explains how they operate. You could also check out a new, fossil free online bank, like Aspiration, which will reimburse you for ATM fees nationwide. Or take a look at some larger banks that are going fossil free, like Amalgamated Bank or Bank of the West.
If you come across a bank that you think could be a good option but aren’t sure exactly what their policies are, here are three good questions to ask, courtesy of Allison Kirsch at RAN:
- Does this institution invest in, lend to, or provide underwriting or other financial services for companies and projects in the fossil fuel industry or industries driving deforestation?
- Who owns this institution? (Make sure it’s not owned by one of the big banks that you know is financing fossil fuels!)
- Where can I read more about the institution’s policies regarding what it will and won’t finance?
Ok, now that you’ve cleaned up your bank account, let’s take a look at those credit cards. Surprise! Just when you thought you’d left your megabank for good, you look in your wallet and realize that your credit card is connecting you right back to the bank you wanted to get away from in the first place!
Let’s face it: even if you pay your credit card bill on time every month, every time you swipe your card a small percentage of your purchase is going back to a dirty bank. You’re also lending that bank legitimacy every time you pull out that credit card (JP Morgan Chase isn’t going to take our consumer complaints very seriously if we all hang on to those Sapphire cards). The good news is, there are all sorts of ethical credit cards out there — you can even find a card that directs a percentage of every purchase to supporting environmental groups, restoring ecosystems, or planting trees. Green America has a list of ethical options that can get you started (greenamerica.org/responsible-credit-cards). If you end up switching your card, make sure to tell your old bank that you’re doing it because they’re financing fossil fuels. Better yet, make a video of you cutting up your card, post it online, and tag the bank you’re leaving. That will get their attention!
Next up, insurance companies. Did you know that a number of insurance companies like Liberty Mutual and Nationwide have been caught denying benefits to people who lost their homes to climate disasters like the Camp Fire in California, but those same companies are still insuring new coal fired power plants and oil pipelines? Despicable. You can find out if your insurance company is financing fossil fuels, and if so, find an alternative, at websites like Insure Our Future (insureourfuture.us) or Unfriend Coal (unfriendcoal.com/insurance).
Now, let’s tackle those retirement accounts and investments. A lot of people find investment accounts intimidating, but thankfully there are lots of easy to use resources to help figure out if your money is invested in fossil fuels and learn how you can switch it to sustainable alternatives. The best place to start is the Divest Invest website (divestinvest.org). They’ve got a bunch of useful links to walk you through the steps of greening your portfolio. Want to check out a specific ETF or mutual fund? Check out FossilFreeFunds.org. They’ve got an easy to use search function that allows you to look at specific funds or asset managers, like Vanguard, Fidelity and State Street. They’ve also got a list of the cleanest funds on the market and clearly list their cost, expected returns, and all the info you need to make a wise investment.
Here’s the bonus: research shows that getting out of fossil fuels is likely to increase your returns. According to the financial research firm MSCI, between 2010 and 2017 fossil free portfolios outperformed portfolios that hung onto coal, oil and gas. As the Institute for Energy, Economics and Financial Analysis put in a recent report, “The fossil fuel sector is shrinking financially, and the rationale for investing in it is untenable…” Turns out going fossil free is good for both the planet and the pocketbook.
Finally, we all know that individual action isn’t enough. Even if you’re Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates, moving your personal money out of fossil fuels won’t shift the entire global economy (that said, Jeff and Bill, you both really ought to divest). Stopping Wall Street from financing climate destruction is going to take all of us working together. You can join the national movement to end fossil fuel finance by visiting StopTheMoneyPipeline.com. There, you can learn more about different campaigns targeting the worst financial actors like Chase, Liberty Mutual, and BlackRock. You can also join the growing fossil fuel divestment movement that has successfully convinced over 1,200 institutions representing nearly $13 trillion in assets to make some form of divestment commitment. Convincing your alma mater, religious community, pension fund, city, state, or another institution you are associated with to divest is one of the most powerful ways we can start removing the social license of the fossil fuel industry and start shifting our economy in the right direction.
We’ll leave you with the words of one of our great heroes, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end apartheid in South Africa, and has been a proud supporter of the fossil fuel divestment campaign: ‘Just as we argued in the 1980s that those who conducted business with apartheid South Africa were aiding and abetting an immoral system, we can say that nobody should profit from the rising temperatures, seas and human suffering caused by the burning of fossil fuels.’
Amen, Archbishop. Ending the financing of fossil fuels and deforestation is a key solution to the climate crisis. Moving your money is a great place to start.