Is your bank contributing to the climate crisis by using your dollars to finance fossil fuels?
On April 5, the nonprofit group Bank.Green launched the Money Movement to answer that question. A global campaign, the Money Movement encourages consumers to learn about the funding practices of their banks and to move their money away from those that are financing fossil fuel companies such as ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Devon Energy. Although the campaign ends on Earth Day (April 22), Bank.Green will capitalize on the momentum generated by the Money Movement and continue its work raising public awareness about banks financing oil, gas, or coal companies.
Alice Hu, climate activist and co-founder of Bank.Green, said that the Money Movement differs from other efforts to call attention to banks’ environmentally destructive funding practices because it emphasizes consumer action as a way to get banks to stop loaning money to fossil fuel companies. Such loans go toward building infrastructures such as crude oil pipelines and other projects that harm the environment.
The Money Movement recognizes, Hu said, that “people we’re talking to aren’t just climate- concerned citizens — they’re also bank customers themselves.”
Recent climate movements have focused on gas, oil, and coal producers and government policies, but Hu pointed out that Bank.Green and the Money Movement address a key oversight: the financial piece of the climate crisis. “One thing that’s been a bit neglected is the money side of things,” she said. “I think part of it is because it is a bit of a black box for many people, but when you think about it, [fossil fuel] companies don’t exist if they don’t get the loans they need for their projects.”
“This finance piece is really big,” Hu said. “You can’t think about companies existing, you can’t think about governments making decisions, if you don’t think about the banking between them influencing how much power they have.”
According to Bank.Green, three ethical bank choices in the US are Aspiration, Beneficial State Bank, and City First Bank. On the flip side, the site names JPMorgan Chase as “#1 in the world for fossil fuel financing.”
Many people don’t know to whom banks are lending their money. An online survey by ICM Unlimited on behalf of Market Forces found that 80 percent of Barclays and HSBC customers in the UK were unaware that their banks were contributing to the climate crisis. But once customers were told that their banks were investing in fossil fuels, 13 percent of respondents reported being very likely to switch.
For Hu, that could mean millions of bank customers who, as soon as they receive information on the environmental impact of their banks, are very likely to move their money to an ethical bank. “There’s a lot of potential to bridge this gap,” she said, “and once this gap is bridged, it will directly lead to many people switching banks.”
The Money Movement helps to bridge the awareness gap by inviting people to use the bank search tool on the Bank.Green website. You press “Search Bank,” choose from among the listed banks or type in the name of your bank, and the site provides information on its practices and names other choices that Bank.Green has determined are ethical. If your bank isn’t listed, you can fill out a form requesting that the organization look into your institution. You can also contact your bank directly and ask about its investments.
Bank.Green recognizes that changing banks isn’t easy. “We’re trying to create a community of empowered people to take action, and that action could include switching your bank,” Hu said, “but it also includes many other actions that we want people to take, so that’s one way for us to ensure that we’re having an impact while we warm people up to switch banks.”
Even people who are not ready to move their money can learn about the impact of banks on the climate crisis by visiting the Bank.Green website, joining its listserv, viewing its Reddit page, or attending regular webinars that answer questions about financial data and provide advice on how to contact banks’ investor relations lines to let them know why they’re switching.
People who are too young to have a bank account can sign the youth pledge on the website, and when they’re old enough to open an account, Bank.Green will send an email reminder to pick an ethical and environmentally responsible bank.
Despite the end of the Money Movement promotion, the Bank.Green website will stay up and running. “We see ourselves as a gateway to all kinds of engagements,” Hu said. “I’m really excited; I think this is only the start.”
Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from AliAbuRas / Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).