Climate activists are taking to the streets Tuesday in one of the biggest coordinated demonstrations over global warming since millions of the world’s youth walked out of their classrooms in 2019 to urge their governments to do more to tackle the climate crisis. Except this time, it’s not young people leading the charge but Baby Boomers.
The Baby Boomer generation—generally defined as anyone born between 1946 and 1964—holds far more wealth compared to their children and grandchildren. Baby Boomers are nearly nine times wealthier than Millennials and more than 27 times wealthier than members of Generation Z, with most of that wealth coming in the form of home equity and retirement funds, according to the latest available census data. That makes them ideal candidates when it comes to pressuring banks and other financial institutions to cut off funding for new fossil fuel development, says Third Act, the organization coordinating Tuesday’s protests.
“So far the kids have had to do all of the work and they’ve done an amazing job, but it’s not fair to ask 18-year-olds to solve this problem,” Bill McKibben, the prominent climate activist who founded Third Act, as well as 350.org, told the Guardian over the weekend. “Older people have got money and structural power coming out of our ears. We have to show young people we have their back.”
According to Third Act, which is a reference to someone being old enough to be in their “third act” of life, over 100 climate protests are scheduled to take place throughout the day in more than two dozen states, as well as in Washington, D.C., and parts of Canada. Their targets are America’s biggest banks, which continue to fund new fossil fuel development at record levels, even as scientists warn in a new landmark report that “there is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all.”
U.S. banks remain the biggest financiers of fossil fuels by far, with just four of them—JPMorgan Chase, Citi, Wells Fargo and Bank of America—making up one quarter of the total global funding for the industry, according to a 2022 analysis by the environmental nonprofit Rainforest Action Network. Between 2016 and 2021, those four banks injected more than $1.2 trillion into the fossil fuel sector, the report said, also noting that Citi provides the most money for new oil and gas development in both the Amazon rainforest and African nations.
But on Tuesday, demonstrators with Third Act, many of them in their 60s or older, will advance their pressure campaign to convince the banks to quickly move their investments away from projects that expand fossil fuels. The organization has attracted more than 50,000 members so far.
“We’ll be inside and outside branches of those four banks across America, cutting up credit cards, sitting down in lobbies, and in general trying to make people understand that for any American with more than $125,000 in the mainstream banking system, it’s likely producing more carbon than all the actions of their daily life,” McKibben, who’s 62 years old, wrote in a recent post.
In December, Third Act celebrated a promise from HSBC—Europe’s biggest bank by total assets—to stop providing financing for new oil and gas fields, which came as the result of ongoing pressure from activists. The group said the move should set a new precedent for American banks to follow.
In an email interview with Inside Climate News, McKibben said Tuesday’s protests take on even more significance in light of the ongoing global banking crisis, triggered by the collapse of two U.S. regional banks earlier this month, as well as the grim new report released Monday by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Public concern over the stability of the global banking system has grown significantly since Silicon Valley Bank in California and Signature Bank in New York collapsed earlier this month, prompting swift government intervention that sent a series of banking scares rippling across the broader financial sector. In an effort to safeguard their finances, many account holders began moving their money from smaller banks to larger ones. Monday’s IPCC report, which warned that the world remained far off track from meeting global climate commitments, also noted that private financing “for fossil fuels are still greater than those for climate adaptation and mitigation.”
That means that JPMorgan Chase, Citi, Wells Fargo and Bank of America will likely grow even bigger in the coming years, McKibben said, and how all that money gets spent could ultimately determine if humanity manages to avoid the worst impacts of global warming in the coming decades. “These four banks are the world’s four biggest funders of fossil fuel expansion,” McKibben told me. “They’re precisely who the IPCC has in mind when they say no more excuses for inaction.”
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