Climate change activist Bill McKibben is encouraging Chicagoans to shred their Chase Bank credit cards in a show of solidarity with the fossil-free, keep-carbon-in-the-ground movement.
“I bet half the people in this room have a Chase credit card,” McKibben said to a packed audience Tuesday night at Spertus Institute, where he was speaking on a climate change panel. “And I bet all of you have a pair of scissors. Do it in a public and dramatic way.”
What does Chase have to do with fossil fuel? Follow the money.
In just the years since the adoption of the Paris climate accord, in which nations around the world agreed to lower their carbon emissions, Chase has pumped nearly $200 billion into the fossil fuel industry, financing tar sands extraction, fracking and ultra-deep water drilling, according to McKibben, co-founder of the climate change organization 350.org and author of “The End of Nature.”
“If we could persuade Chase Bank to stop doing that, the effect would be global,” said McKibben.
Coincidentally, the same day McKibben was in Chicago, Chase, the single biggest financier in the fossil fuel sector, announced an expanded commitment to a “low-carbon economy,” vowing to cut ties to coal companies and to halt all financing of new oil and gas development in the Arctic, among other initiatives.
Notably, the move did not address tar sands, fracking or other fossil fuels, and doesn’t atone for what environmentalists like McKibben view as past sins.
“The big oil companies knew everything there was to know about climate change 30 years ago” and lied to the public, he said. “Thirty years ago, a lot of modest things would have made a difference, and we didn’t do any of them. It was probably the most consequential lie in human history.”
While McKibben has long pointed to oil companies as the villains of the climate change crisis, he’s now holding Chase equally accountable for the environmental damage its dollars enabled.
In shades of Big Oil’s big deception, a document was recently leaked to The Guardian, in which JP Morgan Chase’s own researchers acknowledged, “Emissions in the coming decades will continue to affect the climate for centuries to come in a way that is likely to be irreversible.”
It’s that kind of complicity that led McKibben to call Chase the “First National Bank of Flood and Fire” and “Hades Savings and Loan” in a recent article in Rolling Stone.
With indications that companies like Chase, Goldman Sachs and the investment management firm BlackRock are feeling the pressure – either from the public or their own internal projections – to at least take baby steps away from business as usual, McKibben wants to push them to move farther, faster.
“We’re running Genesis in reverse in dramatic acts of de-creation. Our chance for intervention lies in the next handful of years,” he said. “We may still have some window left, but it’s a narrow, short one and it’s closing fast.”
On April 23, the day after the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, groups including 350.org, the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, the Rain Forest Action Network and others are organizing a day of action at as many Chase bank branches as possible for “Stop the Money Pipeline.”
Now is not the time to hang back and continue to let the Greta Thunbergs of the world take the lead, he said.
“Adults can vote and adults have money. Pull those levers,” McKibben said. “It is not OK to take the biggest problem (facing humanity) and offload it onto high school sophomores. The planet is now well outside its comfort zone. We need people to go outside theirs.”