If you were to trace where carbon emissions come from, you’d find a lot of fossil fuels. And if you were to trace the money that underlies fossil fuel extraction, you’d find… banks.
Banks make this all possible. Through their lending and underwriting, the largest banks in the world provide a continuous supply of funds to fossil fuel companies, allowing them to continue exploring and extracting the very stuff that is making our planet increasingly inhospitable and uninhabitable. Over the past four years, the world’s 35 biggest private-sector banks have poured $2.7 trillion into fossil fuels. To their credit, many of these same banks have made commitments to provide capital to climate-positive solutions such as renewable energy and clean technology—but these amounts simply pale in comparison to the vast scale of their fossil fuel financing.
Cutting off the flow of money to the fossil fuel industry is a crucial step in solving the climate crisis. And that’s where people power comes in. We know that the country’s largest banks care—a lot—about their reputations in the eyes of their customers. When reputations are at stake, banks start to listen and change. Just last year, in response to public pressure and organizing from a coalition of organizations, the country’s largest banks agreed to cut ties with private prison companies.
Just like we did with private prisons, it’s time to tell banks to dump the industry that is creating and profiting off of the climate crisis. It’s time to get loud about what we believe and refuse to do business with companies that don’t align with our values. It’s time to bank for good.
Black and brown communities already face a multitude of crises as a result of structural racism, and climate injustice is escalating those crises. This isn’t a coincidence: climate change is driven by the same greed and exploitation that birthed structural racism. There are too many connections to cover them all, so let’s start with a few.
Redlining—the discriminatory and systematic denial of mortgages, loans, insurance, and other financial services for residents of certain neighborhoods because of their race or ethnicity—has decimated the ability of Black Americans to accumulate generational wealth. Climate change adds a new dimension to this wealth and housing crisis: climate gentrification. As the seas rise, the rich are likely to buy up the so-called higher ground, leaving the rest to face floods and storm surges that put lives and homes at risk. As you read this, new policies are being discussed and implemented to remove entire communities from flood-prone areas, not always voluntarily. With the historic treatment of Black, Indigenous, and Latinx peoples in the United States, it’s not easy to trust that these policies will be applied fairly and preserve family and community resources.
Through redlining, company town housing, policing, and other means, agents of power have forced Black and brown communities into our cities’ sacrifice zones: areas where the air, water, soil, and buildings are unhealthy for people and compound the risk of lung disorders like asthma—and, now, COVID-19. This disproportionate burden of disease will grow as more hot, hazy, ozone-polluted days raise the risk of major respiratory crisis for children, the elderly, and the sick.
Low-income and majority-nonwhite urban neighborhoods tend to have fewer trees and less green space, meaning that compared to richer, whiter urban neighborhoods, they get hotter and more hazardous. Research shows that high temperatures are risky for pregnant people, fetuses, and young babies: high heat leads to lower birth weights (increasing the risk for other complications), more stillbirths, and more premature births. In 2016, Black infants were already twice as likely as white infants to die before their first birthday. Fetal mortality, or losing a pregnancy before end of term, is also much higher for Black Americans. Climate change is poised to increase the disparity even further.
That’s huge. The more institutions make this promise, and the more people decide to Bank for Good, the closer we are to containing and reversing the climate crisis.
Good financial institutions—get this—actually care about their customers and communities while still offering a range of financial products. Some have branches where you live and tellers who will know your name; others were built entirely online and have top-notch mobile apps and websites.
Many are Minority Depository Institutions, or MDIs, which are owned by, led by, or dedicated to serving people of color. Some are Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs): they’re federally recognized and regulated as serving communities that have been shut out of many large financial institutions. And some are members of networks dedicated to doing good while doing business, like B-Corps or the Global Alliance for Banking on Values (GABV). Whatever you’re looking for from your financial institution, you can find it here.
When you start an account with a Bank for Good participating institution, you’re joining a movement of people who are demanding a banking system that puts people before profits. You’re participating in a moment where powerful actors that once seemed invincible are buckling under the power of everyday people. You’re sending a message: