By Evan Mathiason
MN350 and Carver County 350 volunteer 

Bank of America sponsors Minnesota Public Radio’s ongoing Climate Cast series hosted by Paul Huttner, as well as the Greener Good, a three-part series on business and climate change hosted by Chris Farrell that aired earlier this year. Before the twinkly, upbeat synth guitars of the Climate Cast theme song, an authoritative-but-chill voice reads: “Through a global business strategy, sustainable operations, and employee programs, Bank of America is helping society transition to a low-carbon economy.” What is this messaging trying to achieve, and is it backed by actions? Let’s look at where their money is actually going.

For the Greener Good video webinars, the Bank of America (BofA) logo was placed prominently on-screen for the duration. However, after the first two episodes, there was no mention of banking in relation to climate change and no mention of the petroleum industry’s dependence on capital funding from large banks to expand their operations. According to the Rainforest Action Network’s 2021 banking report, Bank of America is the fourth-largest funder of fossil fuels globally behind JP Morgan Chase, Citibank and Wells Fargo and the third-largest funder of petroleum expansion projects. Yes, even in the face of ever-intensifying climate consequences, the petroleum industry, with the help of backers like BofA, is pushing forward with new extraction projects.

As of 2017, the top 100 petroleum industry companies were responsible for 71% of global CO₂ and they depend on banks to advance their exploratory projects and maintain their profit models. Banks are leveraging the deposits of unsuspecting individuals to finance the companies responsible for the bulk of climate harm. BofA’s total petroleum funding came in at $42 billion in 2020 alone and they have financed almost $200 billion since 2016. That’s about twice as much as they claim to have invested in “low-carbon and sustainable business activities.” They top the list for all banks in funding fracking and are also heavily invested in tar sands projects like Enbridge’s Line 3. This kind of influence cannot possibly be offset through “sustainable operations” and certainly does not match their saccharine statements about “helping society transition to a low carbon economy.” No matter how many climate podcasts they sponsor, or how energy efficient their headquarters might be, BofA and other large banks continue to fuel big oil expansion. They are not promoting a “greener good” – and certainly not the greater good, as the play on words implies.

I submitted a question to a recent installment of “The Greener Good” asking whether it would be better for people to use credit unions if they don’t want their money used as collateral for petroleum projects. The response from the guests focused on individual responsibility and “doing your homework” to make sure the businesses you frequent match your values. Although I specifically cited Bank of America for their record on climate harm, the moderator conveniently omitted any direct reference to their main sponsor. As long as the solution to climate destruction is seen as the responsibility of individual consumers making individual decisions, the large corporate interests that are truly responsible will continue to do their dirty work while hiding behind a veil of feel-good messaging, as Bank of America has. A concerted, organized group effort is needed to counter their strategy.

Action items:

  • Organize! Volunteer and help us build power to counter big bank’s money influence.
  • Take your money out of these banks and switch to a credit union or green bank. Tell the banks why you are moving your money. The Stop the Money Pipeline campaign has more information on how to do this, while pressuring big banks to stop funding fossil fuel projects.
  • Tell Bank of America, Chase, Citibank, JP Morgan Chase, and Wells Fargo to stop funding Line 3.

Evan Mathiason is a resident of St Paul who lives with his family on the West Side. He provides care for his two wonderful kids, teaches occasional boatbuilding courses and volunteers regularly with the MN350 Policy Action Team and Carver County 350.