By Jay Lieberman
Volunteer with MN350's Communications Team

Over three hundred and twenty-seven billion metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO₂) have been released into the atmosphere since 1950 from fossil fuels burned in the United States. Those of us who grew up and had our working careers during those years benefitted from the power and the products that burning carbon produced and we believed that we were building a better world for the young people in our lives. Oil companies like Exxon hid the fact that the burning of fossil fuels that maintained our energy-intensive lifestyles was changing the earth’s atmosphere in a way that would lead to the climate crisis we’re facing now.

Now that we know the truth, many of us older Americans feel a responsibility to do what we can to ensure a better future. One way to do that is by confronting the financial backers of the big fossil fuel producers with our demands for climate justice. Yes, those huge fossil fuel companies have big piles of cash and are pulling in windfall profits these days but they can not continue to expand their exploration, drilling, mining, and pipelining without billions of dollars in loans from the big banks in the US and the rest of the world.

That’s why fifty people gathered outside the Minneapolis headquarters of Wells Fargo on March 21, 2023 to demand that the bank stop financing the expansion of fossil fuel production. Wells Fargo, the fourth largest bank holding company in the US, supplies tens of billions of dollars in financing to companies like Exxon and the major tar sands producers. Together, Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Citi, provide almost one-quarter of the total global funding for the fossil fuel industry.

A large group holds signs outside of Wells Fargo center

The action in Minneapolis was one of 102 rallies in 30 states and the District of Columbia organized by Third Act, a group that is working to bring the skills and resources of “experienced Americans” over 60 to the battle for climate justice. Third Act says that seventy percent of the country’s financial assets belong to older Americans with most of that wealth in the form of home equity and retirement funds. At the rally in Minneapolis people gave speeches demanding that Wells Fargo stop financing fossil fuel projects, sang songs like “When the Banks Go Fossil Free” (to the tune of “When the Saints Go Marching In”), and cut up Wells Fargo debit cards.

One demonstrator, Amy Blumenshine said, “Ending these loans [to fossil fuel companies] will play a big part in speeding the energy transition. And that’s where we older Americans are crucial. … After a lifetime of work, our savings and retirement accounts contain many of the assets that back these loans. Chase, CitBank, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo need us much more than we need them. … These big four banks are considered too big to fail, but currently they’re failing all of us on climate and a livable future. We don’t want our money and savings to be used to bankroll the climate crisis.”

As a veteran of the 1970s boycott of corporations and banks that supported Apartheid in South Africa, I know grassroots campaigns like this can be effective but they require the support of a large number of people. You can support Third Act’s campaign work by signing the Banking on our Future Pledge to move your money out of the big four banks if they don’t move out of fossil fuels, by faxing big bank CEOs, and by watching for the next round of rallies that confront these big banks.

Here in Minnesota you can join MN350’s Pipeline Resistance Team to continue the fight against the tar sands pipelines that these banks are funding or join the Policy Action Team to help push our legislators to adopt laws that support clean energy and climate justice.