As the World Floods and Burns, It’s Time To Hold Wall Street To Account
Pakistan is responsible for around 0.3% of the total greenhouse gas emissions in our atmosphere. Yet, that nation of 220 million people is currently experiencing what is undoubtedly a "climate-induced humanitarian disaster." Much of the country is under water. At least 1,100 people are dead. One million homes have been damaged or destroyed. An estimated 40 million lives have been impacted.
It's a situation that highlights the tragic truth at the heart of the climate crisis: It's those who have done the least to cause the problem that are bearing the brunt of the impacts.
In the face of such tragedy there are several morally commendable responses. One is to help however you can. If you're in a position to do so, making a donation is a small but important act you can take. Another legitimate response is anger.
The flooding in Pakistan is only the latest in a long line of climate disasters. Three days ago, the 150,000 residents of Jackson, Mississippi were ordered to evacuate as flooding threatened the city. This weekend, temperatures in California are projected to hit 115°F. Last month, dozens died in flooding in Kentucky.
These climate disasters—as well as Europe's worst drought in 500 years, China's vanishing rivers and lakes, and the heat waves that have exacerbated a global food crisis—are not happening by chance. They are not natural disasters. They are happening because of a political and economic system designed to make some (mostly white, mostly male) people exceptionally rich from extracting and burning fossil fuels, while the rest of the world is left to suffer.
As journalist Emily Atkin has put it, "Climate change is not something that is happening to us. It's something that's being done to us." And when something is being done to you—and that something is causing you, your family and community harm—anger is a legitimate response.
There are plenty of people to be angry at: fossil fuel companies, which exist to make massive profits off of poisoning our air, water, and planet. Politicians, who are bought and sold by wealthy tycoons, and whose climate policy—years in the making—was still riddled with giveaways to the fossil fuel industry. And finally: Wall Street.
Since the Paris Agreement was adopted in 2015, US banks have provided $1.4 trillion in financing to fossil fuel companies. Every new fossil fuel project requires insurance. Without it new oil pipelines and gas terminals cannot be built. And US insurance companies are among the world's largest providers of insurance to coal, oil and gas companies. The world's two largest investors in fossil fuels are two US asset managers: BlackRock and Vanguard.
These companies could stop the flow of money to fossil fuels today, but they are choosing greed instead. When we look around at the devastation caused by heat, flooding, hurricanes, and climate disaster, and we think about who to blame, Wall Street should sit at the top of the list.
And we can't forget that by funding climate disaster, Wall Street is consigning communities of color to bearing the worst impacts. It's no accident that the maps of Wall Street's redlining, and the maps of communities most vulnerable to heat and flooding, are the same. It's also no accident that when Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib asked the CEOs of the largest banks in the country if they knew what environmental racism was they each responded: no.
This fall, we're calling for a wave of escalated actions on the banks, insurers and investors funding the climate crisis. It's essential that people connect the dots between the extreme weather events harming communities and the corporations fueling the climate crisis—and bold activism and organizing is our best shot at making that happen.
There are already actions being planned in New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago, LA, and Portland. If you live in a city where an action is already being planned, we encourage you to sign up to join in.
Wherever you live—and regardless of whether you're new to activism or have been organizing for years—we want to support you in organizing to hold the funders of climate chaos accountable. Over the next few weeks, we will provide training on Action Planning, Non-Violent Direct Action, and How to Use Arts in Your Action. If you sign up to organize an action, you'll receive 1:1 coaching from an experienced action practitioner. We'll also provide a number of action grants to help cover the costs associated with your action, and we'll provide you with movement art and song for your actions.
We cannot sit idly by as the world burns. We're running out of time to avert catastrophe beyond what most of us are capable of imagining. It's time to get angry, take to the streets and hold those responsible for the climate crisis responsible.
[Alec Connon is the coordinator of the Stop the Money Pipeline coalition, a coalition of over 160 organizations working to stop the flow of money from Wall Street to the fossil fuel industry. He is also a writer. His first novel, The Activist, was published in 2016.
Arielle Swernoff is an organizer, strategist, and facilitator based in New York City. She is the Stop the Money Pipeline US Banks Campaign Manager.]
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