Senior citizens lead climate protest in rocking chairs at major US banks

Protesters demand that Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup and Wells Fargo stop funding new fossil fuel infrastructure that is deepening and prolonging the climate crisis

Louise Boyle
Senior Climate Correspondent, New York
Wednesday 22 March 2023 12:19 GMT
Mass protests across US led for first time by senior citizens

Don’t let the rocking chairs fool you.

The first-ever mass climate protests led by senior citizens were taking place on Tuesday at more than 90 locations across the United States from New York and Washington DC to California, Washington state and Alaska.

Protesters are demanding that the major US banks – Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup and Wells Fargo – stop funding new fossil fuel infrastructure that is deepening and prolonging the climate crisis.

The day is being organised by Third Act, a climate action group for over-60s founded by longtime environmental campaigner Bill McKibben, and supported by organisations including the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, GreenFaith and The Hip Hop Caucus.

The protests follow a damning scientific report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which warned that there’s a rapidly closing window of opportunity to rein in the climate crisis by cutting planet-heating carbon emissions in half this decade.

The report, published on Monday, said that if nothing is done to reduce emissions from fossil fuel infrastructure already in existence – to make no mention of projects in development – then the world will breach its somewhat safe warming limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7F).

“The banks just cannot acknowledge that we’re in 2023, and keep partying like it’s 1899,” Mr McKibben told The Independent on Friday.

“Isn’t it time for the banks to take note of the new reality of the climate crisis?”

Mr McKibben pointed out that Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and Bank of America are the world’s biggest lenders to the fossil fuel industry, and said that people who use these institutions would be “startled” to know the scale of carbon emissions that their money funds.

A $125,000 investment at one of these banks creates more emissions (via lending for fossil fuel infrastructure) than the entire carbon footprint of an average American in one year, he said. An account with $5,000 is equivalent to emissions from a cross-country flight.

The protesters’ demands aren’t even for banks to completely stop lending money to oil and gas companies – just to halt the flow of funds to the expansion of the fossil fuel industry.

The non-partisan and influential International Energy Agency has also called for no more new fossil fuel infrastructure to prevent catastrophic heating.

Mr McKibben said that he was particularly dismayed by the ConocoPhillips’ Willow oil development in Alaska which was greenlit by the Biden adminstration last week.

“ConocoPhillips has taken billions of dollars in loans and [Willow] represents exactly the kind of project that scientists have told us to stop but that governments and banks are supporting across the world,” he said.

“From the Willow project in Alaska to EACOP [East African Crude Oil Pipeline], on and on down a really sad list.”

He added: “But the Alaska one, I have to say, makes me particularly sad. It was [President] Jimmy Carter who really protected Alaska, that was one of his legacies. And the idea that he has to watch these guys plunder it as he lays on his deathbed just depresses me.”

Youth activists will back the seniors on the streets on Tuesday in actions including cutting up credit cards, a march led by a polar bear and a bagpiper at a retirement community in Bedford, Massachusetts, flash mobs in Sacramento, California; and a Hip Hop Caucus organized event in the financial capital of the south, Dallas, Texas.

Mr McKibben, who founded the global climate movement,, launched Third Act to get more senior citizens involved.

"I've been organising around climate change for a long time but mostly with young people because that's who was willing to do it, and they do all the amazing work,” he said.

“But I've heard few too many people say, ‘It's up to the next generation to solve these problems’, which just seems stupid, unfair, and impractical.

He added: “Young people have endless energy and intelligence and idealism but they don't have enough structural power by themselves to solve these problems in the time that we have."

On Tuesday, Mr McKibben, who has arrested on a number of actions for peaceful civil disobedience, will join a 24-hour protest at a DC branch of Chase bank, in a rocking chair, alongside Sierra Club president, Ben Jealous.

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