There comes a time when what was once considered normal—be it slavery, a sweatshop, or sexual harassment—is seen to be profoundly immoral. When it comes to protecting a livable planet for our children, we have come to that moment. Climate change is already causing the deaths of over 150,000 people a year, as well as the relocation of entire nations and the collapse of ecosystems. Further, if we allow normal business to continue for much longer, we will lose forever our brief window for remaining below 1.5°C of warming, beyond which ecological instability is widespread.
It is, in part, this fundamental tenet that has prompted over 100 first nations and tribes to officially oppose all expansion of tar sands, the dirtiest form of energy on the planet. It is also what caused Rosebud Sioux president Cyril Scott to call the Keystone XL pipeline an “act of war” on our planet. In April, the Seattle City Council voted in favor of avoiding banking with any financial institution that provides loans to Keystone XL. The Council’s reasons for this were clear: KXL’s impact on the climate would be disastrous.
The City Council vote was an important pronouncement in light of Trump’s all-out attacks on climate progress and his greenlighting of KXL. Projects like KXL rely on large loans for their construction. (The Dakota Access pipeline, for example, was a $3.8 billion pipeline, $2.5 billion of which came from bank loans.) Between 2013 and 2015, the world’s twenty-five largest banks provided $765 billion in funding to new fossil fuel infrastructure and exploration projects. Without these loans, it becomes difficult for fossil fuel corporations to find the billions required to build new infrastructure projects.
In other words: if you stop the flow of dollars, you keep the oil in the ground, where it belongs.
People are waking up to the significance of the role of the banks in the climate crisis. Prompted by passionate advocates, Seattle was the first city in the country to break ties with a bank, in part, because it provided loans for the Dakota Access pipeline. Since then San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington D.C, Philadelphia, Missoula, Davis, Santa Monica, and Providence have begun the process of severing ties with banks financing the Dakota Access pipeline, removing over $5 billion worth of City business in the process.
It is against this backdrop that the same coalition of Native Americans and climate activists that packed City Hall to demand divestment from Wells Fargo, have promised to occupy and shut down branches of JPMorgan Chase across Seattle unless the banking institution publicly states that it won’t provide loans to the Keystone XL pipeline, or any other new tar sands infrastructure.
Activists intend to disrupt the bank’s ability to do business on May 8th, which will inconvenience blameless bank workers and customers. This is, of course, unfortunate, but history has taught us that civil disobedience is a powerful force for change. From the suffragettes and the civil rights movement, to the anti-nuclear movement and the fight for gay rights, civil disobedience has been used again and again to spark deep and lasting change. Peaceful and widespread civil disobedience may be just what we need to persuade banks to stop financing projects that are incompatible with life on this planet as we know it.
We live in a world defined by the investments we make—and a world increasingly re-defined by the impacts of climate change. The time is now for us to make it crystal clear to the banks that they will be held accountable for investments in projects like DAPL and KXL. Actions like those on May 8th are one of the most effective ways we can tell CEOs like Chase’s Jamie Dimon that we will not stand idly by as they profit from projects that threaten all life on Earth.
Bold action can take many forms, whether it is civil disobedience, rallying in protest, writing to your legislators, switching to a socially and environmentally responsible bank, or finding a way to significantly decrease reliance on fossil fuels in your life. To slow the momentum of climate change and give us a chance at regaining a stable planet, we must deploy all of them—and we must be as bold as possible in doing so. Our planet depends on it.
(On Monday, one of the many actions across the City is being led by Water Protectors from Standing Rock. They ask you to join them in solidarity on Monday by meeting at Westlake Park at 1130am. If you can't make it on Monday, you can call Chase CEO, Jamie Dimon, and ask that Chase does not fund any new tar sands projects. His office number is: 212-270-1111. And to get further involved in the climate fight in Seattle, click here.)
Mike O'Brien, is city councilmember for District 6, representing northwest Seattle.
Alec Connon is an organizer with 350 Seattle.