We want to do something real to protect a livable planet. Money—especially the banks we keep it in—is crucial. Join our pledge.

Big Banks are playing a key role in propping up the oil and gas industry that is polluting our atmosphere. We don’t want our money to be used to bankroll climate destruction. Seventy percent of the country’s financial assets belong to Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation, compared with about five percent for millennials. Who can influence the banks? We can!

So, let’s act together and use our collective power. There are two pledges, one for current customers or credit card holders of any of the Big Four Banks – Bank of America, Chase, Citibank, and/or Wells Fargo (including, for example, Amazon cards issued by Chase), and one for people who aren’t currently customers.

YES, I have an account or credit card at
Bank of America, Chase, Citibank, and/or Wells Fargo
CLICK HERE to SIGN CUSTOMERS PLEDGE

NO, I do NOT have an account or credit card with
Bank of America, Chase, Citibank, and/or Wells Fargo
CLICK HERE to SIGN PLEDGE

Sign one of our two Banking on our Future pledges: “If by the end of 2022, Chase, Citibank, Wells Fargo, or Bank of America are still funding climate-destroying fossil fuel projects, I pledge to close my account and cut up my credit card. If I don’t bank at these institutions now, I pledge I won’t do so in the future.”

Why We Must Act:
Banks Drive Destruction

Everyone knows that the big oil and gas companies have gamed the system for years and lied about the climate threat—all while continuing to expand their empire. But the truth about the role that big banks play in funding the destruction of the environment is not widely known.

Since the Paris climate accords were signed, Chase, Citi, Wells Fargo and Bank of America have loaned the fossil fuel industry a trillion dollars. As Bloomberg News recently reported, if the financial services industry was a nation, it would be the fifth-biggest emitter on earth.

Every one of the companies that have been involved in the reckless, polluting, climate-destroying projects you’ve heard about in recent years were supported directly, or indirectly, by these banks. For instance, Enbridge Corporation, which built Line 3 to carry tarsands oil across Minnesota last year, has financing from all four of these banks.

Activists, including Third Act leaders, have been protesting these actions for several years now by writing reports, sending letters demanding change, going to jail, and holding non-violent protests outside of branches. Fortunately, there has been some changes made; Chase, for instance, was forced to oust its board chair, who had previous entanglements with Exxon. They’ve signed on to pledges to go “net zero” by 2050—but these are vague promises that don’t come anywhere close to meeting the green goals that scientists have set. They’ve just been greenwashing. As Chase’s managing director said last year, oil and gas lending “is a huge business for us and that’s going to be the case for decades to come.” Or as Citibank’s “Sustainability” Officer said recently, “We are not talking about a year-on-year reduction in financed emissions,” even though that is precisely what scientists say we need. Indeed, the International Energy Agency, created in the 1970s in response to the oil shocks that inspired so many of us to join this fight, said last year that if we wanted to meet the Paris climate targets “there can be no new investments in oil, gas and coal, from now – from this year.”

How To Act:
Older Americans
Can Influence Banks

Older Americans are Key

It’s not impossible to imagine these banks deciding to cut off the money supply for Big Oil. They have vast, diversified lending portfolios—and whatever they lose by shutting down their fossil fuel divisions they can make up by funding the necessary rapid growth in clean energy. But we need it to happen fast—and that’s where our generations come in.

While young people have clearly been leading the climate fight, they have limited power with big financial institutions. That’s because seventy percent of the country’s financial assets belong to Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation, compared to about five percent for millennials.

That’s not to say that every older American is financially comfortable—many are just squeaking by. But that puts even more of an onus on those of us with some resources, and it gives us the great privilege of helping out. If we’ve been saving for retirement all these decades, it’s a real bonus that we can help leverage our financial resources to save the planet too.

Don’t Switch Your Bank Just Yet

The key is acting together. If you just cut up your credit card this afternoon or switch your bank account tomorrow, it will be a noble gesture—but one that’s likely to go unnoticed. We need to be acting in larger numbers.

That’s why we’re going to spend this year organizing, leading up to a moment at the end of 2022 when banks can decide whether or not to go along with our requests. If they don’t, then together we take action—and we double our efforts for next year.

In all honesty, acting together means more than signing the pledge. It means recruiting others to do likewise (so use our Outreach Guide to get started). It means adopting a local bank branch, so we can a) reassure branch employees that we don’t blame them for corporate policy and b) establish lines of communication back to headquarters. It means spreading the word in letters to the editor, curating blogs, sharing important posts on social media, and having important dialogues on podcasts. Together with you, Third Act Working Groups, partners, and others, we will have lots of escalation tactics, teach-ins, and creative activities as this campaign unfolds. It means all the work—and all the fun—of organizing together.

We’ll Help Make the Switch Easy

Changing your bank account can take some time and energy, but it’s totally possible. There are good alternatives: local banks and credit unions rarely invest in climate destruction, and even online banks that make a point to be environmentally conscious. As the end of the year approaches, we will have resources dedicated to making the switch easier.

Changing credit cards is usually pretty simple. (In fact, you may already have several in your wallet, and taking the scissors to one will leave you with options.) But if the year comes to a close and we have not seen any progress from Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, or Citibank, we will have a full list of alternative ways to store your wealth, in a way that doesn’t impact the environment.

The job may be more complex—but even more important—for high net worth individuals; we have particular resources and suggestions if you’re in that category.

Caveats and Collective Action

There’s a couple of points we’ll be making throughout this year of campaigning:

  1. Not all older Americans have sufficient financial resources. As usual, the difference often falls along racial and gender lines—and too many of us are just scraping by. Yet everyone can play a role in this action: you don’t need to have an account to hold a sign outside a bank branch or write a letter to the editor.
  2. The banks and credit card companies that you switch to are not going to be fault-free; doubtless there’s not a financial institution on earth that isn’t financing something dodgy or grim. But this is the first step in a long journey of going green.

Even if Chase, Citibank, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America agree to our demands, they won’t be angels. The point of this campaign is to highlight the critical role of banks in the truly existential crisis of climate change and pressure them to stop lending money to fossil fuel companies and projects. There will be plenty of work for others to do in the years ahead. Let’s start right here and right now. Our generation has shown that if we pledge our hearts and minds to a collective movement we can make a difference.

Photo credits: Top – Ken Cedero, Greenpeace; Middle – Rainforest Action Network; Bottom – Marilyn Humphries

Materials

  • Third Act’s Banking on our Future Toolkit, with talking points, sample posts and emails, resources, graphics, videos, ideas for house parties and actions at bank branches. Use the Toolkit to recruit more Pledge signers and raise awareness.
  • An overview of the connection between financial institutions and the climate crisis, from the New Yorker
  • The key index of banks that undermine the planet’s climate, from Rainforest Action Network and other campaigners
  • A closer look at the biggest of the bad banks
  • Video of Third Act friends and leaders in the lobby of a Chase bank—note particularly Rev. Lennox Yearwood’s wonderful explanation of the links to other justice issues
  • CBS New MoneyWatch Video (Jan 2022) with Bill McKibben of Third Act and Valerie Rockefeller of BankFWD discussing bank divestment.
  • Bloomberg article about how investment returns on renewable energy tripled compared to fossil fuels in the last decade
  • A Bill McKibben New Yorker article highlighting new reports and analyses showing that divested portfolios performed better
  • A new Yale survey of consumers indicates quite a sizable group of Americans (38%) say they would be extremely, very, or moderately likely to switch banks or credit cards if they knew their bank was investing in fossil fuels.
  • Third Act’s Outreach Guide to help you engage your friends and family in this work, starting with joining the pledge.

FAQ

Please don’t cancel your credit cards or switch your bank accounts just yet. That’s because if you just quietly go change your account tomorrow on your own, the banks won’t take notice. So, with your help, we will be spending several months getting more people—lots more—to take the pledge. We want to put the banks on notice when we have a critical mass of pledges. Then, if the banks don’t act by the end of 2022, we want to make the switch en masse and get a lot of visibility when we do. Imagine a national day of “The Big Cut” where all across the country we cut-up our credit cards together. That way, the banks will notice and we can have a greater collective impact. So, please wait until we let you know when this national day of action will happen. Meanwhile, we will be assembling lists of better-banking and credit card options for folks to consider before switching or canceling. And with any luck none of us will have to take these steps—because the banks will bend to the obvious common sense of this argument.

Third Act is planning to develop a vetted list of better credit card companies and banks, building on the work of many great partners, so that when the time is right to make the switch, likely towards the end of this year, we have good options. We will also offer a variety of resources, toolkits, webinars, and trainings to help people easily make the switch. And we will plan ways that we can raise the visibility of our collective efforts as we escalate this campaign. So, stay tuned. We will be rolling out these offerings in the months ahead.

If you want to start educating yourself now, you can check out some of these resources from Green America, Aspiration Bank, Stop the Money Pipeline. You could consider applying for a new credit card now, but wait to cancel your existing ones until we are ready towards the end of the year.

We need to both cut-off investments in dirty fossil fuels and also ramp-up investments in clean energy and other climate solutions. Third Act is legally prohibited from offering investment advice and we are not investment advisors. Third Act is working on this bank consumer campaign piece of the financial puzzle, while other organizations are working on other parts. We will be collaborating with a variety of partners and share more as these partnerships develop.

Here are some resources from other groups that you may find helpful. Green America, and many others, including As You Sow’s Invest Your Values, offer a variety of resources, analysis, and scorecards about investments and options that are more environmentally and socially conscious. As You Sow also puts out a list of companies investing in clean energy: the Clean 200. Divest/Invest also has some resources. In the coming months, Third Act will be partnering with experts and organizations to offer resources, toolkits, and webinars about other banking, credit card, and investment options for people to consider. You can use these resources —and others—to foster conversations with your own investment advisors.

Pension funds are also key players in the financial system and many older Americans, including Third Act supporters, do not want their retirement savings to be used to finance climate destruction. We anticipate collaborating with other organizations working on pension fund divestment and lending support where we can. You can learn more from campaigns like TIAA-Divest,Divest-NY Teachers, and Fossil Free California, among others.

We are starting with the focus on credit cards, and checking and savings bank accounts, because it’s an easy starting point for many people. We plan for a second phase of this Banking on our Future campaign when together we will take on companies and organizations that have credit card deals with these Big Four Banks – the airline companies, hotel chains, large businesses (like Amazon and CostCo), universities, and other companies – and work to persuade them to switch their corporate accounts to credit cards issued by banks that don’t invest in fossil fuels. So, yes! Let’s work on this together. In the meantime, please sign one of our pledges for customers (including a store or reward credit card issued by one of these banks) or non-customers. But remember, don’t cut up your credit card yet. As we do our research on good alternative banking and credit card options, we will factor in rewards, perks, and other benefits people are seeking.

Regarding frequent flyer miles, our understanding is that as you accrue frequent flyer miles via your credit card, those miles go directly into your airline’s frequent flyer account – they don’t reside with the credit card company. We believe they are accrued monthly. So, if you switch your credit card, we do not believe that you will lose the frequent flyer miles already accrued to date, though you would stop accruing them after you switch. You should check with your credit card company and your frequent flyer program. We should also note that since the pandemic and economic challenges faced by the airline industry that several airlines have been changing their frequent flyer rules and how many miles are required to redeem various trips. So, these perks may not be as valuable as they were. Again, please check with your companies on the specifics.

For other points and rewards, you will want to use or apply them before you cancel the account.

Our friends at BankTrack have created this great tool where you can look up a rating for various banks on fossil fuel financing: https://bank.green/ You can also check out the ratings of 60 banks investing in climate destruction in this report from Rainforest Action Network, Banking on Climate Chaos.

The movement to divest from fossil fuels is working – to the tune of $40 trillion – and has, as Bill McKibben notes in this New York Times op-ed “helped rub the shine off what was once the planet’s dominant industry.” It’s also working to ramp-up clean energy, quoting from the same NYT piece: “over the last five years, the market has gone up at an annual rate of 16 percent, but the oil and gas sector has fallen at an annual rate of 3 percent. Now many investors are putting their money into clean energy, where returns have risen by an annual rate of 22 percent over the same period.”

The credit card market is actually quite lucrative and competitive for the big four banks. Chase, Citibank, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo together account for a huge amount of the credit card market (more than 40%), and so they are ripe targets for a consumer campaign. The banks spend on average about $1,000 recruiting new credit card customers, so our threat will hit them hard. And older American consumers are the ones that hold 70% of the wealth in this country and are long-standing customers that the banks depend on for their business. We are starting with the focus on credit cards, and checking and savings accounts, because cutting up a credit card is an easier starting point for many people. There are many other organizations that are working on insurance companies, pension funds, retirement investments, and other financiers. So, the consumer banking and credit card market is another angle and tactic in this broader effort to stop all types of financial institutions’ investments in climate destruction. To hold the banks accountable, we will evaluate their responses to our demands and changes in their investments in partnership with the many other organizations that are watchdogging and analyzing the financial sector’s practices and climate risks.