The big four banks—Bank of America, Chase, Citibank, and Wells Fargo—are considered “too big to fail,” but we can’t let them fail all of us on climate and a livable future. Blog by Vanessa Arcara, Third Act President, before the 3.21.23 National Day of Action to Stop Dirty Banks.

Protect Our Future graphic

On Tuesday, March 21, 2023, thousands of people across North America—led by older Americans who are Third Act supporters—will be gathering inside and outside branches of big banks and at climate-impacted sites as part of the 3.21.23 Day of Action to demand that banks stop financing the expansion of fossil fuels. Bank of America, Chase, Citibank, and Wells Fargo have invested more than $1 trillion in fossil fuels since the Paris Climate Accord in 2016, despite their vague commitments to “net zero” carbon emissions targets. 

These banks are using our money to bankroll the climate crisis, investing in oil drilling, pipelines, and fracking wells that cause global warming. Seventy percent of the country’s financial assets belong to Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation and tens of thousands of older Americans—together with their children, grandchildren, and other youth fighting for their future—have signed the Banking on our Future Pledge to move their money out of these banks if the banks don’t move out of fossil fuels.

This is exactly the right time.

The recent failures of Silicon Valley Bank and two others have exposed the mismanagement, deregulation, and lack of oversight of financial risks in the banking industry. And the big four banks, which before this upheaval approached 50% of the deposits in the US, are now growing even larger with Bank of America raking in $15 billion in new deposits in a matter of days

Now more than ever, these big banks must be held accountable for managing financial risks and climate risks. Indeed, climate risks exacerbate financial risk as many fossil fuel investments will become stranded assets and as damages from extreme climate disasters grow and decimate our economy and communities. 

As Third Act co-founder Bill McKibben and Sierra Club Executive Director Ben Jealous share in their Guardian op-ed, the bank failures make the four big banks bigger and give them a quasi-governmental role in our economy, since everyone knows the taxpayer is backing up the banks. That extraordinary privilege brings these banks power and profit, but it also means they need to act responsibly and address the gravest crisis the planet faces. Climate scientists around the world, organizations like the International Energy Agency, and the United Nations have called for an end to any fossil fuel expansion

There’s more than one way for a bank to fail.

The big banks have failed because they continue to fund the expansion of fossil fuels, long past the point where scientists have told them to stop. The most recent example is of oil company Conoco Phillips, which has received $11 billion from these four banks for the Willow Project, a vast new oil complex in the Alaska wilderness that will spew annual carbon pollution equivalent to 76 new coal-fired power plants’ annual emissions. The cash these banks invest turns into carbon pollution warming the planet. And these fossil fuel projects devastate communities around the world, primarily Black, Brown, and poor communities who have been polluted, uprooted, redlined, and undermined

Where do you come in?

So, one of the biggest environmental decisions you make personally is where you choose to bank.  You can estimate how much carbon pollution is generated by your cash in your bank using this nifty “Cash carbon calculator” from Bank FWD, TOPO, and Green Portfolio, and compare it to emissions if you moved your money to a greener bank or if the big banks were to reduce their fossil fuel investments. 

Millions of Americans already get great checking, savings, and credit card services from local banks, online fossil-fuel-free banks, and credit unions. An easy first step to align your money with your values is to start by getting a new credit card and trying it out. We have resources and tips to help you find better banks and credit cards. Wherever you are on your journey to align your money with your values, it is important for you to speak with a financial advisor, ask the banks and credit unions about their security and stability, and check the financial health and FDIC status and limits of banks, credit unions, and your accounts.  

These big four banks are considered “too big to fail,” but we don’t want them to fail 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. Americans want climate action and they want banks to invest in clean energy, climate resilience, and healthy communities. 

That’s why on March 21, thousands of us will be showing up to demand that these big four banks stop investing in fossil fuel expansion. 

Here are things you can do:

Let’s stand together and call on the banks to heed science, embrace justice, and respond to customer and community concerns. It’s time these banks start walking the talk, responsibly investing our money in service of a safe and abundant future. 


About the author:

Vanessa Arcara is the President and co-Founder of Third Act. She is an activist and administrator, a gardener and a mother. Vanessa began her activist work in the world of food justice at Slow Food USA, SolidarityNYC, and on small farms across the northeast of the United States. Her writing has been published in State of the World: Innovations that Nourish the Planet. For the last decade she’s worked on the climate crisis at, helping coordinate actions big and small.