On March 21, there was a successful event at Monument Square. It was organized by a lively group of elders to focus attention on the climate crisis and the critical role the biggest banks play by funding fossil fuel projects that threaten life on Earth. The goal: Pressure the biggest national banks to stop loans for new fossil fuel projects.

In a move symbolizing the need to cut ties with the banks funding new fossil fuel projects, Third Act Maine member Judith Blanchard of Freeport cuts up a giant JPMorgan Chase credit card, stamped with CEO Jamie Dimon’s name, during a Third Act Maine protest March 21 at Monument Square in Portland. Photo courtesy of Tom Mikulka

The International Energy Agency recently stated that all investments in new fossil fuel-related projects must stop now if we are to avoid increasing the warming of the planet by 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2030. Last week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued an alarming update saying that catastrophic warming is now likely with the present path we are on. The oil companies aren’t making the change (BP is backtracking, and so is ExxonMobil), so we elders are focusing our attention on the money pipeline: the loans that fund new fossil fuel projects.

While Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citi, TD Bank and Wells Fargo claim to have set goals to reduce their funding of fossil fuel projects by 2050, there is ample evidence that they continue to fund new projects and have no intention of stopping soon. Who could blame them? There are huge profits to be made by investing in the fossil fuel industry!

The local effects of continued warming will be dire. The Maine Climate Council predicts a loss of 20,000 jobs and coastal property damage of $18 billion by 2050 because of sea-level rise. That is likely an underestimate, since recent scientific research indicates that the Greenland ice sheet is melting 100 times faster than previously predicted. The Gulf of Maine is one of the fastest-warming saltwater bodies on the planet. The prized popcorn shrimp have left Maine waters, and it is only a matter of time before the Maine lobster industry is gone.

Global warming is also endangering public health and well-being – in Maine and beyond. Adverse health effects include asthma, cancer, heart disease, heat-related illness and death, and mental health disorders. Vector-borne diseases including malaria, dengue, Lyme disease and West Nile virus are more prevalent, spreading to higher latitudes and altitudes throughout the world. The nations bearing the greatest burden from global warming have contributed the least to the problem but are now suffering from food insecurity, severe malnutrition and forced migration.

To those elders who feel a responsibility to future generations, there are lifestyle changes that can help, but there is something more significant: what you do with your money. Groundbreaking research has shown that if you have $130,000 in savings with a bank like Chase, you are contributing more to carbon dioxide production there than all of your other carbon-generating activities combined. If, in addition, you have a credit card with one of the big five banks, all of your positive lifestyle choices are effectively negated.

We urge elders to switch to Maine-owned banks and credit unions. They are not using your money to fund big oil projects, and they offer similar financial services to the big banks. Third Act Maine has created a helpful guide to help make the transition.

Elders have power. If we switch our savings accounts and credit cards, if we collectively assert economic clout by boycotting the big banks until all new investment in fossil fuel projects ends, the banks will feel the pressure. It can be done. Recently HSBC, the largest bank in the United Kingdom, halted all new investment in fossil fuels, largely because of shareholder pressure. So did Danske Bank. Third Act Maine is asking the biggest U.S. banks to do the same, now.

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