A Victory for a Priceless Place

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In the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Photo courtesy of Micah Baird.

Less than a month ago, I wrote about our new Stop the Money Pipeline campaign, which demands that big banks, asset managers, and insurers stop supporting the fossil fuel industry. We had just notched our first victory: The world’s largest asset-management company, BlackRock, announced one of the largest ever divestments from coal and a commitment to put climate at the center of its business strategy.

“We’re building momentum,” I wrote then. And it’s true: Yesterday, JPMorgan Chase, the bank that has lent the most money to the fossil fuel industry since the Paris Agreement was signed, committed not to fund new oil and gas drilling across the Arctic region, including in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It also won’t finance new thermal coal mining or coal-fired power projects worldwide.

JPMorgan Chase and BlackRock are two of our campaign’s top priorities. Engaged customers, scientists, students, and many others in our coalition have been putting massive amounts of pressure on both companies — and it’s working. We’re chipping away at the fossil fuel industry’s social license to operate. By refusing to be quiet about what we all know to be true, we’re changing the conventional wisdom around investing in planetary destruction.

No one should be able to profit from despoiling sacred wild places like the Arctic Refuge, or from violating the rights of Indigenous peoples like the Gwich’in, who have depended on the refuge for millennia. Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, has accumulated nearly $2 billion. Why should we allow him to get even richer by investing in projects that would destroy our climate and communities?

For too long, the dominant economic doctrine has been profits at any cost to people and the planet. Unsurprisingly, it’s not working for people or the planet, as the twin crises of climate change and economic inequality make clear. Even JPMorgan Chase’s economists agree: “Earth is on an unsustainable trajectory. Something will have to change at some point if the human race is going to survive.”

That’s why the Sierra Club is working to amplify the message of communities from the Arctic to Appalachia who say that their beloved places should never be sacrificed to put a few extra dollars in someone’s offshore bank account. That the majesty and diversity of human and animal life that exists in those places is priceless.

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After years of rallies, tough questions from shareholders, client account cancellations, sit-ins at bank branches, and pressure from its own employees, JPMorgan Chase is finally taking notice. We are a movement of millions and our message will spread. Chase, after all, is following in the footsteps of Goldman Sachs and more than a dozen other banks that have already committed not to finance drilling in the Arctic. I predict other major US banks are working right now to catch up.

But our work is far from over. Chase remains the world’s biggest funder of liquefied fracked gas and tar sands oil, and it’s the second-biggest funder of fracked oil and gas. We’re continuing to prepare for a massive mobilization at Chase bank branches across the country on April 23, the day after Earth Day, as part of the nationwide youth-led climate strikes.

If there’s a place or a person in your life who is priceless — one you can’t bear to see sacrificed for the sake of shareholder profits — join us.

Dad, husband, executive director of the @sierraclub, writer, Jersey Shore native, Little League coach, #Yankees fan, climate hawk. Optimist. Love the Bay Area.

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