Local advocates urge banks to halt funding to Line 3 pipeline
“Defund! Divest! Put these banks to the test!”
This was the cry of a group of local activists who marched on upper State Street Friday to protest banks who are funding fossil fuel projects, which environmentalists say are causing disastrous climate impacts nationwide.
Members of the Society of Fearless Grandmothers, the Sunrise Movement Santa Barbara, 350 Santa Barbara, Climate Reality and the Women’s March of Santa Barbara marched together to protest outside of Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Chase Bank on upper State Street, holding signs and reciting chants.
Friday’s protest centered on the expansion of the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline, which is currently being built through Indigenous land in northern Minnesota. The pipeline will carry 760,000 barrels a day of tar sands oil for more than 300 miles of northern Minnesota, emitting more carbon to the atmosphere every year than the entire state of Minnesota, according to a news release from the Fearless Grandmothers.
This pipeline expansion is funded in large part by bank corporations, who, since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015, have put $3.8 trillion into fossil fuels, according to the Rainforest Action Network. Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Chase Bank in particular have contributed billions of dollars to fossil fuel expansion in the U.S. in recent years, with JPMorgan Chase leading the pack at about $317 billion allocated to such projects, according to the Rainforest Action Network.
It’s for these reasons activists gathered on State Street to deliver letters to the CEOs of each bank, asking them to be on the “right side of history” by halting their corporation’s contribution to fossil fuel projects.
“Emissions need to be cut all across the globe,” Irene Cooke, a coordinator and co-founder of the Society of Fearless Grandmas, told the News-Press. “And banks all across the globe — whether we’re talking about a pipeline in Minnesota, a pipeline in Santa Maria, pipelines anyplace — they’re all contributing to escalating emissions. Emissions need to be going exactly the opposite direction.
“The Line 3 pipeline would increase emissions by more than 50 new coal fired power plants,” she added.
The activists successfully delivered letters to both Wells Fargo and Chase Bank, but faced opposition at the Bank of America branch on upper State Street. After the activists attempted to deliver the letter, the bank manager declined to accept the letter, called Santa Barbara police and told the activists to leave the premises.
Chris Barros, a member of the Society of Fearless Grandmothers, said she was shocked by the response of the Bank of America staffer and disappointed the letter was not accepted.
“They locked the doors to the bank,” Ms. Barros told the News-Press. “They wouldn’t let any other customers in, and even the customers who wanted to go out, they had to let them out one at a time. They were locked in because we’re such a threat? I don’t know. We’re grandmothers — what is the problem?”
Despite the opposition, the activists were unwavering in their commitment to the cause, maintaining their cheers and continuing the march. Casey Dwire, a member of 350 Santa Barbara, took a turn leading the group’s chants on Friday. He said he protested in an effort to hold the banks accountable for their climate policies.
“A lot of (banks) have come out saying that they believe in climate change and they are proponents of a cleaner and healthier environment, but then they fund these oil pipelines and these projects that are completely detrimental to those values, particularly with Line 3,” Mr. Dwire told the News-Press. “And so I’d love to see them show through action and not just words that they are opposed to this and that they are here to protect and serve the community like they say they are.”
Despite the concerns of activists, proponents of fossil fuels say that ending the expansion of fossil fuel pipelines will increase harm to the poorest people living in the U.S. and transfer pollution to other nations who will be forced to increase production of raw materials if the U.S. halts its fossil fuel production.
“I would love to see them protest in Minnesota in the winter while trying to rely on solar and wind power to keep them alive,” Andy Caldwell, the executive director of COLAB and a News-Press columnist, told the News-Press Friday.
“These people are not living in reality,” he said. “You can’t make a solar panel, a wind turbine or an electric road without fossil fuels. We use half of each barrel of oil for over 6,000 other products we use each and every day, including tires, plastic, asphalt and innumerable other items that we need to live in a modern lifestyle.”
Mr. Caldwell said shutting down pipelines is “transferring pollution” by moving the “smokestack from one country to another.”
Still, climate activists stand firm that if nothing changes, the climate impacts could be detrimental for generations to come.
“I think one of the main reasons that you see a lot of gray haired people here is that we feel like our generation has really dropped the ball,” Ms. Cooke said. “All of this happened in my lifetime. If you look at graphs of how emissions have skyrocketed, they were going up ever since the Industrial Revolution, but since 1950, they’ve just gone straight up.”
She added, “We want to make sure our elected officials know that there are people who care about this. We want to make sure that the banks know that there are customers and citizens who care about this. And raise awareness of this issue in the general population.
“Because it’s so easy for people to think, ‘Oh, God, climate change, it’s such a depressing topic. I can’t even think about it. I don’t want to think about it. Don’t talk to me about it.’ Guess what? It’s going to affect you.”
According to Ms. Cooke, Santa Barbara’s climate has already risen by four degrees. She said this could have long-term impacts on agriculture and sea level rise across the Central Coast.
“You know, those beaches that we loved aren’t going to be here because of sea level rise,” she said. “So it’s not like we can ignore this. We’ve ignored it long enough.”
“We cannot allow the commercial institutions like banks and insurance companies and investment companies and elected officials to ignore this anymore. It is truly an existential crisis.”