Yesterday, Bank of America said it is ruling out financing for oil and gas development in the Arctic, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This follows similar moves by Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citi, and Morgan Stanley. Now, all six major US banks have committed to not finance the destruction of one of our last truly wild places.
This victory is the result of years of pressure from shareholders, leaders of the Gwich'in and Iñupiat peoples, and hundreds of thousands of activists from the Sierra Club and other organizations. This year, the Sierra Club and our allies sent more than 200,000 messages and made thousands of phone calls to Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan asking him to protect the Arctic. Over the past couple years, Alaska Native leaders have spoken multiple times with Bank of America executives about how drilling in the Arctic Refuge would violate their human rights. At its last two annual shareholder meetings, Bank of America faced tough questions about when it would say no to funding Arctic drilling -- and just two weeks ago, the bank faced a new shareholder resolution demanding answers.
Together, we made the case that exploiting the Arctic Refuge for oil would violate the rights of the Gwich’in people, who rely on it for subsistence and the continuation of their spiritual and cultural lifeways. It would cause irreparable harm to the hundreds of species that use the refuge as a home and spawning ground, including caribou, moose, polar bears, and migratory birds. It would exacerbate the climate crisis, which is already wreaking havoc and melting the very places that oil companies now want to stabilize for more drilling.
Our coalition also spoke to Bank of America’s bottom line. We reminded its leadership that drilling in the Arctic would be bad business for any bank foolish enough to finance it. They would almost certainly face major backlash from the 70 percent of Americans who want to see the Arctic Refuge remain protected, and any previously far-fetched hopes for marginal financial returns on development have vanished with the cratering of the oil industry.
Yesterday, Bank of America showed that it was listening and understood that the costs far outweigh any potential benefits. Their pledge not to finance Arctic drilling came at a critical moment for the future of the refuge. The Trump administration is racing to sell leases in the delicate coastal plain before President-Elect Biden, who has pledged to permanently protect the refuge, is sworn in. It’s just one of many last-minute favors they’re working to squeeze in for their fossil fuel executive friends. On its way out the door, the Trump administration is also trying desperately to prevent banks from further limiting financing for fossil fuels and other toxic, risky industries -- a move that even the banks oppose because they don’t want to be forced into bad investments.
But even if the Trump administration manages to sell leases before Inauguration Day, there are many reasons to doubt that wells will ever be drilled in the refuge. There are serious political and legal obstacles: The Biden administration would likely try to block key permits, and our coalition will never stop fighting to prevent the destruction of this sacred place.
And now there are major financial obstacles too. Drilling in such a remote area is extremely risky and expensive, which is why the smart money is staying away. Every major US bank has joined the list of nearly 30 major banks worldwide that have committed to not fund the destruction of the Arctic.
We know, however, that preventing further climate chaos means that banks have to go far beyond just ending funding for Arctic drilling, or coal, or even tar sands. We have to #StopTheMoneyPipeline going from Wall Street to the fossil fuel industry for good. We’ve shown what can happen when diverse coalitions come together to demand action, so now we need to keep going. Take action: Tell America’s largest banks to stop funding fossil fuels!