NORTHAMPTON — Amid a summer of wildfires, heat waves and intense flooding in the Connecticut River Valley, protesters gathered in Northampton had a loud message for the city’s newest downtown tenant, Chase Bank.
“Chase earns while Earth burns,” read one sign. “Does your bank fund climate crisis?” asked another.
According to the 2023 Banking on Climate Chaos report — a breakdown of fossil-fuel financing released by a coalition of NGOs — JPMorgan Chase does indeed fund the extraction and burning of fossil fuels. The report concluded that JPMorgan Chase “continues to be the worst bank overall since the Paris Agreement,” putting up a total of $434 billion in fossil-fuel funding since 2016, including some $39 billion in 2022.
And with JPMorgan Chase now occupying prime real estate in downtown Northampton, where it bought the former Silverscape Designs building last year, protesters filled the corners of King and Main streets on Tuesday to denounce the bank’s actions.
“This summer we don’t have to look far to see the impacts of the climate crisis,” said Kevin Young, an organizer with Climate Action Now Western Mass, which organized the rally together with Mothers Out Front and Extinction Rebellion Western Massachusetts. He noted that this month is already the planet’s hottest on record.
“Most of that is due to the carbon pollution that banks like Chase are funding.”
In a statement, a regional spokesperson for JPMorgan Chase said that in 2021 and 2022, the company “facilitated more than $175 billion for green activities like renewable energy, energy efficiency and sustainable transportation.”
“These efforts help put us well on our way to our target of $1 trillion for green initiatives over 10 years, including for technology that will tackle climate change but does not even exist yet,” the statement read. “We are also taking pragmatic steps to meet our 2030 emission intensity reduction targets in the six sectors that account for the majority of global emissions, while helping the world meet its energy needs securely and affordably.”
However, given the scientific consensus that most fossil fuels need to stay underground to avoid even more extreme climate change, protesters said that JPMorgan Chase’s “green initiatives” were nothing more than a PR stunt.
“They have not yet presented a credible plan for how they’ll decarbonize their operations on a timeline that scientists say is needed,” Young said. “It’s a lot of greenwashing.”
JPMorgan Chase’s spokesperson did not respond to follow-up questions about greenwashing or scientists’ urging that humanity keep fossil fuels in the ground.
In 2020, The Guardian reported that two of the bank’s own economists wrote in a leaked memo that the climate crisis threatens the survival of humanity and the planet. The memo implicitly condemned the bank’s own fossil-fuel investment strategy, according to The Guardian.
Several dozen protesters were gathered in front of the Chase Bank building on Tuesday, holding banners and chatting with curious passersby. Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, a local Episcopalian minister, was holding a sign imploring people to “love God, love your neighbor: stop climate change.” She said that as a Christian, she believes God entrusted humans with caring for the planet.
“Desecrating the Earth is like spitting in the face of God,” she said. “No one should bank with an outfit like Chase Bank that is funding fossil fuels and contributing so decisively to the destruction of the sacred web of life.”
Organizers were handing out literature, encouraging people to move their money to an alternative bank or credit union that does not appear on the Banking on Climate Chaos report.
Russ Vernon-Jones, who is on the steering committee of Climate Action Now Western Mass, said he found it “deeply reassuring” that so many people expressed support of the protesters on Tuesday. He said that recent flooding and wildfire smoke in the Valley have brought the impacts of climate change directly to local residents, but that others have been witnessing destruction for longer.
“It has been challenging for many people to focus on how much damage climate change has been causing in the countries of the Global South,” Vernon-Jones said. His hope, he said, is that the recent local effects of climate change will open people’s minds to that ongoing crisis. “And that we can have a greater sense of solidarity with all of humanity to stop the use of fossil fuels and transition to sustainable economies.”
Dusty Christensen is an independent investigative reporter based in western Massachusetts. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @dustyc123.
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