This is the fifth (and last) article of Fossil Money, a series on how the global financial system supports and feeds the climate breakdown. Read the first article here, the second here and the third here, and the fourth here.
The smell is acrid and the air is choking. The pipeline is still there, its burning substance pouring all around you. You run towards it, alone, and try with all your might to block it. You try pouring earth into it, you try covering it with rocks… You try everything, but everything is in vain. You are alone, and the burning substance keeps flowing. Your heart sinks, as you realise you can’t stop it. Everything seems lost.
And then you hear a sputtering sound. It’s the pipeline! It has stopped flowing!
What? So the pipeline CAN stop flowing! But it seemed impossible just a moment ago! You look up the hills that surround you and what you see takes your breath away. Thousands of people are coming together all over the plains. With the strength of numbers and organisation on their side, they are blocking the influx of money that was being poured into the pipeline. You run towards them and stand side by side. As you join the movement, you become something else. You become people power. The pipeline is defeated.
Since its foundation, 350.org has identified the money pipeline as a keystone to dismantling the fossil fuel industry. After all, it’s quite simple: they can’t burn climate-wrecking fuels (coal, oil and gas) if they don’t have the money to dig them up.
The path we walked
We have kept fossil money in our sights. That’s why we have fought for divestment, from university endowments to the largest banks in the world. If financial institutions, no matter their size, want to be on the right side of history, they need to cut the flow of money to fossil fuels now.
The capacity of people power to shutter the money pipeline is undeniable. When 350.org launched its ‘Do the Math’ tour in 2012, only a bunch of groups had taken this crucial step. By 2014, with the Fossil Free campaign in full gear, around 200 institutions had pledged to divest up to 52 billion dollars.
How are things now, eight years later? Almost 1,500 institutions managing almost 40 TRILLION US Dollars have committed to divest. And as we speak, more and more financial institutions have been deciding to stop funding fossil fuel projects. Banks like La Banque Postale (a French bank with nearly a trillion assets under management) recently announced a policy that suspends support for all companies expanding oil and gas. The bank will detach completely from oil and gas in 2030. Other banks that have taken significant steps are Nordea, Intesa SanPaolo and Credit Agricole.
That’s what people power can do. That’s how we turn off the fossil pipeline.
Believe me, I know that “it can’t be stopped” feeling. “The project is too big”, “the fossil industry is too strong” and “they have the politicians in their pockets”, so what can we do? Luckily, we can do A LOT. Strap your helmet on and follow me. Let’s talk about an “invincible” pipeline, and how people power defeated it.
Keystone XL was a giant system of pipelines that would cross North America, from Canada to the coast of Texas. If built, it would have accelerated the development of the Alberta tar sands, one of the dirtiest fossil fuels out there. But it’not built yet. And it won’t be.
At a point in time, Keystone XL seemed like an unavoidable reality. Actually, it’s so much so that some parts of the system are in operation. We even had to kill it twice. But eventually, what became unavoidable was people’s victory. It was hard and long, but it didn’t involve anything extraordinary. Just people power.
The centerpiece of this colossal campaign was indigenous resistance. Brave indigenous peoples and First Nations in the US and Canada faced the developers to stop the pipeline for years, and didn’t stop until TransCanada (the company building the pipeline) confirmed it was scrapping the project. Critically supporting the indigenous resistors were thousands upon thousands of activists in the US and around the world, pressuring financial institutions to stop supporting the pipeline.
That happened, for example, when over 7,000 people stood up in Switzerland in 2018 to demand that Credit Suisse and the Swiss National Bank divested from the project. Or in 2017, with the DefundKXL week of action. This all led to victories that helped undermine the project until the final victory.
The path ahead
Keystone XL was a big victory, but it got cemented over a myriad of small ones. It’s these small victories that we need to focus on our day-to-day. And it’s in our day to day that we see signs of hope. Little by little, the relentless pressure of people power achieves what once seemed impossible: financial institutions are starting to move their money away from fossil fuels.
Take our supporters and allies in Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, France and Germany, for example. Working together they have pushed more than 20 banks and insurers to divest from the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP). EACOP is being built by French company Total and the China National Offshore Oil Company, and they’re starting to feel the heat as more and more banks close their door on them. If they can’t find the money, they can’t build the pipeline. No pipeline, no oil to wreck our climate.
Or come see what we’re doing in Indonesia and Japan (two heavily coal-dependent countries), where 350.org and its partners are pushing banks like BNI, and SMBC to do what they won’t do on their own: get real about climate change. Others like BRI (Indonesia) have already taken the first step.
Here’s where you come in. To achieve the impossible we need everybody. We need more institutions moving their money away from fossil fuels, and we need it faster because winning too slowly is the same as not winning at all. It will be hard, but we will do it.
Now it’s your turn… can you help us turn off the money pipeline?