For six weeks now, my truck has been parked, like so many millions of other vehicles idled by sheltering in place. Across the adventure sports community travel to ski resorts abruptly stopped in mid-March, mountain expeditions are on hold, and most of the industry is working from home. 

This sudden retreat from travel has driven oil prices down — literally below zero at one point — and brought bankruptcy to the door of highly leveraged companies. Subsidized to allow access to some of our most treasured and sensitive landscapes, there seems little logic as the shale boom goes bust.

Mario Molina

Now, major U.S. banks are preparing to become operators of those oil fields by seizing their assets, tossing lifelines to companies from Texas to Wyoming on the brink of bankruptcy.

These banks, including giants like JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Citigroup, are the same companies that have warned that the climate crisis could result in catastrophic outcomes, and the longer action is delayed, the more it will cost.

Despite that, the big six U.S. banks have funneled almost $1 trillion into fossil fuels since the Paris Climate Agreement, fueling climate risk. Swooping to the rescue of the oil companies’ stranded assets is a remarkably short-sighted act during a time when we should be embracing long-term solutions.

Rather than make drastic efforts to extract that oil, we should be investing in our future by staying within our carbon budget and accelerating the transition to clean energy. It’s the only way to prevent the dire effects of a warming world and preserve the landscapes and playgrounds we love as we know them.

The under-reported marriage of banks and failing fossil fuel companies means the two can cover for their past mistakes. It raises serious questions. How can banks objectively assess the risk of investing in fossil fuels when they have set up operating LLCs to stave off the default of these operations? How can banks pledge to support climate change goals and then back some of the dirtiest fossil fuel companies?

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This kind of irresponsible shepherding of our money — banks, after all, are loaning consumers’ money — is why Protect Our Winters supports the Stop the Money Pipeline movement demanding that banks, asset managers, institutional investors and insurance companies stop funding, insuring and investing in the destruction of our planet. 

A Reuters report earlier this month stated that JPMorgan Chase & Co, Wells Fargo & Co, Bank of America Corp and Citigroup Inc. are each in the process of setting up operating limited-liability companies to own oil and gas assets to avoid losses on loans threatened by bankruptcy. The industry is estimated to owe more than $200 billion to lenders through loans backed by oil and gas reserves.

Between 2016 and 2018, Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Citigroup have loaned a total of over $584 billion to fossil fuels. This pattern of continuing to aggressively prop up stranded assets makes no sense as COVID-19 pushes us into a global recession. Policy aimed at a failing past is not policy for the future.  

With fossil fuels fading, renewables are set to account for nearly 21% of the electricity the United States uses, up from about 10% in 2010. For over 40 days, renewable energy has beaten coal as the country’s leading electricity source. The time is now to accelerate our efforts.

What can one person do? We all must take incremental, positive steps toward a better future, even during these uncertain times. Yet by examining our ability to pressure the banks for sustainable solutions we see an impact exponentially larger than just incremental steps.

Money is the oxygen fueling global warming. We must avert the mistakes of the past and address the greatest global threat looming: climate change. Check your bank. Talk to your portfolio manager. Examine your 401k. See if their actions reflect your values. 

Mario Molina is the executive director of Protect Our Winters, a group that helps passionate outdoor people protect the places and lifestyles they love from climate change.

Special to The Colorado Sun