Climate action activists target D.C. banks on fossil fuels

The group stands outside Wells Fargo, calling for the bank to stop financing fossil fuel projects. | Alex Krutchik


Jewish groups and clergy members from the District, Maryland and Virginia held a Passover-inspired public action on April 20 demanding that U.S. banks stop funding fossil fuel projects.

Some 100 people gathered in front of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington before marching to nearby banks, including Wells Fargo, Chase Bank and BlackRock, which are among the leading financiers of fossil fuel production around the world, according to a 2022 report by Banking On Climate Chaos. The report said these four banks provide one quarter of all fossil fuel project financing.

Cantors and musicians sang and others recited the 10 plagues of Passover and spoke about how the plagues paralleled the climate crisis. One of the plagues, boils, was likened to heat waves that can lead to heat exhaustion and death.

The event was organized by Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action, a nationwide group formed to confront the climate crisis. Protestors called for the banks to move their money out of fossil fuels and into clean energy.

They hand-delivered letters banks on their marching route, calling on each bank to stick to the promises they made to withdraw from their fossil fuel project agreements. Wells Fargo, in particular, was criticized by the protestors for not upholding a promise to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Climate change is the top concern for Jewish voters, according to a 2022 study by the Jewish Electorate Institute,

Lawrence MacDonald, co-chair of the Temple Rodef Shalom Dayenu Circle and co-organizer of the action, said a core teaching of Judaism is to “protect the stranger and to support the poor.”

Climate change hurts poor people “first and worst,” especially people in the developing world, he said.

“Another core teaching of Judaism is to pass our traditions from generation to generation,” MacDonald said. And that involves passing on a livable Earth. We’re now in a climate emergency situation where our future is in danger – not only for Jews but all people.”

Rabbi Nora Feinstein from Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington told the group:

“As we confront the climate crisis with all our might, all of our voices, our bodies and our lives are needed in this movement,” Feinstein said. “Please look around at who showed up here today. We are all here because we are dedicated to healing and protecting our precious planet.”

After the speeches, participants walked from bank to bank. They sang songs that urged the banks to stop investing in fossil fuel production.

“The tide is turning and so are we, this is where are called to be,” the protestors sang.

Melanie Aron, a retired rabbi, came to support the action and said people need to change how and where money is being spent if society wants to make an impact on reversing climate change.

Aron, who recently moved from California to Washington, said it is a “mitzvah” to take care of the earth. She said she wonders what kind of world her 3-year-old grandson is going to be living in, especially after the numerous wildfires in California over the last few years.

“I lived there for 30 years, and the last two years were unimaginable,” said Aron, who was involved in Interfaith Power and Light in California, which works with congregations to help them save energy. “So we know that this is a real problem and will only get worse for the next generation.”

MacDonald said that Russia would not have been able to launch war against Ukraine were it not for the worldwide consumption of fossil fuels, a leading Russian export.

Germany is still buying around 25 percent of its oil and 40 percent of its gas from Russia, according to the BBC.

“The solution is not more drilling,” MacDonald said. “The solution is more renewable fuel. Because fossil fuels are a global commodity. When Americans are upset about rising gas prices, the solution is not more gasoline. The solution is electric cars.”

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