By Leola Abraham
The banking industry should stop funding extreme fossil fuel pipeline projects that impact the climate and violate human rights. These projects are risky for banks as they face mounting pressure from a growing resistance movement and increased reputational risk in a world that is recognizing the urgent need to rapidly tackle climate change to avoid climate catastrophe.
Recently, more than 400,000 people, from 138 countries, signed a global petition demanding banks and financial institutions immediately end financial relationships with tar sands pipelines projects and other controversial pipeline companies such as Energy Transfer, the company that built the Dakota Access pipeline.
The Indigenous-led movement at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access pipeline further galvanized and helped grow a global movement against dirty oil pipeline companies. However, it saw the industry lash out in a variety of ways, including Energy Transfer's baseless $900m SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) against Greenpeace entities and others falsely accusing the groups of orchestrating the resistance at Standing Rock.
People march in support of the Standing Rock Nation at the Civic Center Plaza of San Francisco. The protest was one of many in a global day of action against the Dakota Access Pipeline calling on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to cancel the permit for the project. Cy Wagoner / Greenpeace
Growing Reputational and Investment Risk
Despite the threats of bogus lawsuits and concerning corporate behavior by pipeline companies, many Indigenous Peoples, communities, and allies in the U.S. and Canada remain opposed to the dirty pipelines.
In North America, two out of the five proposed new tar sands pipelines—TransCanada's Energy East and Enbridge's Northern Gateway—were canceled after facing Indigenous and environmental legal challenges, widespread public opposition and changing economics.
In some cases the dirty pipelines cut across unceded Indigenous lands and threaten Indigenous rights by putting drinking water and precious ecosystems at risk of oil spills. Knowing there is no safe way to transport oil, no community wants the risk of an oil spill. When a spill inevitably happens, the impacts on the community and the environment are immense and oftentimes irreversible.
Even with this information, new tar sands pipelines are proposed and facing opposition. In Minnesota, Enbridge's Line 3 pipeline is opposed by a coalition including tribal governments and landowners.
Enbridge's Line 3 expansion under construction near Hardisty, Alberta. Amber Bracken / Greenpeace
Even the Minnesota Department of Commerce has communicated concerns with the project. Also, recently a group of 13 young people, known as the Youth Climate Intervenors announced they planned to take the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to court over the approval of Enbridge's Line 3 tar sands pipeline.
In Nebraska, Indigenous leaders from across the U.S. and Canada signed a formal declaration against TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline and tar sands expansion in general.
In British Columbia, the Secwepemc Nation built solar-powered tiny houses to be placed in the path of Kinder Morgan's planned new Trans Mountain Expansion Project and Tsleil-Wautuh Water Protectors built a traditional Coast Salish "Watch House" near the pipeline route, which played a central role in organizing resistance to the project.
Thousands gather in Metro Vancouver, British Columbia, for Indigenous-led "Protect the Inlet" mass mobilization against the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline. Here a "Watch House" is being built near the pipeline route. Zack Embree
In Vancouver, an Indigenous-led protest saw more than 10,000 people peacefully march demanding a stop to Kinder Morgan's pipeline. What followed was months of resistance including more than 200 people arrested and protests in Quebec and across Canada, as well as in Seattle, the UK, Switzerland, Spain, Australia, Fiji and around the globe.
Ultimately, Kinder Morgan deemed the project too great a financial and reputational risk and, in May, sold the Trans Mountain pipeline and the infrastructure for the Expansion Project to Justin Trudeau's Canadian government for CAN $4.5 billion. The move was a clear sign that dirty pipelines are risky investments for the companies, the banks and everyone involved.
Growing Line of Investors to Shun Tar Sands
Trudeau's decision to purchase the pipeline also came after the Royal Bank of Scotland, a large global bank, and BNP Paribas and HSBC, Europe's two biggest banks, announced scale backs on financing tar sands projects.
Since then, other financial institutions such as the international financial services company, NN Group in the Netherlands, announced its withdrawal from tar sands oil and associated pipeline companies in Canada and the U.S. citing human rights concerns, pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions as the main reasons for its departure.
NN Group's announcement came on the heels of the IPCC report where the world's leading scientists sounded the alarm, sending a timely message to world leaders that they must get serious and cut emissions from fossil fuels by half in the next 10 years if we are to avoid climate catastrophe.
Banks and financial institutions should wake up and face their role in the looming climate disaster. They must act on their commitments to the Paris agreement—by reviewing their policies and funding patterns and aligning their businesses with a world that limits climate change to 1.5 degrees Celsius, protects the environment, and respects human rights.
As the global petition is delivered to banks, the people-powered resistance movement to stop dirty pipelines will continue because our future depends on it. #StopPipelines
Leola Abraham is a senior communications practitioner at Greenpeace USA, based in Washington, DC.
Correction: The language in the main caption was updated for clarity. "More than 400,000 people demanded Credit Suisse stop financing," not "stop investing."
A report released Wednesday by Rainforest Action Network, BankTrack, Sierra Club and Oil Change International, in partnership with 28 organizations around the world, revealed that the world's biggest banks are continuing to fuel climate change through the financing of extreme fossil fuels.
The report found that 2016 actually saw a steep fall in bank funding for extreme fossil fuels. However, despite this overall reduction, banks are still funding extreme fossil fuel projects at a rate that will push us beyond the 1.5 degrees climate change limit determined by the Paris climate agreement.
In 2014, the banks analyzed in the report funneled $92 billion to extreme fossil fuels. In 2015, that number rose to $111 billion. 2016 was the first full calendar year to be studied since the signing of the Paris climate agreement—and the $87 billion figure represents a 22 percent drop from the previous year. While the drop-off is a move in the right direction, it is vital that this become an accelerating trend and not a blip.
The findings showed that if we are to have any chance of halting catastrophic climate change and reaching the Paris goal of limiting climate change to 1.5 degrees, there must be a complete phaseout of these dangerous energy sources and banks must implement policies against extreme fossil fuel funding.
"Right now, the biggest Wall Street funder of extreme fossil fuels is JPMorgan Chase," said Lindsey Allen, executive director of Rainforest Action Network. "In 2016 alone they poured $6.9 billion into the dirtiest fossil fuels on the planet. On Wall Street they are number one in tar sands oil, Arctic oil, ultra-deepwater oil, coal power and LNG export.
"Even in this bellwether year when overall funding has declined, Chase is funneling more and more cash into extreme fossil fuels. For a company that issues statements in favor of the Paris climate accord, they are failing to meet their publicly stated ambitions."
The report, Banking on Climate Change, is the eighth edition of this fossil fuel finance report card that ranks bank policies and practices related to financing in the most carbon-intensive, financially risky and environmentally destructive sectors of the fossil fuel industry. Those sectors are: extreme oil (tar sands, Arctic, and ultra-deepwater oil), coal mining, coal power and liquefied natural gas (LNG) export.
"There is simply not enough time left for more excuse-making, more fiddling at the policy edges and more egregious bank investments in extreme infrastructure projects like pipelines that transport tar sands oil," said Yann Louvel, BankTrack's climate and energy campaign coordinator. "When we sit in meetings with bank staff, we hear of their revulsion to Trump's stance on climate change and of their support for clean investments, yet their actions of continued investments in extreme fossil fuels demonstrate that they actually side with the Trump approach.
"The climate and profit imperatives for banks can coincide when it comes to clean energy investing, but as they continue to prove with their shortsighted fossil fuel investments, they're at complete odds with the world's long-term climate targets."
The report also explored bank failures when it comes to protecting human rights. The most glaring example of this in 2016 was the financing for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and the rampant violations of Indigenous rights associated with that project—which triggered an Indigenous-led defund and divest movement that targets banks that finance dirty energy projects.
"The movement standing up to fossil fuel projects wherever they are proposed has gotten so large that these investments are now not only problematic from a climate and human rights perspective, but they're also risky investments from an economic perspective too," said David Turnbull, campaigns director at Oil Change International. "Our research has shown that any new fossil fuel development runs counter to our climate goals. If banks want to truly be leaders in their field, they need to stop ignoring climate risk and ensure their investments pass the climate test."
In this past year alone, San Francisco, Seattle, WA, and Davis, CA, pulled their money out of Wells Fargo because of the bank's various misdeeds including the funding of DAPL. Caving into public pressure, multiple major banks have announced that they are pulling out of DAPL, which emphasizes the need for proactive bank policies that restrict financing to fossil fuels and the human rights abuses associated with their extraction and transport.
"As the Trump administration continues to make reckless decisions that threaten our climate, it is more important than ever that the public is informed about whether the financial institutions we trust with our money are making investments that will worsen this crisis," said Lena Moffitt, senior campaign director of the Sierra Club's Our Wild America campaign. "The people are watching where and what banks sink their funds into, and they will not back down until every last one commits to investing in a future that benefits their communities, their economies and their health."
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.