Op-Ed: War in Ukraine is a decision point – banks should stop financing the fossil fuel industry forever


We are worlds apart now, one of us terrorizing amidst the rubble of invaded Ukraine and the other perfectly safe in the United States. However, as we have been in the same global fight against fossil fuels for decades, we are well positioned to see some of the key drivers behind this woeful moment, and with it some of the solutions.

Above all, it is evident that the world’s banks have been working immorally to build Russia’s oil and gas industry, the industry that funds the Russian army, and the industry that Vladimir Putin has used for decades as a bludgeon to keep Europe in check to keep. And that’s why we cheered so loud on Tuesday when President Biden — as part of his ban on Russian oil — told American banks not to make new investments in Putin’s oil. As Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted, it hits the heart of Putin’s war machine.

And it is what more than a million people around the world – and more than 75 prominent NGOs – have been demanding. In fact, Wall Street and the banks must go further and halt ongoing fossil fuel financing everywhere, for they are the bulwark of autocracy and the death of the natural world. The sooner we replace oil, gas and coal with cheap, safe, renewable energy, the sooner we can all live in peace.

If you think the connections between American banks, oil, and Russia’s warfare aren’t deep and profound, think again.

For example, consider JPMorgan Chase, the world’s largest bank and the largest lender to the fossil fuel industry. For decades it was the house bank of Exxon, the world’s largest oil company – David Rockefeller, heir to this great oil fortune, built Chase into a global giant. And Exxon couldn’t have been more involved in building Russia: Putin did indeed pin a medal — the “Order of Friendship” — to Exxon’s former Chief Executive Rex Tillerson. Friendship in this case meant billions of dollars spent to help Russian state oil company Rosneft explore for oil and gas in the Arctic.

Exxon, reading the room, announced March 1 that it would end the last of its Russian involvements in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine. And just prior to Biden’s announcement, Chase began removing Russian investments — including oil — from its asset indexes. But of course the damage has already been done.

The banks have happily benefited from Putin’s Russia, even after its expansion goals were clear. Neither the invasion of Georgia nor the annexation of Crimea slowed them down. Likewise, they have happily benefited from fossil fuels even after science has made the link between climate catastrophe and climate catastrophe crystal clear. The melting of the Arctic has not slowed them down, nor have the fires in California.

But maybe this is the moment: maybe the eerie confluence of last week’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report charting how little time we have to deal with global warming and the terrifying sight of Russian shells slamming into Kiev apartment blocks , unleash new thinking . What if the banks refused once and for all to do business with the oil majors and instead freed up the capital needed to rapidly transform our energy world to make it both safe and clean?

For example, with an influx of funding, we could produce millions of dollars in air source heat pumps and ship them to Europe so they could be installed by next winter to heat homes and noticeably affect Putin’s oil and gas leverage — it would be FDR’s lend-lease program, though for a new day We could quickly roll out the network of electric buses, bikes and cars that would crush global demand for Putin’s fossil fuels and that of other oil autocrats and tyrants, from the Saudi royal family to the Koch network.

What if we stopped believing that history determines today’s reality, that the future must look like the past? Ukrainians are rewriting their history in these tragic but remarkable days with their chillingly brave resistance to an oil and gas-funded war machine. Surely bankers can chart a new course in their peaceful offices. Or we can force them to.

Big banks have wavered and wavered again and again; Just last autumn at the Glasgow climate summit, they engaged in industrial-scale greenwashing when they claimed their “net-zero” climate targets wouldn’t stop them from lending to oil companies for the next round of pipelines or fracking drilling.

Now some may engage in blood washing and pretend they are somehow helping the people whose misery they have caused by their years of support for Putin. But we can crack down on the lies.

Even if the banks shift their priorities, it will be too late for the brave dead in Hostomel, Bucha, Irpin, Kyiv, Sumy, Kharkiv, Kherson, Volnovakha, Mariupol. But as Putin’s war and occupation of Ukraine continues, it might help.

Ukraine is now in the crosshairs, but we all share a planet that we must protect. These awful days represent a point of decision for the world, perhaps the last we will have. Perhaps the most powerful forces on the globe are its giant banks – they are the “capital” of capitalism. With them goes our earth, the countries it encompasses, and the people of the world who increasingly live in fear.

Svitlana Romanko, in Ivano-Frankvisk in western Ukraine, and Bill McKibben in Vermont, have worked together for years at, the global climate organization. She founded the Stand With Ukraine campaign, calling on governments to ban trade and investment in Russian oil and gas. He founded Third Act, a progressive organizing group for people over 60. Op-Ed: War in Ukraine is a decision point – banks should stop financing the fossil fuel industry forever

Tom Vazquez

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