Last weekend, reports of unethical business practices at Wells Fargo surfaced again. Despite the San Francisco-bank’s efforts to catch bad behavior, employees across the country said they remain under heavy pressure to get money from customers and fear retaliation for speaking out.
It’s only the most recent example of Wells Fargo being accused of wrongdoing. In 2016, the bank admitted to opening millions of fraudulent customer accounts, forcing customers to buy unneeded auto insurance and charging improper mortgage fees. Embattled Wells Fargo CEO Timothy Sloan traveled to Washington, DC this week to convince lawmakers the bank has changed its ways.
“Solving past problems is not enough,” he said at a House of Representatives panel yesterday. “We are equally committed to preventing new problems from developing.”
But the latest report, as well as Wells Fargo’s continued relationship with fossil fuel developers, undermines Sloan’s claim. The bank’s direct and indirect support of new development of oil and gas infrastructure exposes people to refinery explosions, leaky pipelines and dangerous extraction. For many, Wells Fargo’s relationship with the fossil fuel industry is another example of its predatory practices.
To rise against this, activists from more than 50 faith, indigenous and environmental organizations will participate in the nonviolent “March for Fossil Fuel Freedom” from March 16- 18. The three-day, 34-mile walk from Palo Alto to San Francisco will end with a rally at Wells Fargo headquarters on Montgomery Street. The march is part of a larger campaign by the environmental nonprofit 350 Silicon Valley to urge customers and investors to cut ties with Wells Fargo.
“Are we going to stick our heads in the sand and go gaily off to apocalypse,” Ralph King, a Former Wall Street Journal reporter asked me.
“Wells Fargo is the biggest funders of fracking in the world, and no one has made it their business to stand in the bank’s way, ” said King, who has become a climate activist with 350 Silicon Valley.
Dubbed “Oily Wells” by march participants, Wells Fargo has ties to some of the dirtiest and most damaging pipeline projects and developers. It lent $120 million to the controversial
Dakota Access crude oil pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota. It also has a relationship with Canadian-based company Enbridge Energy, which is planning a crude oil pipeline in northern Minnesota that threatens indigenous rights and water, as well as TransCanada Corporation, which is pushing the Keystone XL pipeline forward.
In November 2017, Wells Fargo announced a $50 million commitment to address the economic, social and environmental needs of American Indian and Alaska Native communities. But it’s hard to address these needs and support fossil fuel corporations that are undermining communities.
“It was reminiscent of colonialism,” Pennie Opal Plant, an organizer with the indigenous-led Idle No More SF Bay Area, told me bluntly.
When Bay Area residents and businesses open accounts with Wells Fargo, they are buying into this culture. Through direct and indirect financial support, the bank is enabling corporations to pollute the air and water of people with little resources to fight them. Pipelines and projects are proposed in areas already struggling with high levels of incarceration, gang violence, health complications and school drop-out rates.
To empower more people, the March for Fossil Fuel Freedom will go through communities on the frontline of climate violence while honoring our presence on occupied Ohlone land, the Native American groups of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Loa Niumeitolu, who is organizing the Bay Area’s Pacific Islander community, sees the march as an opportunity to bring Tongan and Samoan neighborhoods from East Palo Alto, San Mateo and San Francisco together and expand the conversation around the environment.
“Climate destruction is a part of our everyday lives on the islands,” Niumeitolu told me. “I want white, rich and elite activists to come to our places and see us. It’s a goal to give us visibility and partnerships.”
The threat posed by the powerful fossil fuel industry isn’t as far-away as melting ice caps and starving polar bears. It’s an immediate, daily fear that explosions will make the air outside too
toxic to breathe, set fire to homes and pollute needed water. The March for Fossil Fuel Freedom amplifies these realities and aims to break the cycle of violence.
To participate or learn more, check out the website: www.oilywells.com.
A sorting question from a reader
Into which bin shall I place expired and empty cosmetics? – Chibi Yasumoto
It’s hard to conceal our confusion when it’s time to toss a foundation package, mascara tube or powder case. Our cosmetics may contain chemicals and they’re wrapped in a variety of plastic, glass and other materials.
According to the Department of Environment, empty cosmetic containers made of only one material, such as hard glass or plastic, can be placed in the blue bin. But most cosmetic containers made of mixed materials – plastic, mirror and metal – should go in the black bin.
There are some brands that offer recycling programs for their products. LUSH, for example, promises a Fresh Face Mask for every five empty, clean black pots brought back to the local shop. Similarly, MAC gives a lipstick to customers who return six primary packaging containers to a store or online. Garnier products can also be recycled through New Jersey-based TerraCycle.
You’ve got questions. I’ve got answers. Email sorting questions to email@example.com
Robyn Purchia is an environmental attorney, environmental blogger and environmental activist who hikes, gardens and tree hugs in her spare time. She is a guest columnist. Check her out at robynpurchia.com