A coalition of climate activists huddled outside the Wells Fargo Museum in the heart of The City’s financial district Friday to demand the bank immediately stop funding fossil fuel projects, including a controversial pipeline in Canada, which has become a flashpoint in the current environmental movement.
Friday’s event was organized by the environmental group Extinction Rebellion, which set up carnival games in front of the bank’s Montgomery Street offices, spelling out in stark terms the bank’s involvement in fossil fuel funding.
“We decided it was time since Wells Fargo is headquartered here in San Francisco, that our climate justice community should really all come together and just put the pressure on,” said Leah Redwood, an organizer with Extinction Rebellion’s San Francisco Bay Area chapter.
A group of a few dozen people from various environmental groups carried signs and banners while others moved about the sidewalks theatrically, wearing gas masks or burlap sacks with signs reading “drought” or “mega fires” draped around their necks.
As wildfires, drought and heatwaves continue to grip the West, and new reports warn about the grim state of planetary health, activists kicked off a new round of actions on Friday ahead of the COP 26 UN Climate Change Conference in November, calling for the immediate suspension of fossil fuel funding and pressuring one of the world’s largest banking institutions to act on climate.
“This is the moment to pull out all the stops. To hit them with everything we’ve got,” said Redwood.
But the bank, which has been carbon neutral in its scope 1 and 2 operations emissions since 2019, said it is making progress to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Accord. (According to the EPA, scope 1 emissions are defined as “direct greenhouse emissions that occur from sources that are controlled or owned by an organization (e.g., emissions associated with fuel combustion in boilers, furnaces, vehicles. Scope 2 emissions are indirect GHG emissions associated with the purchase of electricity, steam, heat, or cooling.”)
In March, Wells Fargo announced it would achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and measure and disclose its financed emissions for select carbon-intensive portfolios by the end of 2022. It also announced that it would deploy $500 billion in financing to sustainable businesses and projects by 2030, and has committed to working with clients to support a low-carbon transition.
“Climate change is one of the most urgent environmental and social issues of our time, and Wells Fargo is committed to aligning our activities to support the goals of the Paris Agreement and to helping transition to a net zero carbon economy,” said the bank’s chief executive, Charlie Scharf. “The risks of not taking action are too great to ignore, and collective action is needed to avoid the significant impact on our most vulnerable communities.”
But activists like Redwood dismiss the bank’s statements on climate as “greenwashing,” pointing to the bank’s funding of fracking projects and the Line 3 Pipeline, owned by the Canadian natural gas distribution company Enbridge, set to come online as soon as this month.
The controversial pipeline in question, known as Enbridge Line 3, will replace an existing pipeline that was built in the 1960s and would carry 760,000 barrels of heavy crude from tar sands fields in Canada to Lake Superior’s western tip near the Minnesota-Wisconsin border.
When contacted for comment by The Examiner, a bank spokesperson responded with a short statement, saying, “Wells Fargo acknowledged that the company has provided general corporate loans to Enbridge, but is not directly financing Line 3.”
Friday’s protest came amid a tumultuous week for Wells Fargo. On Monday, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren sent a letter to Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell asking the Fed to revoke the bank’s status as a financial holding company and force a split between its banking and Wall Street businesses.
The letter came in response to a $250 million fine handed down by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency last week, stemming from a 2018 scandal that found the bank had improperly charged customers for mortgage fees.
But the activists did not come to talk about mortgages. They were here to apply pressure on Wells Fargo for what they saw as its inaction on climate.
“I’m here today because I don’t have a choice,” said Zoe Jonick, a youth activist for 350 Bay Area’s mobilizing team. “I’ve never known a world where climate change hasn’t loomed overhead and I’ve never had the privilege of thinking it would go away with enough faith and patience.”
As the morning fog burned off into blue skies, a protester scaled a nearby fire ladder and unfurled a massive banner from the top of the building’s glass facade, obscuring the bank’s gilded logo and stagecoach figurines on the museum’s top floor. “This bank’s investments cause climate destruction” it read in bold black lettering.