‘Third Act’ climate activists protest banks that for investing in fossil fuel expansion

Members of the over-60 group “Third Act” joined a nationwide “Day of Action” to protest investment in fossil fuel expansion.|

The pouring rain kept some protesters home, but a hearty group of folks beyond middle age steadfastly endured the cold, wet weather Tuesday to stand up for future generations and against bank investments in fossil fuels.

Held under the auspices of Third Act, a fledgling nationwide organization formed last year to mobilize those over 60 to help build a better world, it was one in a series of protests that drew thousands of people into the streets of New York City, up to the doorsteps of major banks in Washington D.C. and into the public squares of about 100 communities across the country.

The target of this “day of action?” The so-called “Big Four Banks” — Bank of America, Chase, Citibank, and Wells Fargo. They are the largest U.S. banks and also the banks lending the most toward the expansion of the fossil fuel industry.

Third Act, founded by veteran climate activist Bill McKibben and a variety of partners, including the Sierra Club, says the four institutions have poured a combined $1.2 trillion into fossil fuels since 2016, a year after the Paris Climate Agreement was signed in 2015 seeking to limit global warming.

That helps explain a disturbing finding of the latest and final installment from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report, with, which each release describes a bleaker picture of the very near future. Released Monday, it said public and private investment in fossil fuel extraction and production still far surpasses that directed toward climate mitigation and adaptation.

That’s how something like ConocoPhillips’ massive oil drilling endeavor called the Willow Project, approved last week by the Biden Administration in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve, can move forward, said retired high school teacher Becky Shirley of Santa Rosa, who organized Tuesday’s demonstration in Sebastopol.

“The only way that ConocoPhillips is able to do it is if the banks loan them money,” said Shirley, 73, who wore a polar bear hat in honor of the Arctic critters already suffering the effects of a warming world.

Europe’s largest bank, HSBC, in December said it no longer would finance new oil and gas projects, and Third Act members want U.S. banks to make the same pledge instead of continuing to fuel climate change.

People over 60 are the fastest growing part of the population and hold the majority of the country’s wealth and assets — some say 70%, McKibben and the Third Actors say. In addition, they have the experience and “structural power“ to leverage against the power of the banks, and are in a prime position to stand up to them.

Some feel the world’s youth have too long been left to carry the burden, as well.

The kids and grandkids, her own and others’, were why Santa Rosa resident Anne Jacopetti, 83, came out Tuesday.

“There has to be a future for them,” she said. “It’s going to take more than a little fix here and a little fix there. It’s got to be a whole system.”

The Third Act movement included en masse cutting of credit cards associated with the “dirty banks” Tuesday. There have also been die-ins and blockades at some banks, and in Washington, a 24-hour Rocking Chair Rebellion at the Chase Bank.

Only about half the 32 protesters who signed up for the Sebastopol event, the only one in Sonoma County, turned up in the awful weather, but the stalwarts picketed for an hour at Bank of America on Healdsburg Avenue, holding drenched flags and signs reading “Stop Funding Fossil Fuels.”

Then they moved to Wells Fargo Bank on Bodega Avenue before winding up the two-hour event a few minutes early, cold and sodden.

Many had a history of activism or, like Petaluman Tonja Parnak, 75, were members of 350.org, also founded by McKibben, and learned of the event that way.

Andy Bunnell, a social worker at Elsie Allen High School, said he happened on a story earlier in the day about the movement, found a local event and thought, “I gotta get down there.”

“I’m over 60. I love to protest for a worthy cause,” he said.

The rain took some of the potential for theatrics out of the protest, but they made a mark on passersby, earning honks from passing motorists on the town’s two main streets.

“This cause is so close to my heart, I can’t not do something,” Shirley said.

“The Third Act is a good name,” Jacopetti said. “It is our third act. It’s our last chance.”

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan (she/her) at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

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