New Mexico’s beautiful Chaco Canyon region is home to ancient ruins that are sacred to the Pueblo and Navajo people. Now, the government wants to let fossil fuel companies frack millions of acres of land in the area—putting this priceless cultural heritage at grave risk. The next four days are a crucial window to tell the Bureau of Land Management that's unacceptable. Send a message: don’t frack near Chaco Canyon! More than a thousand years ago, Chaco Canyon was the spiritual, economic and political center of a vast civilization that stretched across much of the American southwest. Without modern tools or wheels, the ancient Anasazi people built huge ceremonial Great Houses in and around Chaco Canyon and connected them to spiritually significant places with massive roads, astonishingly straight and as wide as two-lane highways. Chacoan civilization left no written texts, so these feats of architecture and engineering are a uniquely valuable inheritance from that vanished culture, considered sacred to this day by the Pueblo—the descendents of the Chacoans—and Navajo.
Now that priceless legacy is under threat.
Fossil fuel companies are moving in around Chaco Canyon, as risky new horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technology makes it increasingly possible to exploit shale deposits throughout the San Juan Basin. It’s bad enough that the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) already allows extraction in the region—but now it's moving toward approving hundreds of new permits for oil and gas companies to frack and drill millions of acres. The area threatened by fracking includes 35 Chaco Great Houses and a vast network of ancient roads. Tell the BLM: that’s an outrage. The BLM is currently revising its land use plan for the Chaco region. They could greatly strengthen protections for these invaluable cultural treasures—if enough of us speak up.
In the next few days, we have a valuable window: the BLM is taking public comments on environmental impact until next Wednesday, May 28. Rainforest Action Network is part of a coalition of groups—including the Solstice Project, Earthworks and CREDO Action—fighting to protect Chaco from fracking. Together, let’s tell the BLM that fracking in the Chaco Canyon region is one extraction project that the public won’t just rubber-stamp. The legacy of Chacoan civilization is a national and world treasure—Chaco Canyon is an official National Historical Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
If we won’t protect the Chacoan inheritance, then nothing is sacred. Will you add your voice?
P.S. Our friends at the Solstice Project are working on a beautiful new PBS documentary about the archaeological riches of Chaco Canyon. In response to the fracking threat, they’ve released a four-minute excerpt of this work in progress. See just how important it is to protect Chaco here: Fracking Threatens Chaco's Sacred American Heritage (WOTL) from matt dibble on Vimeo.
Last week, Bank of America (BofA) admitted a huge accounting error—for several years, it claimed a whopping $4 billion more in capital than it actually has. The day BofA announced its blunder, its shares closed down more than six percent, the stock’s biggest drop in two years.
But BofA had to come clean. Regulators, shareholders and consumers need an accurate picture of banks' balance sheets.
BofA’s admission gives us a rare chance to raise a far bigger question: What else are they hiding?
It's time for BofA to be transparent about something much more vital to the future of the planet: just how much its investments contribute to climate change.
I'm writing to you from BofA's Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Charlotte, North Carolina, where I'm about to speak in support of a crucial shareholder resolution. The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility—backed by investors worth almost $35 billion—is pushing the bank to report on how much carbon pollution gets spewed into the atmosphere by the companies it funds.
BofA is a top funder of the biggest drivers of climate change: coal, oil, and gas corporations, as well as carbon–intensive electricity producers. But it's refusing to report on its financed carbon emissions. BofA knows that opening its books will create pressure to cut emissions by moving away from fossil fuels.
Now is the time to push BofA on climate change. Last week's accounting revelations were a big black eye, and at today's AGM, the bank needs to reassure its shareholders and customers that it doesn't have billions of dollars of climate liabilities on its books.
Pushing for transparency is just the first step. We're also calling on BofA to cut its carbon pollution by stopping funding coal, the top contributor to climate change. I'll be making that call here at the AGM in just a few minutes, and ally organizations will speak to coal's cost beyond climate: mountains with their tops blown off in West Virginia, rivers wrecked by coal ash here in North Carolina, and human rights abuses by coal company security forces in Colombia.
This week, the national fossil fuel divestment movement escalated, as student blockades popped up at Harvard and Washington University in St. Louis. By the end of the week, 8 students had been arrested across the two campuses, the first arrests since the fossil fuel divestment campaign launched nearly two years ago.
The skirmish at Harvard touched off Wednesday, where students organized as Divest Harvard have been pushing the university to get rid of the oil, gas, and coal holdings in its $33 billion endowment. Harvard’s president, Drew Faust, has dug in against Divest Harvard’s demands, even denying that the fossil fuel industry is blocking meaningful action to address climate change. Facing an administration that refuses to distance itself from the fossil fuel corporations driving climate crisis, Divest Harvard launched a blockade of President Faust’s office that lasted more than 24 hours. On Thursday morning, Harvard University police arrested undergraduate Brett Roche -- the first arrest in the national divestment movement. Roche’s arrest marks an increasingly hardline response from Harvard’s administrators, as the university demonstrates a willingness to use police force to defend investment in fossil fuel corporations.
Brett Roche may have been the first divestment activist arrested on campus this week, but he certainly wasn’t the last. This morning, Washington University in St. Louis joined Harvard in infamy: seven students were arrested as they attempted to deliver a letter to the university’s board of trustees. Just days before, WashU Students Against Peabody ended a historic 17-day sit-in which demanded that Greg Boyce, notorious CEO of Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private coal company, be removed from the university’s board. During negotiations, Washington University chancellor Mark Wrighton flatly refused to respond to students demands. When asked to exercise leadership, he replied “I can, but I won’t.” Faced with an administration content to cozy up to fossil fuel interests, more than 100 students staged a peaceful sat-in outside Washington University’s board meeting under the watchful eyes of police, some of whom carried shields and riot gear. When a delegation of students attempted to enter the building to deliver a letter to Washington University’s board, they were arrested. All seven were charged with trespassing on their own campus.
The implications of this week of action are both scary and heartening. Novelist Margaret Atwood spoke to the scary, criticizing the administration's response as she received an award at Harvard yesterday: “Any society where arrest is preferable to open dialogue is a scary place.” Indeed, university administrators at both Harvard and Washington University appear to be so committed to the fossil fuel industry that they'll arrest their own students for speaking out.
On the hopeful side, the student divestment movement is finding its power. After two years of power-building and by-the-book advocacy, campus climate activists are proving that they have the courage to stand up to their administrators and the fossil fuel industry. Earlier in the school year, students at Harvard, Washington University, and dozens of other campuses worked with Rainforest Action Network to disrupt campus recruitment sessions organized by Bank of America and Citi, two of the largest financiers of the U.S. coal industry. Those actions, and the arrests this week, point to a rising tide of resistance that won’t be cowed by police response. A longer, deeper struggle is opening on campuses across the country, and administrators at the more than 300 universities with active divestment campaigns need to know that their chickens are coming home to roost. It's time to divest or expect resistance.
To support the Washington University in St. Louis students arrested this morning, call Chancellor Mark Wrighton at (314) 935-5100.
Tell him universities are for students, not for coal CEOs. Washington University needs to drop Peabody Energy so the school can get back to educating students, not arresting them.
Co-authored by Sima Atri, Benjamin Franta, Sidni Frederick, Ted Hamilton, Jacob Lipton, Chloe Maxmin, Brett Roche, Kelsey Skaggs, Henney Sullivan, Tyler VanValkenburg, Jacob Lipton, Zoë Onion, Olivia Kivel, and Canyon Woodward on behalf of Divest Harvard. This op-ed originally appeared on Stacy Clark's blog on Huffington Post.
This morning we began blocking the main entrance to Massachusetts Hall, which houses the office of Harvard University President Drew Faust and other top administrators. We are here to demand an open and transparent dialogue with the Harvard Corporation—Harvard's main governing body—on fossil fuel divestment. To date, President Faust and Harvard University have rejected the case for divestment and refused to engage in public dialogue about divestment and climate change. Alongside the 72% of Harvard undergraduates and 67% of Harvard Law students, as well as the students, faculty, and alumni of Divest Harvard, we refuse to accept our university's unwillingness to hold a public meeting on this critical issue.
We are here today because we believe in a better Harvard. We are here because it is our duty to act. We are here today because it is our moral responsibility as students to ensure that Harvard does not contribute to and profit from the problem but instead aligns its institutional actions and policies with the shared interests of society.
We take this action with the conviction that Harvard can, must, and will be a leader in responding to the climate crisis. We owe it to the world's less fortunate and future generations to lead the way to a livable planet.
Human-made climate change is already severely disrupting weather patterns and causing misery to those most vulnerable to the effects of drought, flooding, and famine. Despite the universal acknowledgment by scientists and world governments that drastic action is needed to address this problem, we continue to extract and burn carbon energy sources at an accelerating rate.
Unless we act swiftly to restructure our economy and to end our consumption of fossil fuels, the planet faces catastrophic disturbances in the very near future. The latest report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which warns that we have less than 15 years to overhaul our energy economy, is the latest recognition that the time for bold and courageous action is upon us.
Harvard enjoys a privileged position. It is a global leader in research, thought, and policy, and its alumni, faculty, and administrators enjoy tremendous influence over our economy and political culture. Harvard has the moral authority to break the stranglehold of passivity when our governments are unable or unwilling to address climate change's impending menace. And even if Harvard were not a prominent institution, the moral imperative still exists to stop profiting from damage done to others. The fact that Harvard chooses to calculate profit from corporate activities that push damages onto others—including ourselves and our children—is intolerable, ultimately unsustainable, and must stop.
Harvard's divestment from the fossil fuel industry will accomplish two important goals. First, it will allow Harvard to retain the moral integrity of an institution purporting to care about a livable future. Today the Harvard community profits from fossil fuel investments because the true costs of oil, coal, and gas are borne by other communities. Communities close to extraction sites are being robbed of their health and communities on the frontlines of climate disasters are being robbed of their lives and cultures. Younger generations, including Harvard's own students, are being robbed of a chance at a livable future. It is unconscionable and illogical for us to continue supporting an industry that violates basic human values and the fundamental purpose of our own institution.
Second, divestment will send a strong message that our society can no longer tolerate business as usual with the fossil fuel industry. The corrupt political practices and shameful climate denial peddled by gas, oil, and coal companies have stood in the way of proactive energy policies for far too long. Harvard's wealth and influence bring with them a special responsibility to act, and this is an opportunity that we cannot afford to miss.
As the university demonstrated when it divested from tobacco and partially divested from Apartheid, Harvard's endowment can be put into alignment with shared values. We are not asking our university to inject politics into its finances: we are asking it to stop sponsoring and profiting from climate change. By investing in fossil fuel companies, Harvard itself is responsible for their behavior. President Faust's recent announcement that Harvard will sign onto the non-binding Principles for Responsible Investment and the Carbon Disclosure Project implicitly recognizes that the university cannot ignore its social responsibility when it comes to its investments and climate change.
As over one hundred Harvard faculty argued in their letter to President Faust earlier this month, it is far too late for business as usual and statements to continue that do not commit the university to action. The governing Corporation's refusal to hold an open meeting on the issue of divestment—as well as the President's recent denial that fossil fuel companies prevent political action on global warming and a Corporation member's suggestion that Harvard students thank BP for its energy practices—betray a disconcerting lack of understanding and urgency with respect to the impending risk of climate disaster.
We stand in solidarity with students and activists around the world who are raising their voices to demand that our institutions and leaders reject the carbon economy and begin aggressive action toward a greener future. We welcome members of the Harvard community and the public to our peaceful gathering in front of Massachusetts Hall. And we invite President Faust and the Harvard Corporation to join us in an open and transparent meeting to discuss the divestment of Harvard's endowment from the fossil fuel industry.
The world, and Harvard as part of it, cannot wait any longer.
This op-ed by actor Chris Noth was originally printed in Metro on Monday, April 21.
I'm not too big to admit that climate change terrifies me.
These days, I've had to wonder whether our atmosphere will withstand what we're pumping into it, whether the natural systems that we’ve relied on to sustain life on this planet will keep working into my son’s generation and into his children’s generations beyond that.
What frightens me most is not the science it’s political inaction. The world's scientists have said that we have a finite amount of time to save our climate, and yet we still don’t have the political will we need for massive action.
So what do we do? That's my question every time I read another piece of bad news. Should we all plant trees, recycle, what does the regular consumer do? Our individual actions are good but the real change we need is from corporations and governments, and that action is not coming fast enough. How do we fight this feeling of powerlessness, and make any kind of impact on one of the biggest challenges of our time?
This Earth Day, my recommendation may surprise you.
I care about what's happening to our climate because I love it here, and I believe that to save our climate we all need to rekindle that love of place.
It’s easy to forget the simple fact of how beautiful this earth is. I'm as urban as any New Yorker, but I’ve always loved nature. It’s not just because we need clean air, clean water, and a stable climate to live, but also because nature gives us poetry. Nature fuels our art. Nature feeds our spirit.
For me, it’s always been trees. They are the perfect symbol of resilience, and committing to protecting them is a commitment to stand for something that should last long after we do. Whenever I lose hope I find myself rereading Robert Frost's poem, “The Sound of Trees.” When it comes to climate change trees are also one of the most important things to protect. That’s why I will always support the people at groups like Rainforest Action Network that dedicate their lives to protecting our forests, and making sure we don’t allow big business to destroy the beauty of this earth for profit.
For you, maybe it’s not the trees, maybe it’s the ocean, maybe it’s a particular animal, or maybe it’s the smile on your kid’s face when they get to play outside. The bad news is, we're seeing a climate tipping point that will impact all of this. But I believe there is no tipping point for American perseverance, for finding the will to get to work despite the odds. It's our collective will that has always gotten things done in this country.
If you believe that the landscape of this country is too beautiful and too important to lose, then join me this Earth Day. It's time to remember why this planet is worth saving in the first place. It’s time to do more together.
Chris Noth is a celebrated actor and honorary board member of Rainforest Action Network. Join Chris to raise funds for the rainforest on Monday, June 16 at Cutting Room. Tickets will be sold at http://ran-ecorock.eventbrite.com.
This year’s grades for the banks that finance the worst coal companies are in, and they’re not pretty.
Financing companies that use mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining practices puts communities, the environment, and bank shareholders at risk. But last year, several banks continued to hand billions of dollars to top producers of mountaintop removal coal--earning themselves a big fat failing grade on our new report card—even while grassroots pressure has moved some of their competitors in the right direction.
The biggest failure is Barclays, the British banking giant and #1 financier of MTR coal last year.
Coal financing isn’t rocket science, and the smart money is already getting out of MTR. By speaking out, you’ve made MTR financing a huge blemish for a big bank’s public image. Your activism has made U.S. and European banks, including JPMorgan Chase and BNP Paribas, cut ties with the worst MTR coal companies last year.
While some banks are learning that MTR coal is bad for business, today’s publication of our Coal Finance Report Card exposes Barclay's as the slowest bank to grasp that lesson. It is financing a public health and environmental disaster, blowing up mountains and poisoning water with waste.
But we can move Barclay’s just like we are moving JPMorgan Chase and BNP Paribas.
For the first time since we began publishing coal finance report cards five years ago, we have an encouraging trend to report: Major banks have begun making noise about the growing financial risk associated with climate change—and specifically associated with coal, the top global contributor to carbon pollution.
On top of that, major banks have begun to cut ties with the biggest mountaintop removal (MTR) coal companies. This progress has exposed a growing gap between banks that are still sinking billions into coal, and those that are cutting ties with the worst-of-the-worst in the coal industry.
Today, RAN, the Sierra Club, and BankTrack released our 2014 Coal Finance Report Card, “Extreme Investments, Extreme Consequences,” which grades U.S. banks on their performance and policies related to coal-fired power and mountaintop removal coal mining. We also uncovered the top financiers of contentious coal export schemes like those in the Pacific Northwest and coal trains that transport dusty coal across the United States.
All told, banks sank over $31 billion into the worst companies in the coal industry last year, with $6.5 billion coming from Citigroup, the top funder of coal-fired power. However, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo began to phase out financing for MTR, earning our first ever “B” grades, and marking a positive trend away from the extreme mining practice.
Meanwhile, UK-based Barclays increased its exposure to MTR, financing $550 million for mountaintop removal coal companies last year, more than any other bank.
Environmental damage from mining, transporting, and burning coal—including health hazards like air pollution and water contamination from spills—doesn’t just harm communities and the environment, it costs banks money. In the report card, we highlight examples of this in case studies about the rising cost of clean-up for water contamination at mine sites, increases in coal company bankruptcies, and money-losing coal-fired power plants.
The report comes on the heels of analyst publications from Goldman Sachs, HSBC and Citigroup last year, each of which challenged the case for continued investment in the coal industry. These and other banks have acknowledged that power plant regulations, a potential price on carbon, and competition from renewable energy sources could “strand” assets such as coal mining, transport, and power generation facilities. With billions of dollars in loans on the line, it’s not a question of if climate risk will translate into financial risk, but when.
Ironically, these very same banks maintain deep financial ties to the riskiest and most environmentally destructive companies in the U.S. coal industry. As credit ratings for some coal mining companies sank farther below investment grade last year, banks continued to place bets on risky loans to the sector.
The report card warns banks that before the carbon bubble bursts onto their balance sheets, it will irreversibly destabilize the climate. So while we are happy to report that a few banks took the first steps to cut off financing to the worst-of-the-worst of the coal industry, the banking industry as a whole must now cut its losses and forge a path away from coal, before it’s too late for both them and us.
Have you seen the press around Years of Living Dangerously yet? We're amazed by what's happening over at Showtime right now and we think you will be too. Not since Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth has this much time, talent and money been put into bringing the dramatic reality of climate change into the mainstream. We're at a tipping point in our historic effort to end the devastating effects of Conflict Palm Oil on people and the planet, and this kind of primetime, star-studded exposure on the issue has the potential to become a catalyst for major change. But that can only happen if enough people share this gripping program with everyone they know.
To achieve the huge changes we seek, we need to spread the word beyond the choir who already know climate change is the defining crisis of our time, and this new series provides us with a great tool to do just that. During filming, I walked with Harrison Ford down the snack food aisle of a local grocery store explaining how Conflict Palm Oil is destroying Indonesia’s forests. It was a truly memorable moment in my work as a forest advocate.
Now, I’m thrilled to share this link with you where you can watch the premiere episode of ShowTime’s groundbreaking new series on climate change, Years of Living Dangerously, which features our conversation—for free—a week before it will air on cable TV next Sunday, April 13th. (You can also watch the full episode above.)
The forest team at Rainforest Action Network has been working closely with the show’s producers for many months and we are confident that it has the potential to be the most important, highest profile story on climate change in a generation. This hard-hitting 9-part series – vetted by a team of respected climate scientists—brings together some of the biggest names in Hollywood and investigative journalism to dramatically tell the biggest story of our time to a larger audience than ever before. Check it out yourself, then make sure every person you know who is on the fence gets a chance to see this.
The first two episodes, called "The Last Stand, Part 1 and 2," include the story of how Conflict Palm Oil is wreaking havoc on Indonesia’s lush rainforests while spewing immense amounts of carbon pollution into the atmosphere. And crucially, the story brings the issue home by showing how each of us are connected to this growing crisis and how the actions we take to change corporate behavior can make a real difference.
There could not be a more urgent time for as many people as possible to see this unflinching program and hear the compelling message it contains—help us get this message out to everyone by sharing this video with your friends and family.