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New Ohio group looks to tap the experience that comes with age to fight climate change

Man in yellow jacket holds sign that reads "No Time to Waste" during a Third Act Ohio protest outside of Chase Bank in Downtown Cleveland on Monday, November 14, 2022.
Ygal Kaufman
Ideastream Public Media
Climate change protestors make their voice heard outside a Chase Bank branch in Downtown Cleveland.

Third Act, a national volunteer-based organization focused on protecting the climate and strengthening democracy, is expanding its reach to Ohio with a state-wide chapter officially launching today. The new chapter, like the national organization, is led by a group of “experienced Americans,” people over the age of 60. When it comes to the fight against climate change, the chapter leaders say a simple way to do so is for people to take a look at where they keep their money.

“When I learned how important it is to make sure that the money that you have in a bank, or a credit card or in any type of investment is not being used to fuel the … dirty fuel pipeline,” member Mimi Plevin-Foust said, “I was very glad to know what a difference an individual can make.”

Dittie Wolin, a member of Third Act Ohio’s coordinating committee, said individuals and large companies moving their retirement funds to different banks can have a significant impact.

“People over 60, we have 70% of the wealth in this country, and a lot of that is tied up in our retirement funds,” she said. “So individually, we can move our retirement money out of fossil fuel funding organizations and companies and stuff. But … there are retirement funds that are in the billions, … and if we can advocate for them to move the funds, then it's a huge shift in where the money is being spent.”

Woman holds protest sign outside Chase Bank.
Ygal Kaufman
Ideastream Public Media
Woman holding sign outside Chase Bank chants along with other protesters.

The nation’s biggest banks are some of the top funders of the oil and gas industry, which contributes greatly to climate change, according to a study published by Rainforest Action Network. Of the U.S. banks, JPMorgan Chase was the top funder in 2021, with more than $61.7 billion invested in the industry that year and a total of $382.4 billion invested between 2016 and 2021.

Third Act Ohio Secretary Ted Wolner said banks like Chase are able to use money earned through their customers’ credit card use, investment or savings accounts and other bank services to then invest in other industries that will turn a profit for the bank itself, like the fossil fuel industry.

“All of that, over any number of countries in which Chase is located around the world, creates a huge investment pool that Chase can tap for whatever projects or purposes it deems will return the most amount of money to itself and chase shareholders,” Wolner said.

In an emailed statement, Head of Sustainability Communications for JPMorgan Chase Charlotte Powell said the bank facilitated more than $100 billion in green activities such as renewable energy, energy efficiency and sustainable transportation in 2021. The bank also doubled its green investment banking activity and was the largest underwriter, or purchaser, of green bonds used to fund environmentally-friendly projects last year.

“These efforts help put us well on our way to our target of $1 trillion for green initiatives over 10 years, including for technology that will tackle climate change but does not even exist yet,” Powell said. “We are also taking pragmatic steps to meet our 2030 emission intensity reduction targets in oil & gas, electric power and automotive manufacturing, while helping the world meet its energy needs securely and affordably.”

JPMorgan Chase also aims to finance and facilitate more than $25 trillion by 2030 to advance long-term solutions for climate change, according to its website.

But by funding fossil fuel projects, Third Act Ohio Secretary Ted Wolner said the big banks are going against recommendations made by The International Energy Agency in 2021.

“The Internal Energy Agency said almost a year ago that to have any hope of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, we have to stop funding fossil fuel projects -- any new ones -- now,” he said. “Obviously we're still funding them. We're digging the hole deeper.”

Chase Bank protest sign reads "Chase Stop Banking on Climate Chaos. There is no planet B."
Ygal Kaufman
Ideastream Public Media
Climate change protesters gathered outside Chase Bank in Downtown Cleveland.

Last month, members and leaders of Third Act Ohio protested outside of Chase Bank in Downtown Cleveland and have held other protests in the state.

Membership coordinator Judy Smucker participated in protests around Athens before working to establish the Ohio chapter. She said she wanted to help out, in part, due to a feeling of guilt knowing that future generations will have to grow up living with the effects of climate change she never experienced.

“We’re standing with all the young people. We're trying to help them have a future,” she said. “We're the ones that did this. We're the over-60 people. We're the ones that have been adding to the pollution of the world.”

Third Act Ohio will hold its virtual launch party at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 1 over Zoom.

Zaria Johnson is a reporter/producer at Ideastream Public Media covering the environment.