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Writing checks isn’t enough: A commentary by Jill Soffer

May 10, 2022

Gas_turbine_power_plant_fossil_fuels_GettyImages_ThossapholI am a climate philanthropist. I write checks to environmental nonprofits and sit on several boards. I grew up playing in the woods of western Massachusetts; now I hike the Rockies. Season by season I’m sadly witnessing the damage wrought by drought and fires, and, like so many others, I hope to protect this planet from the worsening climate crisis.

I’ve learned that writing checks isn’t enough.

In 2020, when I learned about Enbridge’s Line 3, the tar sands pipeline being pushed through northern Minnesota, I eagerly wrote checks to support the Ojibwe water protectors working to stop it. These brave people were camping on the pipeline route in the freezing winter, lying down in front of bulldozers, praying, singing, and getting arrested. I was more than glad to help. But I soon learned the sad truth: While I was writing checks to stop Line 3, my bank, Bank of America, was loaning Enbridge billions of dollars to build it. My money was funding the very projects we need to prevent.

Frustrated, I called my bank and had a respectful conversation with the chief sustainability officer. One person’s phone call didn’t change anything; a few weeks later the credit facility for Enbridge was completed. I also thought of divesting—moving my money out of these banks. The divestment movement is powerful. But I’m not Harvard or a public pension fund—my divestment would be neither newsworthy nor financially impactful enough for my bank to notice. Were I to divest, I would forgo any leverage I have.

So I decided not to divest but to engage, and this shareholder season, a huge opportunity to stop these projects awaits....

Read the full commentary by Jill Soffer, founder of Our Part and Banking for Climate.

(Photo credit: Getty Images/Thossaphol)

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