In one of the largest acts of civil disobedience to protest climate change in New York in a decade, more than 100 climate protesters were arrested on Monday after blockading the entrances to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, where they called on financial regulators to curb fossil fuel financing.
Undeterred by pouring rain, around five hundred protesters gathered at Zuccotti Park at 10 Monday morning before marching to the Fed. They stood in front of the bank’s entrances, chanting and holding signs and banners that said “Fossil Fuels Kill,” and “Biden End Fossil Fuels.”
Part of a growing push for climate accountability from central banks and financial regulators, the protesters urged President Biden and the Federal Reserve to take action on climate change by regulating fossil fuel companies and treating oil, gas and coal as high risk investments.
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“The role of the Fed is to protect this country from risks and to regulate banks,” said Renata Pumarol, deputy director of the Climate Organizing Hub and an organizer with Climate Defenders. “Climate change, right now, [is] the biggest risk that humanity faces, so they need to regulate banks and make them stop fossil fuel financing.”
The protest, organized by Climate Defenders, New York Communities for Change (NYCC), Oil and Gas Action Network and Planet over Profit, took place just one day after an estimated 50,000 to 75,000 people marched the streets of New York City to urge President Biden to curtail the use of fossil fuels.
The action also builds on a global movement calling for central banks and financial regulators to tighten regulations on fossil fuel investments that included an action at the Jackson Hole Economic Symposium last month and a series of protests last week in New York City targeting banks, private firms and financial institutions for funding the fossil fuel industry.
According to organizers, 149 people had been arrested by the time Monday’s demonstration came to an end in what was the largest climate-related civil disobedience in New York City since 2014’s Flood Wall Street action, where more than 100 protesters were arrested.
“We have to show the urgency and anger that exists over the climate crisis,” said Jonathan Westin, executive director of the Climate Organizing Hub and a participant in the action. “One of the main ways we can get off of fossil fuels is by getting banks and financial institutions to stop funding the fossil fuel companies, the pipelines, the liquefied natural gas projects.”
The protesters called on Federal Reserve Chair of the Board Jerome Powell and Kevin Stiroh, executive vice president of the New York Federal Reserve Branch, to regulate fossil fuel financing on Wall Street. Their demands amplify global calls for a one-for-one capital requirement on fossil fuel investments, which would require financial institutions to put up a dollar of their own funds for every dollar they invest in fossil fuels to cover any future losses caused by the projects.
As the warming climate fuels extreme weather disasters, financial damages from climate change grow, but the world’s largest banks continue to funnel billions into the fossil fuel sector.
Of the banks most aggressively financing fossil fuels since world governments committed to phase them out as part of the Paris Agreement of 2016, the top four are based in the U.S., the largest historic emitter of greenhouse gasses.
Despite its disproportionate contributions to the climate crisis, the U.S. continues to trail peer countries in regulating financial institutions’ support of industries driving global warming.
The Fed proposed guidelines for climate risk management last year and launched a Climate Scenario Analysis exercise this year to investigate existing climate risk-management practices for large banks. But Powell has publicly stated that the Fed has limited power regarding climate change, and Christopher Waller, a member of the Fed’s Board of Governors, has said climate change does not pose a “serious risk” to large banks or financial stability.
Eren Ileri, a policy advocate with Stop the Money Pipeline, said the Fed’s actions do not reflect the urgency of the climate crisis.
“We have five years to end the fossil fuel industry,” Ileri said, referencing the 1.5 degree warming deadline. “We’re really talking about a huge shift in our civilization’s survival ability in the next 10 years. I do not see a better actor to do what is necessary than financial regulators.”
The U.S. Federal Reserve declined a request for comment.
The action took place just a few miles away from United Nations Headquarters, where world leaders were participating in talks around the Sustainable Development Goals and where the Climate Ambition Summit will convene on Wednesday.
“We’re tired of certain communities being pushed under the rug in the name of profits,” said Darinel Velasquez, an organizer with NYCC and one of the activists arrested on Monday.
Velasquez noted that following the massive turnout at Sunday’s march, and given Monday’s heavy rain, he expected a degree of burnout and fatigue from activists but was impressed to see several hundred show up at Zuccotti Park, home of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
“This just shows you the severity of the cause,” he said. “People are willing to fight through the exhaustion to make a point.”
Protesters were surrounded by police officers from the moment they began to gather at Zuccotti Park, and were flanked by a row of New York Police Department (NYPD) motorcycles as they marched toward the New York Stock Exchange and then to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
As the activists marched, they chanted, “we need clean air, not another billionaire.”
When they reached the Fed, the activists split and blocked the front and back entrances to the building. Arrests began around 11:30, while protesters continued to chant and sing.
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Alicé Nascimento, campaigns director at NYCC, addressed the crowd with a megaphone before being arrested herself.
“We are risking arrest because the Fed is the only institution that can regulate the banks that are killing us,” she said.
Joel Kupferman, an observer from the National Lawyers Guild, had shown up to monitor police activity. Kupferman said he’s observed a recent flare up in forceful arrests for civil disobedience. He added that he’s especially concerned to see that severe responses to civil protests are occurring even in New York City, where police officers are more closely watched by media and legal observers than in less monitored regions.
Monday’s protesters came from all over the country—in addition to a large turnout of New Yorkers, activists hailed from New Mexico, Washington State, Massachusetts, Illinois, California and elsewhere. Ennedith Lopez, a 24-year-old activist with the youth-led organization Youth United for Climate Crisis Action (YUCCA), came for Climate Week from New Mexico to highlight the impacts of fossil fuel extraction on frontline communities of color.
“In New Mexico we continue to see this growing industry when it comes to extraction in oil and gas,” Lopez said, noting the health risks of living in a community close to fossil fuel projects. “While our state GDP does depend on that, our communities suffer.”
The action remained peaceful, as protesters stood on the sidewalk in front of the Fed, linking arms and singing and chanting. The line of protesters and the police officers facing them stretched all the way across the block in front of the Fed. Protesters blocking the sidewalk and entrance to the Fed were arrested for “disorderly conduct” after warnings from NYPD officers.
Shiva Rajbhandari, a 19-year-old climate activist and member of the Boise School Board in Idaho, was arrested for the first time for civil disobedience. Rajbhandari said he’s always tried to work within the system, but has found that playing by the rules doesn’t work.
“President Biden still refuses to call the climate crisis what it is, that it’s an emergency,” Rajbhandari said. “The President is refusing to act when he, with the stroke of a pen, could really take real action and real leadership on this crisis.”
After the action, NYCC’s Alice Hu said she hoped that the protesters’ message reached its targets.
“I hope President Biden got the message, I hope Wall Street got the message,” Hu said. “People are serious that they have to take action to stop fossil fuels.”