Peter Segall / Juneau Empire
Doug Woodby, co-chair of environmental group 350Juneau, holds up a letter addressed to the CEO of Wells Fargo alongside Irene Alexakos and Dick Farnell, wearing the costume. The group delivered the letter urging divestment from the fossil fuel industry to the bank’s branch in downtown Juneau on Friday, April 2, 2021.

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire Doug Woodby, co-chair of environmental group 350Juneau, holds up a letter addressed to the CEO of Wells Fargo alongside Irene Alexakos and Dick Farnell, wearing the costume. The group delivered the letter urging divestment from the fossil fuel industry to the bank’s branch in downtown Juneau on Friday, April 2, 2021.

Costume-clad conservationist calls on banks to divest from fossil fuels

Climate activists call for divestment from fossil fuels

Environmental protestors in Juneau, including one dressed as a dinosaur, delivered a letter to Wells Fargo CEO Charles Schraf asking the bank to divest from the fossil fuel industry.

Climate activists from 350Juneau — who hold weekly rallies in Courthouse Plaza across the street from the state Capitol building —took a short walk to Wells Fargo’s branch on Second Street in downtown Juneau. One demonstrator, Dick Farnell, wore a full-body suit of a Tyrannosaurus rex with a sign reading “Keep me in the ground.”

In the letter, the group lauded the bank’s published commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions including a goal of net zero emissions by 2050, interim emissions targets set by 2022 and a commitment of $500 billion in finance to sustainable energy by 2030. But at the same time 350Juneau was critical of the bank’s continued support for fossil fuel extraction, including a pipeline replacement project in Minnesota.

“We watch actions, we read and analyze financial reports, we track loans and investments, and we evaluate the truthfulness of public statements,” 350Juneau’s letter stated. “We genuinely wish to work with you. Responsible financial services are essential for an equitable, just, and democratic society.”

The branch manager ultimately did not accept the letter, said Doug Woodby, co-chair of 350Juneau.

Wells Fargo continues to bank with a number of customers in the traditional energy sector, including in Alaska, said E.J. Bernacki, a sustainability spokesperson for the bank, and isn’t necessarily ready to divest.

[Webinar series explores climate change in Southeast Alaska and national politics]

“We do believe in engagement rather than divestment,” Bernacki said in a phone interview Friday. “We believe in working with our customers in these sectors to help with the transition (to clean energy).”

Bernacki pointed to the company’s goals and said the company had integrated social and environmental impacts into its planning. The amount of investment and financing in fossil fuel industries is declining, he said, and the company is also hearing environmental concerns from its investors. The company set up a task force to examine the company’s climate-related activities and address concerns related to environmental impacts.

While the 350Juneau activists praised the bank’s goals, they at the same time expressed skepticism those stated ambitions would translate into meaningful change.

“It depends on what they really mean they’re going to do,” Woodby said.

Woodby and co-chair Elaine Schroeder said large companies often make lofty promises while continuing the same problematic behavior, a process Schroeder called “greenwashing.”

The Rainforest Action Network, which tracks funding for the fossil fuel industry, ranks Wells Fargo second in terms of overall funding for the sector, behind JPMorgan-Chase.

Despite their reservations, the 350Juneau activists saw Wells Fargo’s goals as something of an affirmation of their claims. Wells Fargo and other large institutions have recognized the importance of climate change, Schroeder said, and are naturally moving their money away from fossil fuels.

“It’s not a growth industry,” Schroeder said.

Environmental activists from 350Juneau, one dressed in a dinosaur costume, delivered a letter addressed to the CEO of Wells Fargo to the banks branch in downtown Juneau on Friday, April 2, 2021. The letter called on the bank to divest from fossil fuels. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Environmental activists from 350Juneau, one dressed in a dinosaur costume, delivered a letter addressed to the CEO of Wells Fargo to the banks branch in downtown Juneau on Friday, April 2, 2021. The letter called on the bank to divest from fossil fuels. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

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