VIDEO: To watch more of what happened yesterday at the Bank of America shareholder meeting in Charlotte, watch the clip at the bottom of this blog post.
As I stood eye-to-eye with Bank of America (BofA) CEO, Brian Moynihan, a large stop-watch projected onto the wall of the conference room started to count down. I had two minutes before my microphone cut off and I needed to choose my words wisely.
Once a year BofA, like every publicly-held corporation, invites shareholders to meet with the CEO, along with the Board of Directors and the Senior Executive team. It’s our opportunity to raise questions about the bank’s performance and practice.
Rainforest Action Network, along with many of our friends and allies, has been calling on BofA to take some serious action on the climate. Together we’ve petitioned, written emails, placed phone calls, written letters, marched in the streets, visited bank branches and offices and used many creative strategies to get this message on the bank’s radar.
And now I had the ear of the top guy, for exactly 120 seconds.
At the beginning of the meeting, Brian made a speech listing off the bank’s proudest achievements. He included BofA’s environmental commitment. This is something we both like, I think it’s important for the bank to have a commitment to clean energy and energy efficiency and BofA has a good team working to meet their targets.
But here’s the problem, and this is what I told Brian: While BofA fanfares its commitment to leadership on climate change, at the same time it is the leading funder of the coal industry, the single largest source of U.S. climate emissions. This means that BofA is underwriting the very same climate pollution that it is trying to tackle.
The sad truth is that it is not possible for a bank to be both #1 in addressing climate change and #1 in financing the fossil fuel sector. These two goals are incompatible.
And so I asked:
“Which will you choose to prioritize? Will you choose to finance a transition to clean energy and a safe future for future generations, or will you choose the coal industry and a future of climate catastrophe?”
It looked as if Brian was listening, but I don’t think he really heard me, because he didn’t answer my question. Instead he replied by telling me some details about their environmental commitment and then asked Global technology and Operations Executive Cathy Bessant to explain the specifics of their clean energy financing.
If Brian didn’t really hear me, then perhaps he heard the words spoken by others in the room.
Person after person got up to the mic to speak about the many problems associated with the bank’s financing of the coal industry.
Ashish talked about Coal India and how their mines are destroying forests, critical tiger habitat and the health of Indian communities. Bonnie, Jim, Les, Eddie and Carly talked about Peabody and Arch Coals’ plans to transport 150 million tons of coal per year through their communities in Washington and Oregon for sale on the international export market. Lorelei, Kathy and Stephanie spoke about the daily horror experienced by Appalachians who live next to mountaintop removal coal mines. Sarah shared her experiences of living next to North Carolina’s Riverbend Coal plant, that has poisoned her community’s lake and inflicted serious illnesses on her family.
Barbara and June testified about the wide range of serious health impacts associated with coal and climate, delivering a petition to Brian from thousands of medical professionals and concerned citizens.
Faith leaders Reverend Nancy Allison and Rabbi Jonathan Frierich spoke to the moral imperative to take courageous action for the climate, as did Rabbi Margie Klein, who then sang an Appalachian spiritual to emphasize this point.
Was Brian listening now? I think he was; we dominated the meeting, causing him at one point to quip, “Is there anybody here who has a question that isn’t about climate change?”
Among the final speakers were students David, Meiron, Maria and Ali, who all asked Brian to consider the world he is leaving for future generations. “At the moment you are part of the problem”, said David, “Please can you be part of the solution?”