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'Putting Profits Over People's Lives': Climate Activists Released After Protest at Wells Fargo Headquarters

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A group of protestors stands shoulder to shoulder on the far side of a floor-to-ceiling window, facing out to a street, including passing cars, seen reflected in the glass. Behind them is a red, antique horse carriage with "Wells Fargo & Co. Overland Stage" lettered in yellow across the top, and luggage piled on the roof. Beyond the carriage is a sign hanging from a second-story walkway that says "Fossil Free Future." Nine of the visible protestors in the foreground hold a thin white banner at chest height that reads "W(t)F(?): Your lending is ending all life. Pass shareholder Res #9." All wear facemasks and appear calm, and most appear to be smiling. At first glance, most appear to be white and middle-aged.
A group of environmental organizers momentarily occupied the Wells Fargo headquarters in downtown San Francisco on Monday morning, April 25, 2022. The protests called for the bank's shareholders to prevent further financing of the fossil fuel industry. Nineteen people were arrested and later released, according to SFPD. (Courtesy of Jade Northrup)

The San Francisco Police Department has confirmed that all the climate activists arrested on Monday at the Wells Fargo corporate headquarters have been released without incident. Officers arrested 19 climate activists who organized a protest at the bank's headquarters to pressure shareholders to stop the bank from further financing the fossil fuel industry.

At 10 a.m., several of the protesters chained themselves to an antique stagecoach on display in the lobby of the building at 420 Montgomery Street. Police quickly arrived at the scene and told KQED that officers "developed probable cause to arrest 19 adults for trespassing."

The protest was organized by a coalition of more than 20 climate justice groups, including  Diablo Rising Tide, 1000 Grandmothers for Future Generations and Youth vs. Apocalypse. The action came one day before Wells Fargo's annual shareholder meeting scheduled for Tuesday.

Shareholders will be deciding whether to adopt a resolution that commits the company to ensuring its "lending and underwriting do not contribute to new fossil fuel development." The resolution was introduced by the Oakland-based conservation group the Sierra Club, which is a company shareholder.

Madeline Dawson, a member of environmental justice group Youth vs. Apocalypse, attended the protest to pressure shareholders to support the resolution. She says that Wells Fargo continues to finance major polluters despite its promise to help cut carbon emissions worldwide. "Wells Fargo is really just making decisions that are negatively impacting [children's] future and are putting profits over people's lives," she said.

"[Fossil fuels are] contributing to oil spills and then once this oil comes back to the United States is refined in places such as Richmond, California, right here in the Bay Area. It really negatively impacts Black communities and leads to higher rates of cancer and asthma and other birth defects," she added.

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According to Banking on Climate Chaos — a report released earlier this year by the Sierra Club, Rainforest Action Network and several other climate justice groups — Wells Fargo provided more than $271 billion to the fossil fuel industry from 2016 to 2021. A large part of that went to natural gas companies like Diamondback Energy and Tallgrass Energy.

"We are coming straight to the bank's doorstep to demand that they make moves on climate that are more than just greenwashing and that their investors push them to do so," said Alison Kirsch, one of the activists at Monday's protest. Kirsch works for the Rainforest Action Network, one of the groups that authored the Banking on Climate Chaos report.

A group of protestors stands inside the Wells Fargo headquarters in downtown San Francisco. They hold a banner that reads, "Wells Fargo: Stop fracking us and invest in our future."
Among those present at Monday's protest was Alison Kirsch, from Rainforest Action Network. "We are coming straight to the bank's doorstep … to demand that they make moves on climate that are more than just greenwashing," she said. Rainforest Action Network is one of the groups that authored the Banking on Climate Chaos report. (Courtesy of Jade Northrup)

Climate activists across the country are increasing their pressure on banks to stop this type of investment. Earlier this month, MarketWatch reported that protesters chained themselves to a Chase bank office in Los Angeles, leading to four arrests, including that of a NASA researcher.

In its proxy statement to shareholders, the Wells Fargo board of directors recommended that company investors vote against the proposal introduced by the Sierra Club.

The board's statement in opposition to the proposal explicitly rejects the argument that no new oil and gas developments are needed to attain net-zero emissions worldwide. "We do not believe that conditioning our financing on a single assumption in a single scenario – which itself contains hundreds of other assumptions – is an effective or practical way to manage our lending practices or to further our net-zero goal," the statement reads.

KQED reached out to Wells Fargo for comment following the protest. Assistant Vice President for Corporate Communications Edith Rocío Robles stated in an email that Wells Fargo has "set a goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and is committed to setting interim emissions targets for the Oil & Gas and Power portfolios no later than the end of 2022."

This post includes reporting from Bay City News.

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