'Orca' activists arrested in front of Wall Street bank amid protests over new fossil fuel investment

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New York police arrested dozens of climate activists dressed as orcas on Tuesday morning in front of the Citigroup headquarters as they protested the bank’s ongoing investment in fossil fuel expansion, according to group Climate Defenders.

“Arrests continue at [Citibank] because wanting corporations to put planet over profit is a crime,” activists wrote Tuesday morning on the social platform X.

That caption went out above a video of orca-clad protesters, their fins cuffed behind their backs, being escorted from in front of the bank’s glass-walled Manhattan office building.

“Banks like Citi set the planet (and oceans to boil),” the group added in another post. “Now we’re bringing the heat to Wall Street.” 

Activists had blocked all the headquarters’ entrances as part of a second day of protests against the bank, temporarily preventing hundreds of employees from going to work.

Citi respects the advocacy of climate activists, and we are supporting the transition to a low-carbon economy through our net zero commitments and our $1 trillion sustainable finance goal,” a bank spokesperson said.

“Our approach reflects the need to transition while also continuing to meet global energy needs.”

Citigroup, which has made similar promises to fight climate change for more than a decade, is among the world’s largest funders of the expansion in new coal, oil and gas, according to a May report from a coalition of environmental groups. 

That report, “Banking on Climate Chaos,” found that the bank had spent $396 billion on the industry since the 2015 signing of the Paris Climate Accords — more than half of that to fund new fossil fuel infrastructure.

Citi’s funding of new fossil fuels peaked at $34 billion in loans for new fossil fuels in 2019, and had declined to $14 billion in 2023, according to the report. In the U.S., it found only JPMorgan Chase spent more last year on new fossil fuels.

Many within the energy, financial and other industries, as well as on the political right, have argued continued investment in such fuels is necessary to maintain a reliable supply of power amid the shift to renewable energy. 

But numerous recent studies suggest that expanding fossil fuel sources is not necessary to meet demand. 

A May paper in Science found that the world has enough existing oil and gas projects to meet its needs through mid-century, when a rapidly growing renewable economy should be able to take the slack. 

That builds on the findings by the International Energy Agency that new fossil fuel development would wreck the campaign to maintain a safe climate, and more recent findings that fossil fuel demand would peak by the end of the decade.

In terms of Citi’s own financial outlook, Reuters in May reported that the difference between a rapid or protracted transition away from fossil fuels would be small but significant. An analysis by the wire service found that Citigroup would lose $10.3 billion over the next ten years if the world pursued aggressive action on climate.

That is half again as much as the $7.1 billion it would lose “if those efforts did not speed up,” Reuters reported.

Orcas have become a symbol of international environmental protest since the summer of 2023, which saw a series of attacks by orca pods on sailboats off the coasts of Spain and Portugal.

That fall, tens of thousands of protesters dressed as orcas protested — and many were arrested — at New York actions from the ritzy resort of the Hamptons to the Federal Reserve headquarters in Manhattan.

“Online, people really latched onto that as a symbol of nature defending itself,” Teddy Ogborn, leader of one of the groups that led the 2023 protests, told New York arts and culture magazine Hyperallergic. “We figured that would be a really great thing to incorporate into our imagery and our messaging — to bring these orcas onto land with us.”

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