Seattle’s protest — one of dozens in cities and towns across the U.S. — came in the wake of national struggles to pass policies that experts say are needed to keep the U.S. on track to meet its climate targets. It also coincided with the start of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP26, an international gathering of governments around the world that many have said will be “the whitest and most privileged” assembly yet.
Over the past two decades, these conferences have largely failed to achieve the greenhouse gas reductions needed to keep the world from reaching dangerous levels of warming. It’s this growing disillusionment with government action that has motivated youth to follow the money instead, said Petros.
The International Energy Agency and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change both released alarming reports this year showing that if the world is going to stay below 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) of global warming, no new fossil fuel projects can be built.
Yet major banks and insurance companies continue to underwrite and insure new coal and oil and gas extraction and infrastructure. A report released in March found that since the Paris Agreement in 2015, the world’s 60 biggest banks have funded almost $4 trillion worth of new fossil fuel projects. The new youth campaign includes pledges not to bank or work for financial institutions that finance fossil fuel projects, as Chase does.
“You’re more likely to divorce than you are to switch your bank,” Petros said. “Banks know that, and they are courting youth as lifelong customers. And we represent decades of a future customer base.”
The high school and university students join a growing number of climate campaigns, from shareholder activism to university divestment campaigns, that are calling for institutions to stop financing fossil fuel projects. But the power that they hold over companies goes beyond just their money. As baby boomers retire, the U.S. faces a growing recruitment crisis.
According to a survey by ManpowerGroup, one of the world’s largest staffing firms, the number of employers struggling to fill positions has tripled from 14% in 2010 to 69% today. COVID-19 sparked a wave of resignations and made the ongoing labor shortage worse. Financial services and the insurance sector in particular are in the midst of what some have called a “crisis” to recruit new talent.
“Skilled workers are in control, and companies need to understand people’s priorities to compete,” Becky Frankiewicz, president of ManpowerGroup North America, told Forbes this year.