Voters support regulating Wall Street's fossil fuel investments

New polling contains good news for Biden's upcoming green financing push.

Are you concerned that the climate crisis will increase the frequency of bank failures by as much as 248 percent?

Do you want banks to stop pouring billions of dollars every year into the projects and companies fueling that crisis?

If so, today’s newsletter contains some good news.

First-of-its kind polling from our friends at Data for Progress, provided exclusively to HEATED, suggests Americans increasingly understand the enormous financial risk of climate change. It shows voters across the political spectrum support a wide range of actions from both the private sector and the federal government to prevent a climate-related economic crisis—including regulations to limit Wall Street’s investment in fossil fuels.

Data for Progress’s polling also shows voters aren’t currently buying Republican talking points on climate-related financial regulation. Those talking points hinge on (what else) denying the science of climate risk, and a dishonest framing of climate regulation as a “progressive social agenda” rather than an economic one.

The polling also shows voters don’t trust banks to act on their own. All those recent climate pledges from big banks to reach net zero greenhouse gas emission by 2050? They don’t mean much without action plans, a majority of voters say.

A precursor to the polling results

The reason we’re talking about this polling today is because the battle over climate-related banking regulations is about to get a lot louder. Democrats and the Biden administration are preparing a number of actions to “green” the financial system in the coming weeks. Those include:

  • An executive order that “will require companies to be more transparent about the threats they face from climate change,” expected to be released on or before April 23. (E&E News, April 9).

  • An executive order (probably the same one) that will require the National Economic Council and Treasury Department to develop a government strategy on climate-related risks for public and private financial assets. (Bloomberg, April 8).

  • A Senate Budget Committee hearing this week titled “The Costs of Inaction on Climate Change.” In a press release announcing the hearing, committee chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders said “Inaction on climate change could eventually cost the U.S. $34.5 trillion in economic activity by the end of the century and cause up to 295,000 avoidable deaths by 2030 and one million by 2050.”

A number of banks have also recently made public-facing promises to address their investments in climate destruction. Last month, environmental groups released an annual report on climate financing that showed 60 of the world’s largest banks collectively invested $3.8 trillion into fossil fuels since the The Paris Agreement was signed.

Those promises included one from the World Bank, which pledges last week that 35 percent of its financing “will have climate co-benefits over the next five years, and that 50 percent of World Bank climate financing will support ‘adaptation and resilience,’ according to the New York Times. “The bank also committed to fully aligning its financing objectives with the 2015 Paris climate agreement by 2023.”

But promises alone don’t guarantee meaningful action. After all, as we reported with Emily Holden of Floodlight last week, 77 percent of directors on boards of seven of the biggest U.S. banks have climate-related conflicts of interests, including past positions with oil and gas corporations to trade groups that lobby against reducing climate pollution. With so much on the line, can banks be trusted to act on their own?

Voters support oversight to prevent climate-related financial crisis

Data for Progress surveyed 1,189 likely voters from March 17 to March 19 using web panel respondents, with a demographic spread representing the U.S. population.

The results, which have a margin of error of 3 percentage points, “suggest voters strongly support the federal government taking action to prevent future financial and economic crises driven by climate change,” said Ben Cushing, the Sierra Club’s financial advocacy campaign manager.

“Action on climate finance tests at a significant +37 margin of support among all likely voters, and support cuts across demographic groups too,” Cushing said. “College educated and non, rural/urban/suburban, and older and young voters all have clear majorities in favor of the government enforcing more climate financial safeguards."

The full results can be found here, but here are some toplines:

Fifty-five percent of voters support regulating Wall Street’s investments in fossil fuels and other industries contributing to climate change, while 30 percent are opposed and 15 percent don’t.

Fifty-eight percent of voters also supported the creation of a “green bank” to incentivize private sector investments in new green infrastructure and clean energy projects, while 27 percent opposed it and 15 percent didn’t know. Biden’s recently-released $2 trillion infrastructure plan would establish a $27 billion “green-bank”-esque tool.

One of the proposals with the widest support was regulations require banks to disclosure their climate-destructive investments and emissions. Sixty-two percent of voters said the government “should create these regulations to ensure that big corporations are held accountable for their contributions to climate change.” Twenty-seven percent said the government “should not create these regulations because the government should not interfere with the free market and private companies.”

The statement with the widest support surrounded the role of the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve. Sixty-three percent of voters said the institutions “should play an active role in protecting the financial system against a future financial crisis driven by climate change,” while only 25 percent said it should not play an active role. That result directly contradicts Senator Toomey’s March statement that “Climate policy is also beyond the scope of the Federal Reserve’s expertise.”

Again, the rest of the results can be found here.

A big caveat: the people who don’t know

Though encouraging for those fighting for green financing reforms, this polling doesn’t guarantee the Biden administration’s success. After all, if the majority of voters in America always got what they want, Donald Trump never would have been president.

It’s also important to note that, like all polling on climate-related policies, a small but significant number of voters “aren’t sure” or “don’t have an opinion” on green financing proposals. And those people, in my opinion, should be considered the same as “opposed.”

The purpose of the fossil fuel industry’s climate denial campaign has never been solely to create climate deniers. It has been to confuse people into complacency and indecision. Addressing climate change effectively requires radical change, which will not happen if people aren’t absolutely convinced such change is necessary.

Those “don’t knows” are the people the fossil fuel industry needs to maintain the status quo—the continued profitability of climate destruction. They will be the ones both sides are fighting for as this fight intensifies.


Further reading:


Some more polling graphics:


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