Next Avenue Logo

‘Rocking Chair Rebellion’

Older adults are banding together to persuade big banks to stop financing companies largely responsible for climate change

By John F. Wasik

Are you ready for the revolution? This one is being televised. Thousands of retirees have brought rocking chairs to bank branches to protest investments in fossil fuel industries.

A group of protesters sitting in rocking chairs outside of a bank. Next Avenue, Third Act, Rocking Chair Rebellion
Outside of Chase Bank, Third Act's Rocking Chair Rebellion called on big banks to stop investing in fossil fuels  |  Credit: Third Act

Tens of thousands of older protesters, who in another time may have burned their bras and draft cards, are deeply concerned about the fate of the planet and their own toxic legacies.

Their so-called "rocking chair rebellion" has elicited countless snide remarks and jokes, but these retirees are not content to stay put on their pickleball courts in gated communities. They are taking to the streets and are part of a global movement inspired by young climate activists like Greta Thunberg.

Taking It to the Streets

In one of its most visible actions so far, the movement, called "Third Act" because it is designed for retirees, arranged for thousands of protesters to muster outside hundreds of branches of the four largest U.S. banks in March to protest the banks' investments in global-warming fossil fuels.

A 2022 report by the Rainforest Action Network and other environmental groups said the banks — JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citibank and Wells Fargo — invested more than $1 trillion in oil and gas projects between 2016 and 2021.

"We have a moral obligation to protest."

The author and climate activist Bill McKibben, 62, leads Third Act. He estimates that in their lifetime baby boomers have produced an outsized share of global carbon dioxide through our big cars, homes, boats and RVs, so "we have a moral obligation to protest."

"Those over 60 years have ended up with most of the country's assets," McKibben said of the protesters, "and have been alive for 75% of the time most of the CO (the chemical formula for carbon dioxide) has gone into our atmosphere. That's the most significant thing we've done as a generation." Talking about my generation!

While McKibben eschews laying too much blame on boomers, he notes that as his generation "get(s) closer to our exit," it has an obligation to improve its legacy. "No one wants to leave things behind that are worse," he says.

It's too soon to tell if the movement will morph or expand, although it's clear that thousands who are looking for meaning in their third act of life — their retirement years — are becoming climate activists.

Retirees have long populated environmental restoration volunteer corps and the rank-and-file cadres of major national organizations like the Sierra Club and the National Audubon Society. They have time on their hands and don't need to work, although in their remaining years they want to make a meaningful difference.

Environmental Epiphany

Julie Nowak, who retired in 2014 after more than 30 years as a pharmaceutical compliance professional and chemist, stepped into the climate action arena by joining the Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL), which is pushing Congress to create a carbon fee and dividend program, which would levy a fee on big carbon emitters and pass the proceeds along to taxpayers.

After seeing McKibben speak in Chicago in 2012, she said she concluded that "time's a wasting here, we have to get something done" to slow the rise in global temperatures. As a grandmother and scientist, she "worries about kids."

"Al Gore's 'An Inconvenient Truth' left me in tears."

"Al Gore's 'An Inconvenient Truth' left me in tears," she adds.

As many older climate activists mobilize, they are engaging in direct action because they are in the "sweet spot of life" where they often have the time, health and resources to get involved. Once retired, Nowak helped organize a local CCL chapter and notes that like many retired Americans, "we have a concern for our descendants, but you don't need to have a grandchild to care for others."

Climate action comes in many forms, of course. It ranges from the vocal militancy of Greta Thunberg to the dogged bipartisan lobbying of the Citizens Climate Lobby, which meets with Congressional representatives on both sides of the aisle.


CCL, for example, advocates for a fee of $15 per metric ton on CO emissions. The proceeds would be "returned to households each month as a dividend" to offset the higher cost of fossil fuels.

Step 1: Fire Your Bank

Part of the Third Act activist platform is pledging to cut up credit cards and cease doing any other business with the four big banks. To date, more than 2,400 people have taken the pledge, according to a Third Act spokesperson.

"There is no one silver bullet to curb climate change."

Although it will be difficult to move them to divest their fossil fuel stock holdings, McKibben says Third Act has ignited talks with bankers to change their lending policies to gas and oil producers.

While the global community engages in different forms of activism, it's clear that a suite of global solutions is needed to prevent global temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees (Celsius) above pre-industrial levels. That's a theoretical point of no return to prevent global warming from fomenting (even more) catastrophic global events.

The most recent United Nations climate change report advocates for an "all of the above" approach to reducing so-called greenhouse gas emissions. It adds that by "sharing best practices, technology, effective policy measures, and mobilizing sufficient finance, any community can decrease or prevent the usage of carbon-intensive consumption methods."

What You Can Do

Thinking of getting involved in saving our planet? Find out which national or local organizations are active in your area. Their activities range from bird watching to planting native vegetation in your yard. Sit in on their meetings and see if they are a good fit.

On your own, you can live a less-carbon-intensive lifestyle. It will be tough for an entire generation acclimated to owning two cars, living in big houses, flying often and generally living large, but it is necessary.

"There is no one silver bullet to curb climate change," McKibben adds. "It's more of a buckshot approach on many fronts."

John F. Wasik is a regular Next Avenue contributor, author of 19 books and writer of the Substack newsletter “Refinement.” Read More
Next Avenue LogoMeeting the needs and unleashing the potential of older Americans through media
©2024 Next AvenuePrivacy PolicyTerms of Use
A nonprofit journalism website produced by:
TPT Logo