- Grant Baldwin
Photo captions: Activists dumped 500 pounds of coal in front of Bank Of America's headquarters during a street theatre protest Thursday to bring awareness to the bank's funding of the coal industry.
They dumped enough coal on Bank of America's doorstep in Uptown to hold a summer cookout for the city, but protesters had other intentions.
A group representing the Rainforest Action Network, Occupy Charlotte and 350.org gathered in front of the the bank's headquarters on Thursday with their "gift" to denounce Charlotte's third consecutive poor air quality forecast, which they blamed mostly on the bank's support of the coal industry.
"While Bank of America executives are in Rio [at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development] claiming to be a leader of environmental banks, we in Charlotte are going through our third bad air day, which they helped to make happen by continuing to fund the dirtiest energy source there is: coal," said Todd Zimmer, coal finance organizer for Rainforest Action Network.
Black clouds of dust rose as protesters poured 10 buckets of coal — some 500 pounds, they said — onto a banner on the ground that represented the bank's environmental policy. Those in the area, including members of the media, wore respiratory masks.
Members of the group gave short speeches denouncing BofA's new environmental policy, announced earlier in June, as hypocritical. The bank hopes to invest $50 billion over 10 years in environmentally friendly projects. Protest volunteer Beth Henry said the bank should stop being the No. 1 funder of coal companies before it can present itself as "clean" by investing in alternative energy sources, such as the sun.
"The Bank of America funding of solar energy is like pouring a teaspoon of water on a fire with one hand while pouring a gallon of gasoline on that fire with the other," she said.
Bank of America has faced criticism for its investment in coal and has not announced plans to curb any industry funding. They announced a 10-year, $20 billion clean energy initiative in 2007, similar to the one announced in June, that it hopes to achieve by year-end.
The poor air quality day — referred to by protesters as a "bad air day" — is when the air in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County reaches orange levels, meaning that it is unsafe for sensitive groups, including children, the elderly and people with respiratory illness.
Zimmer said local environmental groups plan to make their voices heard on every "bad air day" during the summer.
"We are going to use a lot of different tactics over the summer. We will hold creative press events and stage protests, but on most days we will be out talking to people in Charlotte; families with children who are outside a lot, the ordinary air breathers in and around the city."
The air quality index reached orange on Tuesday and Thursday but remained in the moderate zone on Wednesday, according to the North Carolina Air Quality Forecast Center. However there are different readings available.
Henry, who denounced the bank's solar energy funding, isn't a member of a protest organization but volunteers for their events. She talked to Creative Loafing after the protest about why she believes Thursday was so important.
"Ever since I retired I have been working on a fast transition to clean energy," the native North Carolinian said. "I have three kids [in their 20s], and I am truly scared about what they will have to go through when I'm gone. We are in for some tough times."
As the event wrapped up, protesters announced that were ready to give Bank of America an example of how to clean its coal problem. Shoveling the black nuggets they had just dumped onto the street back into buckets, it seemed like a smart way to spread the message while avoiding being arrested for dumping 500 pounds of coal on a city sidewalk.
The environmental groups welcome anyone who'd like to volunteer to their meetings every Wednesday at 6 p.m. at a "business incubator" called Area 15 in the NoDa.