HSBC and JP Morgan Chase: I have a right to breathe

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My name is Julia Fish. I live in Johannesburg, South Africa, in the shadow of the most polluting cluster of coal-fired power stations in the world. This year the dirty air caught up with me - I had breathing problems and sinus infections that led to life-threatening meningitis. After a hospital stay and months of recovery, I feel lucky just to be alive. But I still breathe in this pollution every day.

Eskom, South Africa’s national power company, built and runs these poisonous coal stations. And unless we stop them, they are going to build their biggest ever polluting monster. But Eskom relies on backing from private banks like HSBC and JP Morgan Chase -- global banks that are selling my right to clean air for their own profit.

Big banks are sensitive to public opinion and global pressure. We in South Africa haven’t been able to force them to change, but if we get support from people around the world, we can surely put a stop to this.

My country now hosts the worst pollution hotspot for NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) on the planet - which the coal power plants produce. Nitrogen oxides are dangerous air pollutants that can “cause respiratory symptoms and lung damage on acute exposure, increasing the risk of chronic diseases in long-term exposure”.

To be honest, this scares me, and it makes me feel even worse to think that there are children growing up breathing this filth. Many children will literally die because the air they breathe is full of toxins.

People here are trying everything to get Eskom to listen and to switch to solar and wind energy -- which could work really well in South Africa, where both sun and wind are plentiful. But the company is ignoring us.

We are hoping that with your help, we can put pressure on international banks to stop bankrolling poisonous air. We know there are better ways to produce the electricity we need. So it makes people here feel like their lives don’t matter, or their health doesn’t matter, when we hear that we need to sacrifice our right to breathe in order to make some bankers in another country get even richer.

HSBC and Chase are funding yet another coal plant (called Kusile) which will be one of the largest of its kind in the world and one of the biggest industrial sources of climate-killing gases. This is just going to make the air even more unbreathable. And this isn’t happening just in South Africa -- I have heard from communities in Vietnam, Indonesia and Bangladesh that HSBC is funding terrible projects that threaten people’s health there, too.

Our constitution states that we have the right to “an environment that is not harmful to our health or wellbeing”, but Eskom, HSBC and Chase Bank are violating this right.

All I want is to be able to breathe without worrying that the air is going to kill me. I need your help to stop bankers from getting rich off of dirty air and climate pollution. There is no reason they shouldn’t be funding clean, renewable energy projects instead.

I’m calling on HSBC and JP Morgan Chase to cancel Kusile. Fund our future -- use your money to fund clean air and a safe climate.

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