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Bank on it: Black is on a mission

Marblehead’s Judith Black pretends to be crushed by the giant Bank of America credit card that was sawed in half in protest outside the Bank of America Financial Center in Boston. Photo by Libby O'Neill

Judith Black, a former school teacher, is a renowned storyteller and environmental activist who speaks strongly on climate change and banks that are pouring billions of dollars into the fossil fuel industry.

With a background in education and drama, Black aims to raise her voice and use her storytelling abilities to change people’s minds on environmental issues.

“If we want to change the world we live in instead of exploiting the biosphere, lecturing people is not going to do it, facts aren’t really going to do it, but stories can do it,” said Black.

“Because when you’re telling a story, is not about the person listening, it’s about the characters in the story. Their gauge of perception are wide open and you allow those characters and the theme, whatever is shared on that story, to kind of pass into you without judgment,” she added.

Black said that the way to stop financial institutions from investing in the fossil fuel industry is to make those investments unattractive, and to apply pressure on those institutions.

“We have to make the economics bad. And it’s getting that way,” Black said. “So right now, investing in fossil fuel infrastructure is not a better investment than putting your money into renewables and battery storage. Now, we have to make sure that both insurance companies and investment companies like BlackRock would value space.”

According to Black, Chase Bank is one of the world’s biggest contributors to fossil fuel investment. Her goal is to encourage individuals to take their money out of banks like Chase.

“They put over $139 billion in the fossil fuel industry since the Paris Agreement,” Black said. “So, they can’t say ‘Oh, well, we didn’t know.’ As long as there’s profit to be made, they’re putting it in.”

The Paris Agreement went into effect in November 2016, with the goal of limiting the rise in global temperature to “well below” two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

“We also work with retirement funds and things like this trying to get them to divest from certain banks and certain investments, because that’s a big picture thing to do that really will touch them,” Black said. “Since these are economic institutions that have no moral barometer, their only barometer is economics.”

After teaching for a few years and realizing it wasn’t for her, Black joined a touring theater company called Little Flags Theater in New York. It was run by Maxine Klein, a committed communist.

“Finding a company that did shows and themes that were in line with my belief system was important to me,” said Black. “We toured every prison in the state. We went to union halls, we worked for social change organizations, and it was exciting.”

For over ten years, Black has been very involved in environmental issues, and is involved with Sustainable Marblehead.

Black is a member of 350 Mass for a Better Future, a grassroots and member-led organization. It aims for the Commonwealth to meet climate goals through legislation, regulation, and local action.

Black is also a proud member of the Marblehead Harbor Rotary Club, an organization that functions locally, regionally, and internationally to forward specific pillars including educational and environmental agendas.