More than 100 demonstrators interrupted a panel hosted by the United States at the world’s largest climate summit on Monday after a delegation sent by the White House attempted to tout the benefits of fossil fuels as a means to tackle global warming.
The event ― the only one hosted by the U.S. delegation to the United Nations climate conference being held this month in Bonn, Germany ― featured a panel of energy executives from U.S. coal, natural gas and nuclear power companies and was led by President Donald Trump’s adviser on energy and the environment, George David Banks. As Banks attempted to argue about the need to use fossil fuels in a more efficient and cleaner way, protesters in the packed room began singing and disrupted the panel for nearly 10 minutes.
“We see right through your greed. It’s killing all across the world for that coal money,” protesters sang to the tune of “God Bless the USA.” “And we proudly stand up until you keep it in the ground. Let the people of the world unite, and we are here to stay.”
They then walked out, leaving the conference room mostly empty aside from members of the media gathered to report on the panel.
You can hear protesters begin singing during the panel around the 34-minute mark in the video below:
The demonstration was not unexpected, and U.N. summits are known for their acts of protest. But the event underscores a deep rift between the Trump administration, which has announced its intention to withdraw from the landmark Paris climate agreement, and nearly every other nation on the planet that has announced commitments to lower carbon emissions and tackle climate change.
The U.S. became the lone nation to stand against the Paris Agreement after Syria and Nicaragua announced their intentions to sign on to it over the past several weeks, joining nearly 200 other countries.
The U.S. delegation’s intent to stump the benefits of fossil fuels was announced several weeks before the summit and falls in line with President Donald Trump’s long-standing pledge to revive the domestic coal industry and leave the Paris Agreement.
“Without question, fossil fuels will continue to be used, and we would argue that it’s in the global interest to make sure when fossil fuels are used that they be as clean and efficient as possible,” Banks, the White House’s envoy, said during Monday’s event. “This panel is controversial only if we chose to bury our heads in the sand.”
Such opinions, however, were roundly lambasted.
“It’s patently absurd to suggest that coal has any role to play in solving the climate crisis,” John Fleming, a climate scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement following the demonstration. “Coal reserves dwarf the remaining carbon budget for staying under 2 degrees Celsius, let alone 1.5 degrees. Further use of coal is a death sentence for the planet.”
The 2-degree threshold represents the temperature increase above pre-industrial levels the planet can abide before a slew of climate change-related effects cause widespread havoc. To stay beneath such a level, scientists say the world must dramatically scale back carbon emissions. However, the planet is far off course to do so.
However, despite the antagonistic tone set by official U.S. representatives, other prominent politicians and activists have flown to Bonn to try to assure world leaders that local governments and businesses in the U.S. are still intent on tackling climate change despite the White House position. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) showed up at Monday’s panel and criticized it as a “sideshow,” and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said its existence was “like promoting tobacco at a cancer summit.”