As the Trump Admin. Gives Fossil Fuels Industry the Floor at COP23, Hundreds of Protesters Shut Out

Representatives from fossil fuels companies were invited to speak on a panel alongside White House officials.

Kate Aronoff November 13, 2017

Climate justice campaigners protested the presence of fossil fuels representatives at the COP23 talks. (Indigenous Environmental Network)

The U.S. government’s pres­ence at this year’s U.N. cli­mate nego­ti­a­tions — COP23 — has been rel­a­tive­ly small. For the most part, career U.S. diplo­mats have been cooped up in a tiny office away from pub­lic view. There was a notable excep­tion, how­ev­er. The Trump admin­is­tra­tion invit­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tives from fos­sil fuel com­pa­nies to speak on a pan­el with White House offi­cials pro­mot­ing access to fos­sil fuels.

The pan­el prompt­ed what might have been the loud­est demon­stra­tion yet with­in the halls of the con­ven­tion center.

Well in advance of the event — as hun­dreds lined up out­side — del­e­gates with the Indige­nous Envi­ron­men­tal Net­work (IEN) and oth­er rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the U.S. People’s Del­e­ga­tion led a prayer pro­ces­sion toward the event space with signs out­side read­ing, We Are Still Here” and Keep It In the Ground.” This was an effort to counter the panel’s pitch for increased reliance on nat­ur­al gas, nuclear pow­er and so-called clean coal technologies.

Nuclear pow­er is not clean and it is not a solu­tion to cli­mate change,” said Leona Mor­gan, an anti-nuclear orga­niz­er who is Diné (Nava­jo), accord­ing to a live stream from IEN. If Trump and the Unit­ed States want to push a nuclear agen­da, we are here and we will fight back and resist this nuclear imperialism.”

As Indige­nous Peo­ples with a close rela­tion­ship to nature, the expan­sion of fos­sil fuels extrac­tion and com­bus­tion will cause fur­ther dis­rup­tion to the har­mo­ny of life as we know it,” Tom Gold­tooth, exec­u­tive direc­tor of IEN, said in a state­ment. The dan­gers and risks of cre­at­ing a nuclear chain reac­tion, split­ting of atoms and from this so-called nuclear ener­gy, is the cre­ation of nuclear waste that could end up being dumped in sacred Indige­nous Peo­ples treaty lands.”

Entry into the pan­el was selec­tive, and hun­dreds of peo­ple who were shut out joined a sit-in and sev­er­al rounds of anti-fos­sil fuel chants.

About 20 min­utes into Mon­day night’s pan­el, the mid­dle sec­tion of the room — rough­ly 100 peo­ple cor­ralled large­ly by mem­bers of Sus­tai­nUS, a U.S. youth del­e­ga­tion — stood up and start­ed singing to the tune of Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA,” rewrit­ten into a mes­sage against the promi­nent role of the coal indus­try in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics (“So you claim to be an Amer­i­can / But we see right through your greed”). Sev­er­al peo­ple held up a sign read­ing, We the Peo­ple” before being escort­ed out by secu­ri­ty, and join­ing hun­dreds out­side for a People’s Pan­el” on the impact of fos­sil fuels on native com­mu­ni­ties and young people.

When we heard this was hap­pen­ing, we knew we had to do some­thing about it,” Kari­na Gon­za­les, who is co-lead­ing the Sus­tai­nUS del­e­ga­tion, told In These times. Our inten­tion was to silence their lies with the truth, and to silence their greed with beau­ty and with love…We know we can’t have fos­sil fuels because we’ve per­son­al­ly expe­ri­enced their effects.” Gon­za­les’ fam­i­ly is Purepecha, indige­nous to Latin Amer­i­ca. She says, before she was born, her fam­i­ly was dis­placed by fos­sil fuel devel­op­ment there.

Sus­tai­nUS sends a year­ly del­e­ga­tion to the COP, with this being the first since the Trump admin­is­tra­tion announced its inten­tion to get the Unit­ed States out of the Paris Agree­ment. Since Syr­ia decid­ed to join last week, the Unit­ed States is now the only out­lier. By the time it’s imple­ment­ed,” she said of the nego­ti­a­tions, we’ll ide­al­ly have a new pres­i­dent. In the mean­time, it is more ide­al for the U.S. not to be involved, because they’ll prob­a­bly obstruct a lot of the progress that will be made here.”

Fol­low­ing the inter­rup­tion, the room was large­ly filled with press and Trump admin­is­tra­tion insid­ers. Voic­es from the back spo­rad­i­cal­ly heck­led the speak­ers, a line-up that includ­ed an aide to Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence, an engi­neer with Peabody Ener­gy and Trump cli­mate and ener­gy advi­sor George David Banks. Pan­elists who spoke after the direct action start­ed their remarks with a pitch for hear­ing both sides of the debate. Chants from out­side could be heard through the length of the event, and sev­er­al of the press and atten­dees who remained inside asked con­fronta­tion­al question.

In the last ques­tion, Amy Good­man of Democ­ra­cy Now! asked each of the pan­elists to state whether they sup­port­ed the Trump administration’s deci­sion to pull out of the Paris Agree­ment, which was announced in June. None of the pan­elists offered an imme­di­ate yes,” and two — includ­ing a for­mer Oba­ma staffer now work­ing for a nat­ur­al gas com­pa­ny — said they didn’t sup­port the president’s deci­sion to with­draw from the land­mark cli­mate deal.

Orga­niz­ers with Sus­tai­nUS report­ed that the Secretariat’s office, which over­sees COP events, agreed in advance of the action not to de-badge pro­test­ers who par­tic­i­pat­ed in Mon­day night’s protest, as would nor­mal­ly be expect­ed after large-scale disruptions.

Kate Aronoff is a Brook­lyn-based jour­nal­ist cov­er­ing cli­mate and U.S. pol­i­tics, and a con­tribut­ing writer at The Inter­cept. Fol­low her on Twit­ter @katearonoff.
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