Activists on Monday interrupted a Trump administration-led discussion about the “clean” deployment of coal and nuclear power at the United Nations’ international climate change talks in Bonn, Germany, by singing a parody version of "God Bless the USA."
Protesters stood up and faced away from a seated panel of Trump administration officials and energy executives to sing:
“So you claim to be an American, but we see right through your greed. It’s killing all across the world, for that coal money. We proudly stand up and tell you to keep it in the ground. The people of the world unite, and are here to stay.”
Protest disrupts Trump's pro-fossil fuel panel. "We'll gladly stand up until you keep it in the ground." @CenterForBioDiv @CBD_Climate #wethepeople pic.twitter.com/WK46LlvsWO— John Fleming (@CFlemingJohn) November 13, 2017
George David Banks, Trump’s special assistant on energy and environment who led the panel, complimented the activists for their singing.
“Excellent singing,” Banks said. “I think we should do karaoke after this.”
Before the protests began, Banks shared the administration’s view that fighting climate change cannot come at the cost of economic development.
“Some people have called it [the panel] provocative,” Banks said. “We would disagree. This panel is only controversial if we choose to bury our hands in the sand and ignore the realities of the global energy system ... if we are unwilling to balance climate mitigation, energy security, and economic development.”
Banks later conceded that while “climate change mitigation is an important goal to the U.S, energy security and economic prosperity are higher priorities.”
The panel represented the first public appearance from the Trump administration at the Bonn climate change talks. The U.S. has until Monday kept a low profile at the event, where nearly 200 countries are gathered to build off the 2015 Paris climate change agreement to reduce emissions of planet-warming carbon dioxide.
The Trump administration has said it will leave the Paris Agreement in 2020, becoming the only country in the world to not commit to the deal.
After the protesters left, some on the panel said they wished the activists would have stayed and considered alternative viewpoints.
The protesters sang for about 10 minutes and left the room without listening to the content of the discussion. The room was full of empty seats when the protesters left. Intermittent shouting and interruptions continued though, with one person who remained to exclaim, “clean coal is bullshit.”
“We need to listen to each other,” said Lenka Kollar, director of strategy and external relations of NuScale Power, a nuclear engineering company. “I wished they stayed in the room.”
Another panelist, Amos Hochstein, who was the State Department's top energy envoy in the Obama administration, said talking in “silos” harms progress on addressing climate change.
“I disagree with a lot of people on this panel, but I'm here anyway," said Hochstein, who is now a senior adviser at Tellurian, a liquefied natural gas exporter. “If we really care about clean air, about climate change, we have to stop siloing ourselves into communities where we talk to ourselves. We only will move forward if talk to each other and have discussions like this. We miss something if we just have a circular conversation.”
The panelists argued that investing in “clean coal” initiatives, such as technology that captures and stores carbon emissions from coal plants, is an important component to cutting emissions to levels needed to avoid the worse impacts of climate change.
“The question should not be if you use coal, but how,” said Holly Krutka, an engineer for coal producer Peabody Energy. “We believe the path to near zero emissions begins with high-efficient, low emissions power plants.”
She added that carbon, capture and storage technology is “central” to achieving that goal, but the innovation is “dramatically underfunded.”