Following World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim’s speech on tactics to address climate change at Gaston Hall on Wednesday, members of GU Fossil Free stormed the stage and asked Kim for his opinion on the divestment movement.
During the transition from the speech to the question-and-answer session of Kim’s lecture, which was part of a lecture series sponsored by the Global Futures Initiative, three members of GU Fossil Free — Patricia Cippolitti (SFS ’15), Chloe Lazarus (COL ’16) and Elaine Colligan (SFS ’15) — walked onto the stage and unfurled a large banner. Three other members of the group, who stood first in the question-and-answer session line, asked Kim to address the issue of divestment.
The GU Fossil Free members held the banner, which read “‘CORPORATE LEADERS SHOULD NOT WAIT TO ACT UNTIL MARKET SIGNALS ARE RIGHT & NATIONAL INVESTMENT POLICIES ARE IN PLACE.’ – Jim Yong Kim GEORGETOWN, DIVEST NOW GU Fossil Free.”
Vice President for Global Engagement Thomas Banchoff, who moderated the question-and-answer session, paused and looked at the sign with Kim, then continued the session. Several Georgetown University Police Department officers requested the members to leave the stage. Five minutes later, they were escorted down the steps by the officers. They then moved to the back of the hall before being asked to leave the hall entirely.
GUPD Chief of Police Jay Gruber did not respond to requests for comment, while Banchoff declined to comment on the incident.
The event began with opening remarks from Banchoff and University President John J. DeGioia, who reiterated the Global Futures Initiative’s purpose of setting Georgetown as an example of a global university committed to serving others.
“This initiative … was launched in January to bring together the expertise of our community, the resources of our tradition and our commitment to the common good to discern and to model what it means to be engaged as a global university in service to the world,” DeGioia said.
Kim began the lecture by addressing the World Bank’s objectives to limit extreme poverty to three percent of the global population and to elevate the living standards of the bottom 40 percent of every country’s population.
Kim continued by laying out the scientific facts about climate change that he pointed out were supported by 97 percent of scientists. In particular, he noted that 2014 was the hottest year on record, and that 13 of the hottest years on record occurred in the last 15 years.
“Recently the extreme temperatures have hit the physiological limits of what humans and animals can withstand in being outside,” Kim said. “There’s really no more serious debate in the scientific community about the fact of global warming and that humans are playing a part in it.”
Kim then discussed the impact of climate change on development, including the possibility of floods and natural disasters leading to outbreaks of diseases like cholera and malaria in poor countries.
“We know that the poor will be affected the most,” Kim said. “Poor countries around the world are not ready for these disasters.”
In suggesting possible solutions to the consequences of climate change on development, Kim proposed that developing regions should implement the model of “smart cities.” For instance, he cited projects such as bus rapid transit lines in India, which significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Additionally, Kim criticized current fossil fuel subsidies from top oil-producing countries such as Egypt and Iran while promoting carbon taxes, climate smart agriculture, climate treaties and alternative energy. He concluded the lecture by addressing the responsibility of the students in attendance.
“I just want to let you know that this is going to be up to you,” Kim said. “I came here to talk to you about this specifically in order to send you a message. No matter what you end up doing — you can be investors, homeowners, drivers, and consumers — every choice you make can have an impact potentially on this particular issue. The most important thing is to educate yourselves.”
During the question-and-answer session, Kim answered the first question on Twitter from a Qatar campus student, ignoring the protesters only twenty feet away. Part way through his response, he paused mid-sentence to read GU Fossil Free’s banner, then responded with “Hmm, okay,” garnering laughs from the audience.
The first in-person question came from the three GU Fossil Free members, who asked Kim for his opinion on divestment.
“By financially linking ourselves to [fossil fuels] through investments in the fossil fuel companies, we link ourselves to the excess of fossil fuels,” one of the members said. “GU Fossil Free … recently met with our board of directors asking them to divest from the top 200 fossil fuel companies in their vote in May. So if you could say anything to the board of directors, what would you say?”
Kim’s response addressed the complexity of divestment, including the necessity of providing energy for poor countries and the nature of commingled funds, which would greatly reduce the university’s endowment if it were to divest.
“[The World Bank is] very exposed to fossil fuels because we’re in the business of trying to create energy for poor people. … There’s not a simple answer to this,” Kim said. “Having run a university before … these are difficult things to do. … These [fossil fuel companies] that you invest in … can be spread over many different funds. … If you were to completely divest from all fossil fuel companies today at Georgetown, the endowment would go down [and] you’re going to have less financing for the programs that support students.”
However, Kim lauded Georgetown students’ efforts in raising awareness about divestment issues.
“I think what you guys have done to force the conversation onto campus is a very good thing and I’m sure President DeGioia would say the same thing,” Kim said.
Director of Media Relations Rachel Pugh said that the board of directors will continue to review the issue of divestment. GU Fossil Free members have recently worked with university administrators after developing a proposal requesting that the university divest from the top 200 fossil fuel companies. The Committee on Investments and Social Responsibility voted against GU Fossil Free’s proposal in late January, proposing an alternative solution, which includes targeted divestment and continued assessment of the university’s investments. GU Fossil Free also met with five members of the board of directors in mid-February, and the board will review and discuss GU Fossil Free and CISR’s proposals at its meeting in May.
“The working group of the Board of Directors will be reviewing the divestment question carefully in the coming weeks and will want to hear from key stakeholders, including GU Fossil Free,” Pugh said.
Cipollitti, one of the GU Fossil Free members who stormed on stage, said that she did not intend to criticize Kim.
“We understand that Jim Kim is on our side in terms of wanting to combat climate change and ensuring the well-being of all the world’s people including the most vulnerable, so we are drawing the link between his sentiments and our campaign, to show that they’re fully compatible and the consistent thing to do, if it agrees with Jim Kim’s statements, is to divest from fossil fuels,” Cipollitti said.
Mark Noll (COL ’17), who attended the event, said that he thought Kim gave a comprehensive answer to GU Fossil Free’s question.
“[It] was very well articulated, because divesting is one of many options and it will obviously not solve the problem, and it carries significant financial consequences for the university,” Noll said. “I can see where he’s coming from, cautioning GU Fossil free not to focus solely on this one issue.”
Hannah Gerdes (SFS ’16) said she was unsure as to whether GU Fossil Free’s actions were effective.
“I didn’t see the point … because [Kim] is on stage answering our questions, so I didn’t quite understand why students were holding a sign up of a previous quote of his on stage when he’s actually here in person [and] we can actually ask him [questions],” Gerdes said. “[It] didn’t make complete sense to me,”