PARIS, France – In one of the first edgier, unsanctioned confrontations at the official "Le Bourget" climate summit, a flank of young anti-fracking activists on Wednesday interrupted a panel of US politicians, including Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, calling out their hypocrisy as climate leaders.
Soon after Gov. Shumlin took the podium, two young women rushed the stage, and unfurled a banner that read "Fracked Gas = Climate Change." Activists continued to stand up and speak out for the duration of the panel, with one declaring to the room: "These aren’t climate leaders, these are climate cheaters."
Protestors were keen to get across that while Shumlin is being lauded as a climate leader in Paris, back in his home state he’s marshalling forward a major fracked gas pipeline that would snake its way through small Vermont farms and accelerate fracking across the U.S. east coast.
Nathan Joseph, 27, a former Vermonter who now works on a farm in rural Pennsylvania—a state heavily impacted by fracking—stood up in the middle of the Shumlin's speech.
“I live on the frontlines of fracking in the Marcellus Shale and you are putting through a fracked gas pipeline that jeopardizes people’s livelihoods," declared Joseph. He also mentioned the concerns of farmers in Vermont whose land was being seized by eminent domain for the pipeline.
Next up, Aly Johnson-Kurts, 21, a native Vermonter, stood up and addressed the governor.
Aly acknowledged that Shumlin banned fracking a few years ago—but highlighted how championing new fracked gas infrastructure simply pushes fracking onto other communities outside Vermont’s borders.
"Vermont banned fracking in 2012, and in the announcement speech you cited risks to safe drinking water and health. In supporting the Vermont gas pipeline, you are simply putting those risks on other communities," Aly said, facing the governor. "If you want to convince everyday Vermonters that your legacy as governor is one of true environmental stewardship, you must reverse your position on the pipeline."
Shumlin called Aly "beautiful and eloquent," but encouraged her to settle down.
A couple vocal audience members countered the protesters by saying: "Shut up"; "That’s enough"; and "Nobody wants to hear you." Curiously, very similar comments were heard when now Middlebury alum Abigail Borah interrupted U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern’s comments at the Durban climate talks in 2011. By the time Borah finished her remarks, calling on the U.S. and other delegates to "to act now...or threaten the lives of the youth and the world’s most vulnerable," she received plenary-wide applause.
Shumlin retorted with a line often used by climate deniers and obfuscators: "How did you get here, on an airplane? Or did you swim over?" he asked the protesters. "Because you used fracked gas in that plane, so you better find a way to swim home."
Earlier, Shumlin told the packed audience "we can't move fast enough to get off oil and coal" as a way to fight climate change and boost the economy. His seeming exception for natural gas not only flummoxes but also deeply frustrates Vermonters who’ve staunchly opposed the this pipeline in their state for the past three years.
To the Vermont Governor’s credit, he eventually offered the microphone to Aly—but the moderator with Georgetown Climate Center would not allow it.
Soon afterwards, Shumlin left the panel, exiting the event a half an hour before it was set to close.
Bill McKibben, a long-time resident of Vermont, who’s partaking in a number of anti-fracking workshops and events in Paris, offered his support.
"It's good to see the boisterous spirit of VT translated across the Atlantic," McKibben told me. "I think the fracked gas pipeline was planned in a different age back before we knew much of what we know about the effects of fracking and methane on the atmosphere. So, it's a good time for a re-evaluation."
When Maeve McBride, lead organizer with 350 Vermonter, heard about how Vermonters were tailing Shumlin in Paris, she was "proud and heartened."
"Governor Shumlin has talked a good talk on climate, yet he and his staff actively advocate for expanding fracked gas infrastructure in Vermont," Maeve wrote in an email. "While Vermont banned fracking, Shumlin's administration has been promoting the import of fracked gas and cutting deals with Vermont Gas. Vermonters would end up footing the more than $154 million bill for this new pipeline, and Vermont Gas is seizing Vermonters' land through eminent domain. Governor Shumlin is no climate hero."
After Shumlin left the session, other speakers took to the podium, including California’s EPA chief, and a senior advisor to Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington state.
These speakers were likewise met with rounds of pointed, mostly unsolicited, questions regarding the approval of fracking in California and why Gov. Inslee wasn’t halting a proposal for the "largest crude rail terminal in the nation" proposed for his state.
With two days left until the climate negotiation are supposedly set to wrap, expect young people to keep stirring the pot.