Activists Condemn Speakers at The New York Times’ Dealbook Summit for Driving Climate Change and Call for Permanent Ceasefire in Gaza

NEW YORK—Climate activists protested an annual business, politics and culture summit hosted by The New York Times on Wednesday, criticizing the inclusion of guests responsible for worsening climate and humanitarian crises.

The activists—led by Planet Over Profit, a direct action group focused on climate and wealth inequality—protested Dealbook’s inclusion of Vice President Kamala Harris, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, Tesla founder Elon Musk and Israeli President Isaac Herzog among the summit’s interviewees. 

As protests calling for a permanent ceasefire in Israel’s war on Gaza and an end to U.S. aid to Israel spread across the country and internationally, New York City climate activists directed calls for a ceasefire at Vice President Harris and drew connections between the ongoing occupation of Palestine and the climate crisis. 

“As a movement for life and decolonization and liberation, it is our job to also advocate for liberation for Palestinians and to end the siege and to end the war,” said Roni Zahavi-Brunner, one of the Planet Over Profit members who organized the action. “It’s a natural extension of the work that we do as a climate group.”

The Dealbook Summit is an annual event hosted by the Times, consisting of interviews led by columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin with internationally prominent voices in business, politics and culture. In addition to Harris, Dimon, Musk and Herzog, this year’s summit interviewees included Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, television mogul Shonda Rhimes and former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Last year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was an interviewee.

At 1:30 Wednesday afternoon activists from Planet Over Profit, national direct action organization Climate Defiance and the New York Chapter of the grassroots international organization Jewish Voice for Peace floated balloons spelling out “ceasefire” into the air outside the windows of New York City’s Jazz at Lincoln Center, the venue for the summit. As Sorkin interviewed Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Iger, the activists’ message was visible to summit attendees.

By 6 p.m., at least 60 activists, led by Planet over Profit and Climate Defiance, had gathered in Columbus Circle outside the Dealbook summit, joining an international call to action for Palestinian liberation. 

The protesters held signs and banners with phrases like “tax the rich,” “end fossil fuels,” “free Gaza” and “liberation for Palestine and planet.” One activist held a large board with a caricature of Elon Musk’s face on a dinner plate—a play on calls to “eat the rich.” Another held a similar painting of Dimon with red devil’s horns. 

At around 2pm, the protesters launched a set of balloons reading the word "ceasefire" in Columbus Circle, and slowly moved toward Jazz at Lincoln Center where they floated the balloons outside the summit window. Credit: Keerti Gopal/Inside Climate News
At around 2pm, the protesters launched a set of balloons reading the word “ceasefire” in Columbus Circle, and slowly moved toward Jazz at Lincoln Center where they floated the balloons outside the summit window. Credit: Keerti Gopal/Inside Climate News

The activists called out Dimon for JPMorgan’s continued, vigorous financing of fossil fuels. The bank has been cited as the world’s largest financier of the oil, gas and coal industries, with more than $430 billion invested in fossil fuels between 2016 and 2022. Dimon has said that businesses and governments need to act on climate change, and noted that JPMorgan is a member of the United Nations Net Zero Banking Alliance, which aims to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

“It’s not a pledge, it’s a target,” Dimon said at Dealbook, in response to Sorkin’s summary of the Net Zero alliance. 

When asked about pushback in Texas on his emissions reduction goals, he emphasized JPMorgan’s portfolio.

“We are the biggest oil and gas financer in the world,” Dimon said. “We’ve financed more oil and gas companies in the world than just about anybody else, which I’m proud of.” 

On the sidewalk outside of Jazz at Lincoln Center, activists hoped to shame Dimon for that fact.

“He’s torturing the planet for profit,” said Teddy Ogborn, one of the Planet Over Profit organizers. 

In his comments Wednesday, Dimon also said JP Morgan is the largest lender to green technologies and that oil and gas companies need to be part of a clean energy transition. Responding to a request for comment, Dimon’s office highlighted those points. According to a BloombergNEF report from this year, JPMorgan’s fossil fuel projects still outpace its “low-carbon energy” investments.

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The activists also called out Harris for the Biden administration’s continued green-lighting of fossil fuel projects despite stated commitments to stop drilling on public lands, lower U.S. emissions and combat climate change. 

Dealbook speaker Elon Musk has been broadly criticized for perpetuating disinformation about climate change, but at Wednesday’s event he boasted of his environmental accomplishments.

“Tesla has done more to help the environment than all other companies combined,” he said during his interview. “It would be fair to say that therefore, as the leader of the company, I’ve done more for the environment than any single human on earth.”

Protesters, however, criticized Musk for recent antisemitic statements and Planet Over Profit organizer Zahavi-Brunner criticized the tech billionaire for perpetuating a narrative that climate change can be solved through innovation and entrepreneurship, diverting public and government focus from the efforts to curtail the burning of oil, gas and coal, and to overhaul energy infrastructure. 

“We need to end fossil fuels,” Zahavi-Brunner said. “That’s the one thing that scientists agree that we need to do right now—we’re not going to manage to do it by carbon capture and new cars.”

Arguing that addressing the climate crisis will take massive investments in green infrastructure, renewable energy and climate-friendly jobs, the activists called for U.S. military spending—the Department of Defense accounts for more than 12 percent of the U.S. budget—to be diverted toward essential services at home. 

A Palestinian Youth Movement organizer who asked that only his first name, Basil, be used,  said that money the U.S. invests in the military, and in aid to Israel, would be better spent on climate action.

“Our government is willing to provide a blank check to militarism rather than invest in meeting the demands of a climate emergency that [exists] on a global scale [and] investing in communities that are directly harmed by climate change,” the Palestinian organizer said, calling for climate investment both domestically and in the global south.

The activists highlighted the damage war does to the climate and the global environment. In addition to increasing global emissions of climate warming gases, environmental devastation from war harms human health both during and long after conflicts subside

“At the end of the day, schools, the health care system, the education system here are languishing while the worst polluters are able to violate all standards of protection for our environment and while a foreign policy establishment funnels billions of dollars into military programs across the world,” another organizer with the Palestinian Youth Movement said, also asking that only his first name, Kaleem, be published.

Kaleem and the other organizers noted the connections between climate change and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has called the Mediterranean region a “hotspot for highly interconnected climate risks,” including sea level rise, agricultural damage, saltwater intrusion, water insecurity, ocean warming and desertification. The region surrounding Israel and Palestine has already experienced greater levels of warming than the global average, the Israel Meteorological Service has reported

Sea level rise on Israel’s shores threatens to damage desalination, sewage and drainage systems. In Gaza, saltwater intrusion already compounds with overcrowding to put even more strain on already overtaxed water resources. In 2019, the United Nations reported that more than 97 percent of the water pumped from Gaza’s coastal aquifer fails to meet the World Health Organization’s water quality standards.

“Israel for decades has been using environmental destruction as a means for displacement of Palestinians,” Zahavi-Brunner said, referencing lack of water resources as an example.

Since military occupation began in 1967, Israel has restricted Palestine’s access to water resources, preventing Palestinians from building new water infrastructure or accessing fresh water sources, and even controlling the collection of rainwater in certain areas, according to a 2017 report by Amnesty International. Over the past 16 years, Israel’s blockade of Gaza has further limited crucial access to water, food and electricity, making 62 percent of Gaza’s population food insecure, according to UNICEF.

After the Hamas attack in Israel on Oct. 7, Israel’s tightened siege and bombardment of Gaza has made the environmental crisis even more dire, with the lack of fuel crippling desalination pumps and sewage treatment. As international human rights organizations have called for a ceasefire, many have pointed out that it is not possible for Gaza’s population to survive on the water it has now. The Embassy of Israel to the United States had not responded to requests for comment by the time of publication.

Outside Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York, the climate groups passed their sidewalk access around 7 p.m. on Wednesday to the Palestinian Youth Movement, which led several hundred attendees in a candlelit vigil for the at least 15,000 Palestinians killed in the siege on Gaza.

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                Keerti Gopal is a multimedia journalist and summer fellow at Inside Climate News. She graduated from Northwestern University in 2021 and moved to Taiwan for her Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellowship, where she documented stories of climate action and resilience through photo, film, audio, and written media. In addition to ICN, she’s the Editorial Fellow at the The Lever, a climate fellow at Solutions Journalism Network, and a graduate of One World Media’s Global Short Docs Forum for international filmmakers. Keerti is interested in accountability and investigative reporting, climate and environmental justice, and centering marginalized voices. 

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