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Why White House Correspondents’ Dinner is a ‘smart target’ for climate disruption

It’s not often that large numbers of Washington’s political and media elite gather in the same room in a spirit of conviviality. But that will be the case at Saturday’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

It’s exactly why the climate activist group, Climate Defiance, plan to blockade the event.

According to Margaret Klein Salamon of the Climate Emergency Fund (CEF), one of the group’s backers, the roast is a “very smart target”.

“Both the administration and the press really have so much more that they could do on climate,” she told The Independent.

Dr Klein Salamon, a clinical psychologist, is CEF’s executive director. The fund supports disruptive climate activism and is backed by oil heir Aileen Getty, Don’t Look Up director Adam McKay, and film-maker Rory Kennedy.

Last year, CEF paid out $5.3million in donations to 44 organizations including Just Stop Oil, Scientist Rebellion and Letze Generation.

“This is a climate emergency,” Dr Klein Salamon said. “We’re accelerating towards absolutely catastrophic outcomes. As a clinical psychologist, my diagnosis is that we’re in a state of mass delusion, an illusion of normalcy, when in fact we are in terrible danger. So these activists, by disrupting normal normal life events that are so publicly familiar, by disrupting those, they’re shaking us awake.”

In recent weeks, Climate Defiance has shut down keynote addresses by White House climate advisor Ali Zaidi and President Joe Biden’s senior advisor, John Podesta.

The activists announced in February that they would target this weekend’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner at the Washington Hilton which is being headlined Daily Show correspondent, Roy Wood Jr.

President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden are expected to attend, along with Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff along with celebrities like John Legend and Chrissy Teigen.

“Biden made a promise to us and then stabbed us in the back. We are calling on him to stop fossil fuel extraction on federal lands. Our polite requests have gone unanswered - so we will blockade the Correspondents Dinner,” Climate Defiance said, in a statement to The Independent.

Dr Klein Salamon hopes the protest will spur the administration to declare a climate emergency, cease fossil fuel development, and speak more frankly about the climate crisis.

“In terms of what more the administration can do, I mean, seriously, it is insane that we would be continuing to expand fossil fuel infrastructure,” she said.

“At this point it’s totally out of step with what is needed to avoid apocalyptic outcomes.”

President Biden has a mixed record on the climate. In 2022, he helped pass the Inflation Reduction Act, the most significant climate legislation in US history. But his Biden administration has also backed large-scale fossil fuel projects including the Mountain Valley pipeline in the eastern US, and the $8bn Willow project in Alaska.

Climate Defiance shut down a speech by White House climate advisor Ali Zaidi to protest the Biden administration’s continued investment in fossil fuels (Climate Defiance/Twitter)
Climate Defiance shut down a speech by White House climate advisor Ali Zaidi to protest the Biden administration’s continued investment in fossil fuels (Climate Defiance/Twitter)

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN’s leading climate science panel, warned that to avoid worsening outcomes, will mean rapid cuts in fossil fuels across the board, and no new infrastructure for oil, coal and gas.

The press also has room to improve.

A 2022 study from Northwestern University found that the media continues to employ “both sides” framing and feature commentary from climate deniers, despite overwhelming scientific consensus about the extent and urgency of the climate crisis.

“The media is still giving air to the opinions of people who do not believe there is cause for alarm, which makes the problem seem less dire than it actually is,” David Rapp, a psychologist and professor at Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy, said last year.

Issues with climate journalism were urgent enough that it was addressed in the latest series of IPCC assessments.

The UN panel noted while the number of articles of climate journalism roughly doubled between 2016 and 2021, the media could work on building trust with audiences.