New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Demonstrators confront White House climate adviser at NYU Law event

As the White House climate adviser began his keynote speech, three people rose from their seats in protest of the Biden administration’s recent oil drilling initiatives.
Dharma Niles
White House national climate advisor Ali Zaidi spoke at a keynote at School of Law on Sept. 18. (Dharma Niles for WSN)

Three people stood up in protest at an NYU School of Law event Monday, just as White House national climate adviser Ali Zaidi began his keynote speech. 

The protesters asked Zaidi about President Joe Biden’s approval of the Willow project — a controversial oil-drilling initiative in Alaska. After he avoided the question, they began to chant, “Hey Ali, get off it, put people over profit” before being escorted out by Campus Safety officers. 

As they left, Zaidi stepped off the stage without completing his speech. 

“I don’t understand why he didn’t have a response to the Willow project ready,” NYU Law student Adelaide Duckett said. “It kinda represents how out of touch the Biden administration is with what youth are demanding.”

University spokesperson John Beckman was unable to confirm whether the protesters were affiliated with NYU since the event was open to the public. 

This is not the first time Zaidi was disrupted by protests over the Willow project decision. In March, a group of protesters prevented Zaidi from giving a speech about climate leadership in the United States at a Washington, D.C., think tank. 

The event was intended to highlight the intersection of climate change and human rights, with panels and speeches from government officials including Zaidi and California Attorney General Rob Bonta.

Speakers on the panel that followed Zaidi said they thought his ability to respond was limited by the upcoming presidential election, but understood protesters’ frustration. 

“I have a lot of empathy for both sides of the situation,” said Julia Olson, executive director and chief legal counsel with environmental organization Our Children’s Trust. “And it’s OK, we should be really uncomfortable. We should all be uncomfortable because we’re living in an emergency.” 

Zaidi was appointed to the Biden administration as the deputy White House national climate adviser in 2021, becoming the White House national climate adviser in September 2022. During his time in the administration, he has had notable involvement in creating the Inflation Reduction Act and the Justice40 Initiative. Prior to his role as national climate adviser, Zaidi served in the Obama administration for eight years.

The event fell just days after NYU reaffirmed its fossil fuel divestment goals. In an interview with WSN prior to the protest, Zaidi said that the university’s divestment plans show how student activism can lead to concrete action.

“The announcement from the university is yet another proof point of the incredible power that young people have in coming together and pushing for change,” Zaidi said. “There is a real power in the decision from large institutions to differentiate between investments that have a high return for all of the things that we care about, and things that have a low return for all the things we care about.”

Zaidi also recommended that university leaders and advocates focus on reconsidering the wages of those building renewable energy infrastructure, and that they invest in critical minerals, materials that are needed to transition to clean energy technology. 

“The sky’s the limit,” Zaidi said. “But the invest and divest movement has really moved the needle.”

Contact Dharma Niles at [email protected].

Leave a comment
About the Contributor
Dharma Niles
Dharma Niles, Deputy News Editor
Dharma Niles is a first-year student currently studying journalism and politics at CAS, and has yet to choose between the six different minors she'd also like to pursue. You can generally find her playing NYT games, skittering around the city with a Celsius in hand or on Instagram @dharmaniles.

Comments (0)

Comments that are deemed spam or hate speech by the moderators will be deleted.
All Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *