Climate activists are planning to hold a teach-in protest on a putatively public terrace at Trump Tower on Tuesday.
The demonstration by the group 350 is part of a global week of action seeking to pressure public institutions to divest from fossil fuel companies. It is the fourth demonstration since the election planned for the terraces, built along with the multi-story atrium as part of the city's privately owned public space program, in exchange for the city allowing an additional 10 stories on the 58 story tower.
The terraces are supposed to be open to the public daily during Trump Tower store hours, but as activists and relaxation-seekers have found in months past, building management frequently closes them without explanation, or with alibis that don't stand up to scrutiny, such as the claim that repair work was being done on the fourth-floor terrace when no permits exist for such work.
Betamia Coronel, U.S. reinvestment coordinator for 350, predicted that "hundreds" would turn out for the protest, driven by antipathy to the environment-hostile Trump administration, including former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, now serving as secretary of state, and the climate-science-denying conspiracy theorizing of Trump himself. The protesters will include protest evangelist Reverend Billy and his Stop Shopping Choir, and will call on Comptroller Scott Stringer to pull what 350 says is about $3 billion in fossil fuel investments from the city's $175 billion pension portfolio.
"The fossil fuel industry is literally running the White House and more than ever we need to harness the energy from the People’s Climate March and bring that energy back home and really have our local leaders take the lead," Coronel said. "We won’t expect that change to come on the federal level when the fossil fuel industry is running the government."
Trump is reportedly considering pulling out of the Paris climate accords, and is trying to end the Clean Power Plan, meant to stem emissions from power plants, along with other regulations aimed at slowing climate change.
The Comptroller's Office objected to the notion that Comptroller Scott Stringer has the power to unilaterally divest from a given type of financial product, noting that each of the city's five pension funds is governed by a board of directors, and though he is the custodian of them all and sits on most, his role is advisory, and governed by fiduciary responsibility first and foremost.
"The grandmother in the Bronx collecting her pension, the former sanitation worker in Queens trying to make ends meet, and the retired police officer in Brooklyn who's living on a fixed budget—their economic interests must come before anything else," spokesman Jack Sterne wrote in an email. "Those faces, and those New Yorkers trying to get by, must legally and morally be his priority. He shares the ideals of the activists. But at a time when corporate interests are trying to undermine collective bargaining, we have a moral and financial responsibility to deliver for working people."
That said, Sterne explained, Stringer has spearheaded several efforts to use the pension funds as a vehicle for fighting climate change. Stringer's office touts the comptroller's efforts to push for what's called proxy access, which allows shareholders to seek seats on corporate boards. Stringer has sought proxy access at more than 100 firms and won it at 96, including 38 carbon-intensive companies, according to a February WNYC story. Stringer credits the campaign for Exxon electing former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration climate scientist Susan Avery to its board.
The board of trustees that Stringer helms also recently announced the initiation of a study of how to invest with an eye to reducing carbon impact, and his office is seeking investment managers "capable of providing sustainable or low-carbon investment options."
350 argues that the growth of renewable energy, developments like the Paris climate accords, and the predicted economic impacts of climate change mean that divesting from fossil fuels is in the interest of investors. The group also notes in its materials that ExxonMobil is currently under investigation by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for potential fraud related to public misinformation about climate change, propaganda at odds with its executives' knowledge of the real stakes.
The teach-in is set for noon on Tuesday, May 9th at Trump Tower, 725 Fifth Avenue, between East 57th and East 56th streets. Organizers advise arriving at 11:45 a.m. Among other planned pro-divestment events, there is also a "Climate, Jobs and Justice Accountability Forum" planned for the evening of Tuesday, May 16th at the Ethical Culture Society Concert Hall on Central Park West. 350 has invited Mayor de Blasio, Public Advocate Letitia James, and Stringer. Coronel said Stringer had confirmed his attendance, but his office would not confirm that. For more information on the activist campaign, click here.