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Student protesters organized on Facebook to interrupt Biden’s CNN Town Hall

Protesters chanted “2050 is too late, climate chaos is our fate,” at Biden’s event on campus Monday night. Photo by Abraham Teuber.
Protesters attempted to interrupt Biden’s event on Monday night in Roberts Theater. Photo and all videos by Abraham Teuber.

Climate activists at Grinnell College disrupted the former Vice President during a segment on climate change policy during Monday’s CNN Town Hall. As Mr. Biden spoke, chants of “2050 is too late, climate chaos is our fate” rang out from the audience after a question on climate from Amelia Zoernig `21.

The interruption lasted only a few seconds. CNN anchor Erin Burnett told the protesters, “We appreciate your passion, but please respect the Vice President and our town hall.” Biden watched as the activists were escorted away.

The chants were spread on several Facebook groups, including Grinnell Thumbs Down and Grinnell Current Students, just hours before the event began.


Climate change dominated the event even after the cameras stopped rolling, overshadowing CNN’s focus on foreign policy and veterans’ issues. While shaking hands, taking selfies, and answering informal questions from the audience after the event, Biden was challenged directly by Keir Hichens `22, who billed the former Vice President’s plan as a “compromise.”

“It’s not compromise! It’s science,” Biden said, pointing at Hichens. “It’s science. Find me the scientist who tells you [that] you can get to zero net carbon by 2030 without taking the entire structure of the economy down completely. Find me that. Tell me one single person you know who can tell you [that] you can have aircraft flying that in fact, is carbon neutral. Tell me how to do that!”

Hichens replied, “Mr. Vice President, if we go along with your plan, and we don’t address it by 2030, it doesn’t matter how much it affects the economy because there will be no economy.” He was met with cheers from onlookers.

Mr. Biden is known for a climate policy that sets a 2050 target for net-zero carbon emissions, a more flexible target than the Green New Deal supported by his rivals in the Democratic Presidential Primary, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

Proponents of the plan say incremental change may be more achievable than the measures championed by candidates to Biden’s left, but many, like the Grinnell activists, view climate change as an impending threat that can’t afford to wait.


Grinnell students’ actions at the Town Hall reflect a greater uptick in climate activism on campus. The Sunrise Movement has a chapter at the College, and earlier this week the radical activist collective Extinction Rebellion began organizing on campus as well.

CNN arranged a “free speech zone” in an unlit patch of snow near Bucksbaum Arts Center, where the event was held. It was intended as a place for community members to exercise their first-amendment rights, but it went unused for the entirety of the night.

Instead, the debates happened inside the Town Hall, face-to-face with the former Vice President himself.

Other signs of criticism dotted the campus: An outdoor chalkboard near the Humanities and Social Sciences Center was decorated to read “Bye-den can’t save us” just before the broadcast went live on CNN to viewers around the country and the world.

Update (12/11/19): An earlier version of this story stated that the climate protests were organized on the Grinnell Thumbs Down Facebook page. This is false; the chant was disseminated throughout several Facebook groups after being organized by a group of student activists elsewhere. The story has been updated to reflect this information.

Abraham Teuber contributed reporting. Find Abraham’s real-time coverage of the CNN Town Hall on Twitter here.

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