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Seattle push on Gates Foundation to divest from fossil fuels

Former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn explains, to KPLU's Gabe Spitzer, why he and others are urging the Gates Foundation to divest from fossil fuels.

For today’s Humanosphere podcast, we’re talking with Mike McGinn, former mayor of Seattle, an attorney, environmental activist, community organizer and avid bicyclist.  Originally from Long Island, New York, McGinn studied economics as an undergrad and then obtained his law degree here at the University of Washington. He is credited with reinvigorating the state chapter of the Sierra Club and later, as mayor for Seattle from 2010 to 2014, he was notable for, among many things, being somewhat blunt and direct. In a city known for its alleged niceness (some might say passive aggressive smugness), McGinn was either celebrated as a breath of fresh air or a bomb-thrower. Or both.

Gates Foundation new campus For the podcast, we are going to focus on McGinn’s latest goal of in-your-face positive disruption:  Using his celebrity to call critical attention to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s investments in fossil fuels. McGinn is among a number of people such as the author and renowned environmental activist Bill McKibben, the Sierra Club and others  – including The Guardian – calling upon Bill and Melinda to divest from fossil fuels and fight climate change through organizations like and Other philanthropies such as the Rockefellers Brothers Fund and the Wallace Global Fund see the need to divest from fossil fuels as serving their mission. The Gates Foundation (which declined to comment on McGinn’s campaign) prefers to manage its $40-plus billion trust fund by emphasizing return on investment and to pursue its humanitarian mission separately. Former Mayor McGinn contends this is not logical, like “hitting the accelerator and the brake at the same time.”


In our interview with McGinn, the equally in-your-face Humanosphere editor Tom Paulson asked why The Guardian, which gets millions of dollars in support from the Gates Foundation, hasn’t divested itself from the Gates funding – since the money comes in part from fossil fuel investments. Listen in, it’s a fun one!

As always, Tom and I begin the podcast by highlighting stories recently posted in the Humanosphere, including the push by aid groups on the US government to open the door wider to Syrian refugees (beyond the embarrassingly low number we now accept) and two great guest op-eds, one defending the value of the much-maligned anti-poverty scheme known as microfinance and the other bemoaning lack of prioritization in development. Finally, we discuss a story by Tom Murphy about how we talk about poverty and why it matters.

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About Author

Gabe Spitzer

Gabriel Spitzer covers health and science at KPLU, after a year covering youth and education. He joined KPLU after years covering science, health and the environment at WBEZ in Chicago.