From Paris, COP21 Eve: Hold The Line
Today was the official kick off of the COP21 Global United Nations Climate Change Summit. Yesterday, as we gathered to wish the wold a Bon Voyage for the talks, emotions were high for many reasons, starting with the location of the summit, Paris, France. Here in one of the greatest cities in the world, peaceful citizens were struck by calamitous events that took over 130 lives and left a nation in mourning. But in the process of this mourning, it is believed by some, like climate champion Naomi Klein, that our host nation may have gone too far in eroding civil liberties, including the right for peaceful demonstrations.
Due to the terrorist attacks two weeks ago, the French Republic imposed strict rules as part of their State-of-Emergency. Virtually all public protests are prohibited, which vastly altered the plans of some 200,000 climate justice advocates who planned to take part in a march like the People’s Climate March last year in New York City. But we’re activists, and were not about to let a little thing like free speech prohibitions prevent us from being heard.
Thanks to the planning of our friends at Avaaz, 350.org, Friends of the Earth and Climate Action Network, in lieu of the march, thousands of climate advocates took part in a series of dramatic events. First we set out thousands of shoes to represent the marchers who were denied the right to march. Then, after posing for photos with our amazing art project, we formed a human chain from Place de la Republique (right next to a living tribute to the victims) down Boulevard Voltaire. The chain included people from all over the world from Africa, South America, and the South Pacific. They all had one message for world leaders and the entire global community, “We Want Climate Justice, And We Want It Now.” Because we can’t have real action on climate change without addressing injustice?
Addressing injustice of any kind includes a maintenance of civil liberties and the right of peaceful assembly. And while many of the people who took part in the human chain dispersed after that event, there were others who stayed behind to make sure their words were actually heard, and to express their chagrin for the cancellation of the climate march. Unfortunately, this is when the day took a turn for the worst and a clash ensued between law enforcement forces and citizens of the world – and I was caught right in the middle.
On my way back to my apartment I saw the beginnings of the stand off and planned to take a few quick pictures and videos. Little did I know that I would be subject to tear gas, pepper spray and five hours of detention. To this end, I have to say how disappointed I was to see news reports ignored our peaceful, beutifle actions earlier in the day and instead only focussed on falsely depicting activists as “rioters,” “anarchists,” and “troublemakers.” This is not what I observed. I observed amazing acts of courage like young women making peace offerings to law enforcement officials and young activists who understand that climate change is the fight of their lives and refuse to cower to terrorism. It was a beautiful thing to observe, to see an inter-generational human chain formed right in the face of oppression in any form. It was really a metaphor too, that we must all come together and address and curb climate change despite our age, race, national origin, gender, socioeconomic status or otherwise.
Today our world leaders arrived in Paris for the official kick off of COP21. There are many skeptics inside and outside the movement about whether anything can really get accomplished. Leading climate scientists like James Hansen have even remarked, “Watch what happens in Paris carefully to see if all that the leaders do is sign off on the pap that UN bureaucrats are putting together, indulgences and promises to reduce future emissions, and then clap each other on the back and declare success.” This would of course be a repeat of Copenhagen in 2009 and perhaps a death sentence for our climate, planet and ability for our future generations to inhabit a livable earth.
I agree with Mr. Hansen to an extent, but with the caveat that we should also continue to pay attention to the myriad of positive and influential events going on outside of the closed door meetings with so-called influential leaders, business-types and even Big Green representatives who may be more interested in capitulation than justice-activation. Out in the streets and in these side events is where we will see passion in action, the persistence of activism and the people who will neither take “No” for an answer or perfunctory deals that are nothing more than what we’re trying to fight in the first place, more hot air.
Stay tuned for more updates throughout the summit. And click here to support our activism and reporting in the streets.