29 Nov 2015
Rob reports from COP21 in Paris: Day Two
Paris authorities banned the planned Peoples’ Climate March that was supposed to take place in Paris today on security grounds although, as Naomi Klein pointed out, football matches were allowed to proceed on the grounds that “life must go on”. “Indeed it must”, she replied, “that’s why I joined the climate movement”. It was odd travelling around Paris where almost every Metro station featured huge posters for the Climate March that nobody was allowed to go to (see right).
Instead, two substitute events were organised, one at La Republique, where thousands of pairs of shoes were laid out on the ground to symbolise the feet that should have marched there (including a pair sent by the Pope), and the ‘Human Chain’. The Human Chain wasn’t, as many human chains are, a chain around something, rather it was just a kind of long meandering chain made up of, it was estimated, around 10,000 people. It was a magical moment, which in spite of the Paris police’s ban on “outdoor activities”, showed the creativity, positivity and comradeship that coming together can generate.
I only walked part of the Chain, but it was a fantastic sight, banners, songs, big jigsaw pieces, samba bands. The day was very windy, but alarmingly mild given that it is nearly December, and Indian Summer that has, by now, really overstayed its welcome.
I joined in with the Transition Bloc, a coming together of Transitioners, something that also took place in London and in some of the other many towns and cities around the world where demonstrations took place. I felt immensely proud to be connected to the millions of people marching all over the world, people who value the world around them, its future, its right to flourish. What motivated me to come to Paris for this week was that this felt like a moment in history and I wanted to be there, to breathe its air, to see it and to commit it to my memory to tell my grandchildren about. Standing in the Chain, seeing, via Twitter, the scale of what was happening around the world, definitely felt like one of those moments. Here is a short video I made of them, with the title pages of each of our 21 Stories of Transition as the banner!
I was intrigued, given the State of Emergency and the trouble there had been even getting permission to hold the Chain, that there were no police to be seen. Asking other demonstrators, the French ones, I was told that many of the police were at Republique, and also that there were undoubtedly lots of police along the Chain, but not in uniform. An interesting approach I hadn’t seen in other places.
The Chain lasted about an hour before it dispersed. We headed off in a different direction, but later heard that in La Republique there had been the predictable and really rather pointless clashes with the police which resulted in 200 arrests and tear gas being sprayed. For the more radical, anti-authoritarian elements of the climate movement, the rest of us apparently, those of us who don’t feel there is a great deal to be achieved by a face full of tear gas and a night in police cells, are known as “Teddy Bears”, as in fluffy and a bit soft. An assessment I have to say I don’t share, and which is just as patronising as the kind of guff in Leigh Phillips’ book which I recently reviewed here.
Today and tomorrow in Paris, public transport is free, part of the Paris authorities’ efforts to get behind COP21. Made me think, as we headed through the city on a free Metro system, that if it were free all the time, surely the savings in terms of reduced air pollution and the health impacts of poor air quality, the reduction in road repairs and the increase in quality of life, would make it a good investment? In many of the Metro stations, signs pointing to the venue for COP21 were emblazoned on the ground:
As we walked we passed Comptoir Voltaire, one of the cafes that was a target for the attacks of 13/11, with its doorway a shrine of flowers and candles. We stopped to pay our respects, and to pass a little time reflecting on the brutality of lives lost in this way, both in Paris and elsewhere, and how the impacts of that night are still being digested by the people of the city, as they try to make sense of it and allow themselves the space for the very real ripples of grief and confusion that follow such an event.
We headed to the Cité de la Mode et du Design, as part of the Transition ‘Mycelium Tour’, a grassroots-organised tour of interesting projects happening in and around Paris. En route we passed what promises to be one of the most obnoxious, carbuncular (is that a word?) building in the city of Paris (and it has some stiff competition), a worthy candidate for James Howard Kunstler’s ‘Eyesore of the Month‘ feature. Check it out. Looks like the remnants of playing Jenga while on acid.
On the roof of the Cité de la Mode et du Design, a kind of exhibition of fashion and design in what must have formerly been a pretty grim concrete building recently funked up with some mad green stuff on the front, was the ‘Living Roof’. This is an urban agriculture project on top of what, in the summer, can be a very popular tourist attraction. Featuring raised beds planted with different guilds of perennial plants, ‘edible walls’, a small hydroponics set-up and chickens (suitably chic fluffy ones, given the fashion focus of the place). We had a tour of the place, an overview of what was happening there. Here is a short taste of the place from some bits of video I shot there:
From here, we headed to Place to B, which describes itself as offering to “international civil and media society a general headquarters and a “soundbox” in the heart of Paris”. It’s a kind of bar cum media centre cum venue space cum lots of people on their laptops. Transition Network will be using it as a base over the next week, so we popped by to get our passes and check it out. It’s going to be a good home, and we met some old friends there too. I will be speaking as part of an event at Place to B tomorrow night from 6pm. Details here, in case you fancy coming.
There then followed a very pleasant and sociable evening. Tomorrow is going to be interesting. I get into the first day of the climate talks proper, at La Bourget. Into the heart of where the decisions get made. Should be a fascinating day. I might even let you know how it goes…