The newspapers today are talking about violent protests in Paris, with about a hundred people arrested. That’s the stuff that gets lots of clicks on news sites, but for those of us on the streets of Paris yesterday, there was a very different experience.
Thousands of Parisians and visiting activists found ways to send their message to the world, and urge leaders at the COP21 talks to arrive at a meaningful solutions, without falling foul of the state of emergency imposed by the French government.
Avaaz, a worldwide campaigning community, organized a donation of thousands of shoes, weighing in at 8 tons, and placed at Place de la Republique, to represent the 400,000 pairs of feet that were originally expected to march through Paris.
Stretching from Republique, common citizens joined hands from block to block, to peacefully express their desires for a saner future for our world. Here are some clips I took of the peaceful and engaged voices of Paris as COP21 is about to begin.
Yes, that tear gas was real. After most climate activists had left République, it seems that some anarchists fought with police. But these were not, as described in newspaper reports “climate activists.” Whoever happened to be there at the time – including one of our Citizens’ Voice team – found themselves caught up in an area that had been cordoned off. Police then started moving into the crowd and randomly arresting people.
The real story? The mass movement of protests around the world, breaking records in many countries for the largest ever climate demonstrations, calling for action by our leaders. And donated shoes and peaceful citizens holding hands in Paris, calling out for climate justice.
The world is reeling from the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris. Other massacres, in Beirut and Mali, deepen the suffering still further. Republican Presidential candidates vie for the most fervid expressions of hate and prejudice they can muster. Turkey shoots down a Russian fighter plane, portending even greater geopolitical instability.
The currents of global forces swirl around, threatening to derail the twenty-first annual meeting of world leaders to address climate change, known as COP21. Yet, as many have pointed out, COP21 offers the world the best chance for world peace. It’s widely accepted that our over-reliance on fossil fuels is a major factor underlying the horrors of recent days. It’s not just that the West’s addiction to Middle East oil has driven foreign policy strategy for decades. There’s also the direct effect climate change has already had, such as the worst drought in Syria’s history that contributed to 1.5 million desperate refugees and fragmentation of that country’s infrastructure.
The effects of climate change will only get worse. Much worse. By the end of this century, some parts of the Middle East are forecast to be too hot for human habitation. Climate refugees, fleeing flooded coastal cities and drought-stricken interiors, will likely overwhelm the resilience of many national infrastructures, creating multiple versions of Syria’s current tragedy.
That’s why COP21 – along with the engagement of millions of citizens across the globe – is now even more important than ever. The wealthier nations of the world have a moral obligation to change the course of humanity’s future. But we already know that whatever “agreement” arises from the official negotiations of COP21 won’t be enough. Unchecked, our carbon emissions are putting us on the path to a temperature rise of 4.5º Celsius by the end of the century. The nations of the world have agreed to a “soft” target of 2º C rise, which in itself locks in massive disruptions, global instability and suffering for untold millions. But even if you add up all the intended reductions agreed to in advance of COP21, this would barely move us to a 3.5º C rise. Nowhere near enough.
Which is where citizen action comes into play. National governments are subject to a variety of forces that cause them to make decisions that are not in the best interests of the people. It is only when decision-makers see that the common people represent the biggest force of all that our leaders will be pressured to set humanity on a path to hope.
The French government has decided to ban two demonstrations planned for before and after the formal COP21 proceedings, in which hundreds of thousands of citizens would have taken to the streets. That, however, is not going to stop the citizen activists converging in Paris from raising public awareness of what is at stake. Many important civil society events – showcasing the challenges and hopes of our generation – are continuing on as planned.
Along with those thousands, I’m planning to be there too, and will be documenting the voices of global citizens engaged in their individual and collective struggles for a just and livable earth. I’ll be part of a team, Citizens’ Voice, that will be streaming live video from all around the city during this time.
And I’ll be posting regular updates to this blog, sharing with you the energy and ideas flowing through the city. We all know that COP21 is not the conclusion of anything. It’s an important milestone on the way to our future – and along with many thousands of other engaged citizens, I’ll be doing my bit to try to make it a milestone on the road to a better future for humanity.