If Ernest Hemingway was still alive he might well have said: “If you are lucky enough to have been in Paris for the past two weeks and been part of the movement against climate change, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it will stay with you, for Paris is now a moveable feast.”
For two weeks thousands of climate activists have been in Paris to protest at the stupidity, inaction, destructiveness and wilful disregard for the planet shown by governments and corporations. They have attended workshops, seminars and festivals. Marched, formed human chains, taken direct action against climate criminals and creatively drawn attention to the problems we face. Ideas have been shared, lessons learned and links forged that will bear fruit for many years to come.
Few expect a meaningful agreement from COP21 and fewer still that any such agreement will be implemented. So the campaign will carry on and be all the stronger for the feast of ideas, connections and experience that we have enjoyed here.
So what have been the highlights of the menu?
- The film ‘Demain’, launched last week and now screening in cinemas around France, is a valuable tool for inspiring people to take action to reduce carbon emissions and make their communities better places. The film can be used alongside ‘21 Stories for Transition’, also launched in Paris, to show that we need not wait for our governments to take action.
- Thousands of people have been trained in non-violent direct action. As Vandana Shiva said at numerous meetings: “We have a responsibility to obey the laws of the planet that takes precedent over any laws created to protect the interests of mere governments and corporations.”
- Practical demonstrations of low carbon technologies are on display everywhere – except at the official COP21 Solutions exhibition. The Climate Change Coalition has exhibited ten low carbon solutions at Centre Quatre. Search for POC (Proof of Concept) 21 to see some of the open source technologies available. The Global Village of Alternatives at Montreuil showcased systems of low carbon building, renewable energy and food production and tours of rooftop and community gardens took place around Paris.
- People from countries already suffering the effects of climate change (but who isn’t now?) and from areas devastated by fossil fuel extraction have shared their moving experiences. It’s not easy to forget stories from people who are losing their land, livelihoods and lives. A hundred environmental campaigners have been murdered in the past year because of their opposition to land grabs, oil companies and polluting industries and many of their stories have been heard in Paris.
- Despite all the reasons we have to be despondent and pessimistic, people have been smiling and laughing and enjoying both the feast and the companionship of fellow feasters. Thousands of people will take a message of hope and optimism back to their homes and communities.
I first travelled to Paris by thumb when I was 17. I had little money, not enough to eat and nowhere to sleep but I had a wonderful time here. It was just two years after the protests of May 1968, revolutionary slogans still covered the walls and US citizens avoiding the war in Vietnam were common. I’ve been back more than a dozen times and, although I don’t much like cities, I always enjoy Paris and am reminded of the ‘feast’ I found here. When the protests and events end thousands will take home valuable and inspiring experiences and, for that at least, we should all be thankful.
PS. What Hemingway actually said was: “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” His collection of stories about Paris, true and embellished, published posthumously, is entitled ‘A Moveable Feast’.