I left France heading home to Australia a week ago. It was six weeks to the day since I embarked on the journey from Melbourne to Paris. I had gone with tightly restrained optimism, a determination to contribute what I could and one hundred USBs all loaded with Safe Climate Restoration work. I had a trusted travelling companion – Margi – ahead of me in Paris, too much luggage, and a whole lot of anticipation about living in France for six long weeks.
In the time I was away Margi and I explored Paris in the Autumn becoming familiar with Gare du Nord, Barbés – Rochechouart, St Cloud and the Paris Metro. We travelled into regional France enjoying the friendliness and hospitality everywhere we went. We had experienced the terror attacks, martial law in France, had witnessed the clamp down on climate activists and participated in the creative actions that followed. And we plugged into the two weeks of the COP21 from within the pop-up community – the Place To Be – located centrally in Gare du Nord.
Place To Be was the brainchild of Anne-Sophie Novel bringing 600 creatives, thinkers, artists, and activists from all over the world to be thoroughly immersed in the life, briefings and workshops for the two weeks of the COP21.
By doing so she and her team created an enormous container – a cauldron in which to unleash the alchemy of emergence – in order to cook up a new story about climate change and social change. “Change the System not the Climate” as the placards read.
Between us Margi and I attended six of the seven two-day workshops in the Creative Factory. It was an intensely challenging and satisfying way to participate in the civil society activities around the COP and was immediately fruitful. It really worked.
This was my first time in Paris and with every journey out to somewhere, I stumbled with surprise and glee across famous Paris icons. The sheer lavishness of gold of the Pont du Alexandre 3rd and the Place de la Bastille was astounding.
So too Montmartre and the Sacre Coeur Basilica where we stayed overnight and joined the continuous prayer.
Place de la Republique was where on the 29th November, creativity unlocked by the banning of the Global Peoples March, Avaarz mobilised twenty-thousand pairs of donated shoes assembled to symbolise sympathy with all the climate change protests happening around the world. Melbourne had the largest of all the Global Climate marches with 60,000 concerned and caring people standing up to be counted representing additional thousands who were there in spirit. The final global tally was more than 750,000 people. For every one attending how many more are being represented?
The Marais area explored at night after the sobering ‘Cost of Coal’ Film Festival. The Arctic research yacht, the Tara, moored in the magnificent Seine to raise awareness about the critical role and plight of plankton. Seeing the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais where ‘Earth to Paris’ was held and exhibits displayed. “Earth to Paris” had a host of impressive speakers including John Kerry, Ban Ki Moon, Mark Jacobsen and Emma Ruby Sachs.
The lovely Le Triannon theatre where the ‘Pathways to Paris’ concert was performed introduced by amongst others Tenzin Choegyal and featuring Patti Smith, Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein, Thom Yorke, Vandana Shiva and Flea. It was an inspiring call to action, a call to “Use Your Voice” and a celebration of people power.
The Louvre where the “Fossil Fuels Out of Culture” protest happened spilling oil on the floor of the gallery and walking it around in bare feet. The oil was actually molasses – much easier to clean up and this avoiding heavy charges of damage to heritage listed ‘National Treasure’ property. Then outside the black umbrellas spelt out the message and again the angels showed up.
The Eiffel Tower was active in the lead up and throughout the COP blinking out messages of hope – “Decarbonise”, “1.5 degrees”, “100 percent Clean”, “No Plan B” – and was the site of the Sit-In on ‘D12’ – December 12th.
The Champs Elysees was the location for the ‘Red Line’ civil disobedience protest marking the line drawn by civil society on climate change damage and injustice, the circular road around the Arch de Triumph that was painted with yellow paint – chalk – by Greenpeace to represent the Sun.
The Trocadero where the Oath of Paris was sworn – the same location where the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948. So great to be in those awesome places doing those amazing things.
With Margi’s organisational skills we also set out to explore the sharing economy – Couch surfing with Florent and family (where we were when the terror attacks occurred), Bla Bla Car, ‘Auberge de Jeuness’ (Youth Hostels), ‘Friends’ Backpackers, AirBNB, The Place To Be pop-up community, The Creative Factory workshops and a restaurant called Le Grouin that had its own local currency.
As well there were many meals shared with friends, parties, entertainment
and a 10-bed dormitory that became a little micro community for two weeks. Room 105 was home to a lovely young English artist; an earnest young journalist from India; an activist from the States; and a group from the Rural Women’s Assembly of southern Africa – all rural famers from Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawe, Mozambique, Swaziland, Namibia and Botswana. We had a lot of fun.
Then there were the Art exhibitions – The gala opening at the Gallerie Au Medicis of Barbara Albasio’s “Sensi” –the work of Jean Dometti– with the unexpected and amazing didgeridoo experience; the photo exhibition of Stephen Sarvarese’s exquisite portraits of 200 people of Kiribas;
And, since I was there anyway after attending the anti oil sponsorship action, I spent some time enjoying the work of some of the grand masters in the Louvre (Breughel, Van Dyck, Rembrandt, Monet, Cezanne, Rubens, Pissaro, Degas, Renoir and so many others – and Napoleon’s apartments – Oh mon dieu – magnifique).
There were Film Festivals and movies – The Cost of Coal showed us the bigger picture of terrible costs in Russia, Columbia, South Africa, Australia, Philippines, India and Egypt; Merchants of Doubt made clear the motivations behind the misinformation campaigns; and the beautifully filmed ‘Les Saisons’ by famous French film director Jacques Perrin made it impossible not to feel the age-old connection with nature.
And the exciting and creatively edgy “Alternatiba Festival”
“If Not Us Then Who” brought indigenous speakers and young people from Africa, The Phillipines and Indonesia. Some of these presentations were sad and frightening.
Yator Kiptim from the Sengwer Forest Indigenous Peoples of Kenya has since sent me his disturbing story of the displacement programme waged against his people in the name of carbon offsets – another variation on climate injustice that needs our attention. Violence against innocent people, home burnings and environmental destruction to make people move is happening. Sea levels are rising. Climate change exacerbated floods and monsterous typhoons are all part of what has to be fixed.
There was a host of speakers at Place To Be including James Hanson and many others. I hung out a lot with George Marshall and Jamie from COIN who were both staying at Place To Be and lunched with Marta from the Donella Meadows Institute.
Margi got to attend the Leap Manifesto’s workshop of two hundred people that was championed by Naomi Klein. She also made it to the civil society’s ‘Generations area’ adjacent to Le Bourget where all the government delegations and wranglings were going on which was by all accounts predictable if not interesting. I never made it there – too much else to do.
Getting a chance invitation to attend the Heads of Island States reception at the Musee Quai Branley almost right under the Eiffel Tour and meeting the President of Kiribas was pretty incredible. Bumping into Natalie Isaacs – One Million Women, Stephen Bygrave – Beyond Zero Emissions and Claire Greensfelder – Women’s Global Call for Climate Justice was great. Meeting Dr Greg Stone – Conservation International – and later dining with the Ambassador of Kiribati and founder of Pacific Rising, Mrs Makurita Baaro, and half a dozen others was an utter blast.
Being interviewed by Eric Guilyardi, having lunch with Marta Ceroni from Donella Meadows Institute, making friends with Jerome Veil the bee keeper from Montreuille and a strong connection with the impressive Rama Mani of the Theatre of Transformation were all great experiences. Hanging out in Belushi’s Bar in the Place to Be and casually meeting the Past President of the Sierra Club; making new friends from France, Africa, England, Canada, the US, the Solomons, Alaska, Kiribas, Germany, Italy, Peru and New Zealand and reconnecting with old friends from Scotland, Lancaster and Portland – it was all wonderful. And Australia was well represented with many accomplished workers in the field making excellent and important contributions into the COP, through the side events and all around Paris perhaps none more visible than the outstandingly successful Climate Guardians. Those angels just didn’t miss a beat. The impact of their message was undeniable. For those who want to ignore climate justice – it will not go unnoticed and they do so at their peril. Polluters must pay.
Getting out of Paris after the terror attacks, what started as a two day trip away to Tours and Chinon in the Loire Valley became ten when we continued on through Saumur, Rennes, Mont St Michel, all the way to picturesque Cancal.
We stayed in a chateau, picnicked in a castle made famous by Elinore of Aquitane and Joan of Arc, visited an Eco-Museum preserving heritage breeds, an annual folk music and dance festival of Brittany and finally arrived at the little seaside town of Cancal. We ate two dozen oysters from the famous waterfront oyster sellers and stayed in a gorgeous room overlooking the bay at La Mère Champlain.
Six very full weeks is still inadequate to satisfy the curiosity and the craving to explore this wonderful country. The trials of our travels were constantly eased with so many random acts of kindness and offers dispensed with concern, love, respect and generosity, we were delighted. People to see, places to go will have to wait til the ‘maybe’ next time.
Holing up in Chattellerault with a log fire and a few friends in a beautifully renovated 17th century mill house before coming home has provided a perfect breather after the intoxication of the COP21 or, more accurately, of all the civil society side events that now fill us with hope. I’m home now with lots of leads to follow up and a sparkling new network and sense of global belonging to enjoy.
As we feel a change and go up a gear I find I myself grateful for all the dedicated work over the many decades, and over recent years, and the months and weeks leading to this moment in time. The luminaries, scientists, authors, poets, academics, artists, children and grown-ups, the people of spirit and the extraordinary array of amazing activists world-wide; the ENGOs, and those savvy businesses, those far-sighted bureaucrats and the uncorrupted politicians that saw the writing on the wall a long time ago; the citizens and civil society and the faiths stepping up; all the generations making their contribution and the waves of new people – younger and older – engaging more and more right now. “To change everything, we need everyone”.
I’ve brought home old ideas soundly reinforced – like the active egalitarianism of the co-operative model – and new ideas and creative approaches – ways of bringing artists and thinkers together – to foster the magic of emergence. Creativity to expose the pantheon of economic deities – Personal Success, Free Market and the big daddy of them all, Economic Growth and explode these zombie myths. As well as Sit-Ins let’s have Play-Ins. As well as the serious stuff, let’s have lots more engaging stuff. And let’s shine a stronger spotlight on the better world we are co-creating, check out Solar Punk.
Let’s accelerate the transition and turn off the lights on the fossilised age that we are leaving behind and disempower it into oblivion.
May we soon talk about the anxiety, anger and dark stupidity of the tense past – in the past tense.
There is obviously so much still to do though. The commitments of the nations as they stand still take us to over and beyond 3.5ºC. To get implementation on the 1.5ºC will take enormous pressure, vigilance and resolve from civil society on the commercial lustful urge to capitalise at all costs. But I have returned home in the knowledge that a stronger global movement has been forged and it is growing apace.
To use sailing analogies, the faint breezes of hope have strengthened, and for the first time in so long the winds of optimism have filled our sails. Our course has been corrected in the right direction and with close monitoring and further corrections can steer us to where we want to go. A ‘safe climate’ for all people, all species and all generations is still over the horizon and off the charts but the way to get there is now open. The ripple effect of what’s happened in Paris is apparent around the world. The response from the around the world reflects the growing awareness. The people are awakening to the danger and stepping up to demand change.
On the last day in the Creative Factory at the Place To Be we were led in a meditation and asked to then write in a continuous flow whatever came to mind from that experience, what we saw, what we felt. This is what I wrote:
I closed my eyes and I saw my heart. It was filling the space within me and I knew that it could grow and grow and never be too much. I felt connected through my body, through the chair and my feet, through the floor to the earth and beyond to the cosmos. I felt connected to my community everywhere. I thought about why I decided to come to Paris for the COP. It felt right and necessary. I felt strongly that this COP was the one. I felt coming to the Place To Be was perfect for me and would help me in my goal to make a difference.