CoP 21 - An on the ground report

30th November 2015
Press Release

An Taisce has a few members attending CoP at various times over the next two weeks. We hope to bring you a frequent series of background reports on what is (or is not) happening on the ground.

Our first is from Paul Price, a member of An Taisce's Climate Change Committee

** Sunday November 30, 2015**

I registered for accreditation at Le Bourget CoP registration this morning. There was Airport level security there, which is going to be a pain going out to the public area on any regular basis. I’m not planning to be at CoP proper until Tuesday when the leaders have had their say and gone home (happy if anyone can let me know if this is the wrong call).

Hearing about peaceful protesters circulating the Place de la République we walked to go and see. By the time we got there at about 14:00 though, approaching from the west, there was already a heavy CRS presence. Nonetheless we and other pedestrians were allowed into the square on the edge of the police cordon. On our side a large group of entertainingly clown-dressed protesters were peacefully but animatedly going up to and back from the police who stood and watched calmly enough.

On the east side of the Place though, some tear gas was being sent into the crowd but we were too far away to see what had precipitated that. We watched from just inside the square and then on the south side where most of the crowd was gathered (at least a thousand at a guess) some objects were clearly thrown from the crowd toward the police on the south-side, and then a lot of tear gas went into the crowd – at which point there was tension brittle in the air and thin drifts of choking tear gas came our way (not pleasant, I got almost nothing and was coughing for 30 minutes). The cordon behind us had closed but, a bit concerned the crowd might surge our way and sandwich us, we managed to head back out through the gap in the police line back in the corner of the square we’d first entered through.

It was impossible from our distance to tell who in the crowd threw things at the police to the south (though it seemed to be a small number of objects, half a dozen at most visible in the air above the crowd. Similarly it was impossible to say whether the response was justified. Clearly it is a hypersensitive time here. After the attacks all around Paris the level of security is fairly high though certainly not everywhere visible. We can say that the huge majority of the crowd we saw seemed peaceful, though they were clearly knowingly in harm’s way even if feeling they needed to be there.

We managed (dammit, oh well!) to miss the silent shoe protest: such a great idea and a fitting statement in so many ways.

In a café we mentioned the protest. The waiter said, “all these people flying in, saying they will fix the climate but flying and just sending out more emissions”. But the waiter’s response is so common (at home too and all over Twitter) from a great many people who think they can cover for their own inaction by pointing to a negative in those willing to engage at this critical time, even if they need to fly here. It’s just denial though. If we had heard our waiter say he was going to catch the RER out to Le Bourget then he might have had a point to make; but no he wasn’t doing that.

“Yes” we said to him “but we have come by ferry and train” – the smugness! However, I’d say that by spending more money than flying here there is a good case for saying our decision to come has cost every bit as much as flying here. Even though our apparent emissions for the trip might seem lower than flying, the money we spent getting here is mostly underwritten by fossil carbon energy so were we really saving the planet by travelling in a supposedly ‘low carbon’, ‘climate efficient’ way? Or is this just another way of deluding ourselves about the hoped-for beneficial effects of our decisions. Yes, I think so. And yet if we had not come here we would have spent that same money in many other ways that would also ultimately cause emissions, simply because that is the system we live in.

So what else can any of us do except act within the present system and still raise our voices now to secure a safer future? Unless we can agree globally and definitively to keep a very large amount of already discovered fossil fuel in the ground then it seems very likely that such delusions about ‘efficiency’ and about the real basis of our wealth and the ever-increasing level of change actually needed, will just continue to fuel more climate change. Not understanding the depth of the problem is making our waking up to dealing with it very difficult indeed. Like those caught up in the Place de la République and those marching in cities in Ireland and around the world all we can do – even if it means burning more carbon to get here – is add our voices and our actions right now to push for the ever stronger action so urgently needed to get onto a far safer path.

For further information, please call:
Charles Stanley-Smith, Communications, An Taisce Tel: +353 87 241 1995
An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland