My experience of COP21 and PlaceToB, told one month later
There are contracted space-times, where a lot happens at both a very short and a very long time… in these moments, we must, if possible, take the time to tell after the facts, for oneself and for others… This article is very long, but I think you learn things by reading it, as I did during those two weeks.
And if you do not have time to read: Yes, together we can find real solutions and a real momentum, even against climate change.
Table of Contents
- Arrival in Paris, PlaceToB Opening
- The march for climate, converted into an human chain, November 29th
- The Creative Factory
- A break on Sunday between the two weeks, the Village of Alternatives
- Peoples I met
- Questioning myself
- What I missed
- “The Paris Agreement”
- Are there any solutions?
- And what’s next ?
Arrival in Paris, PlaceToB Opening
Out of the night train, a little chilled in the morning, I arrives in Paris on November 28, me who see the mountains all year long…
I don’t know it yet, but in two weeks I will glance at the sun through the clouds only twice, perhaps fifteen minutes in total… How each Parisians do not become environmental activists living in this city ?
The COP21 will start with one day ahead tomorrow, but for now so I plunges back into the polluted air and the gray Paris. To Gare du Nord (North Station) and the St Christopher’s Inn, the hostel/hotel we will occupy to over 400 peoples for two weeks, which was privatized by the association specially for the event.
The first day is the occasion to meet peoples (Thank you Flora and Aurore for your welcoming reception!), hesitating. All the team and the volunteers bustle to prepare everything for the official opening this evening, the Welcome Party, where French Minister for Ecology, Ségolène Royale, has just decided to make an appearance.
Shyly, I help a little for the PlacetoB’s website, I begin to draw on my tablet… We speak about the attacks of November 13th, two weeks before, a dozens of streets from here. Some would have given up coming for that reason, some members of the team knew victims… But PlacetoB and the COP actually happens: there is simply a security guard at the entrance and a list of accreditations.
In the evening, there is first a little solenelle atmosphere because a minister give us importance while a trapeze artist shows her talent suspended above the bar, then festive with the first concert of the Listen Ensemble and DJ Murcof.
The march for climate, converted into an human chain, November 29th
Things are getting serious it the second day, Sunday 29, which should have been the day of the Global March for Climate, an event which should have bring together hundreds of thousands of people in Paris and around the world. But it was banned in France because security concerns and “state of emergency”.
Hesitating to defy the ban, a small group of around thirty (including myself) leaves PlaceToB to participate in the human chain which was organized instead.
photo : Adriana Karpinska
From the Place de la République to Nation, we hold hands while Alternatiba‘s militants make round trips by bicycle to distribute us. We pick the banners made up by Le jardin d’Alice (The Alice’s Garden).
It was also at this moment I pass by the Bataclan, without having it planned: it’s on the chain path. The sign next to the coffee still announces the Eagles of Death Metal, who played during the massacre evening. Strange overlap of the climate and the terrorism…
First meetings, first strong links created with those who came: Flora Clodic, Giselle Wilkinson, Charlotte Du Cann, Karl Walker, Floriane Vallière, Adriana Karpinska (Slovak living in Brussels) who makes photos, Valentine Pignon… Even if in the crowd little by little our group of around thirty falls to pieces in small groups of five or six… The atmosphere is friendly, everyone smiles.
Video : 350.org
We had an appointment at 11:30, time to settle and distribute the event actually lasts about half an hour from 12:15 to 12:45. Spontaneously, many people then go to Place de la République (Republic Square) to try to see the shoes, an other alternative demonstration that took place in the morning. The idea is to let his shoes instead of marching.
To enter the square, we cross a roadblock of riot police which turns the back to us, and which surrounds it. We don’t really understand the reason of such an impressive presence.
On this square where we feel the weight of history, specially in this year of 2015, and which I discover, shoes have already almost disappeared. There are a lot of peoples, but we are not tripping over each other…
A small group of a hundred people, which grows gradually, begins to manifest by turning in circles around the square. They chant “Si on ne marche pas, ça ne marchera pas !”, which means “If we don’t walk, it won’t work!” (the french verb “marcher” can mean walk or work depending on the context). They are peaceful, but do not want to bury the climate problem with an attack. There is a little of electricity in the air, as in any demonstration.
Having finished our chain, without having found a lot of shoes, we leave the Place de la République by subway. Only by reaching PlaceToB half an hour later we learn that there have been incidents with riot police and arrests.
During that time in PlaceToB, the Creative Factory settles, prepares itself for six two-day workshops. I volunteered to help during the two weeks, which also allows me to participate a little in all workshops…
On the evening takes place the first “Place To Brief”, the video emission broadcasted live on the Web which will take place every evening for two weeks.
The opportunity to review what happen in the Bourget negotiations, and to discuss a theme a day with known and/or recognized guests.
Here we go, we will tell another story about climate! More positive, more alive, and specially trying to not let everybody indifferent…!
The Creative Factory
As of Sunday and the following days, I met the talented Chris Aldhous, David Holyoake and Ophélia Noor, who will lead the workshops, and Tiphaine Bonnier who is there to assist (more information here on their background).
And all workshop participants, each one more amazing than each other, from all countries, from all cultures: artists, experts, activists, curious, citizens…
The presentation video by Chris:
The over-arching topic of all workshops is Life Renewed: Imagineering a meaningful society.
Here are 10 principles to guide us in everything we create at the Factory:
- Be different from what has gone before.
- **Provide a positive framing & optimistic vision for what the future can be. **
- Go beyond rational arguments to engage people’s emotions.
- Build a sense of community & collective action.
- Understand the routines of people’s everyday lives and motivations.
- Deliver meaningful movement forward.
- Not be afraid to stare down / confront tough changes.
- Maintain a strong moral imperative.
- Offer a simple, practical guide to actions required.
- Be capable of catching on, and have potential to be replicated widely
for maximum impact.
#1 “Dismantling the Buying imperative”
The first workshop begins on Monday. Despite the fact that I document myself for over a year and a half on climate change for my comic project, I quickly feel to know nothing.
One of the first things David shows us is the moving final of the movie Koyaanisqatsi:
What blows up midair ? Is it our civilization ?
At each workshop, about twenty participants will constitute three teams.
The first exercise David ask us to do is to list what does not work in advocacy campaigns about ecology and climate. Let’s exit images of the polar bear and the blue planet! Although sometimes it’s hard to get out of pessimism or clichés…
Soon enough, on this topic of consumption, a discussion with Chris inspires me this drawing:
Yes, consumption is climate change: in the North we consume more that what is sustainable. Literally, we eat the branch on which we sit.
At the end of two days of workshops, I draw a poster for one of the teams (including Tom Old), again from a sketch by Chris:
The idea is to establish a brand, PlanetMum, which offers a guide for young parents: since their life is turned upside, and they are already making great changes in their lives, we should help them make sustainable choices.
Despite our efforts, it’s difficult to escape the Blue Planet cliché 😉
But this is only one of the ideas that came out of these first two days, another team had conceived a mobile application game explaining to children the origin of products of everyday life.
One expert who impressed me during this session is Vincent Liegey, which campaigns for degrowth.
I bought and then read (once retruned) one of his books (a collective work): A Degrowth Project.
Very interesting to decolonize our mind of the economy and GDP dogma! Finally serious political ideas 😉
#2 “The Balm of Nature”
The second workshop is about our ambiguous relationship with nature.
Another team invent a card game called “Wild”,
consisting of sharing memories of our lives in nature by combining action and a natural element (eg “Camping” and “Snow”).
I meet Scott Shigeoka at that time by helping him to layout the cards, and it’s a meet that will mark me! Scott is incredibly lively and dynamic, lives in San Francisco, and works in OpenIDEO, an online community working together to design solutions for the world’s biggest challenges, like climate change.
But again, these are just two ideas among others…
It was during this second session that Kjell Kühne (German and living in Mexico) presents his work in the movement “Leave it in the Ground”
But what ? Petroleum of course.
Because there is a direct link between fossil fuels exploitation, increased CO2 emissions and disastrous climatic consequences that follow. He summarizes that in a difficult to read at first sight poster, but very well done:
This poster shows well, among other things, thresholds from which climate change will strengthen itself (we call that Runaway Climate Change) because natural disasters will release more CO2, in a chain reaction.
And unfortunately, the work of over 20,000 scientists in 30 years (the IPCC)
proves him right (with over 95% certainty for the skeptics and the scientifically cautious).
Yes, let the oil in the ground, so stop using it, is urgent if we want to avoid these disasters.
#3 Invoking the spirit of change
The third theme is spirituality and religion, which have captured quite recently the topic of climate change. All religions possess in one form or another the idea of a “Mother Nature” to protect, even if in the religions of the book it should be also “dominated”.
A team questions the legitimacy of the heads of states as climate negotiators: would not spiritual leaders have their role to play (the Pope, the Dalai Lama…)? They imagine an international conference called “Confluence” and asks me to finalize their logo:
But it is specially the story of Nigel Francis Kelaepa and Joseph Keith that will mark me: Nigel comes from Solomon Islands, and more precisely from one of the Pacific atolls which is gradually disappearing under the waters of the ocean, which rises gradually. The highest point of the island is 3 meters above the sea and the IPCC predicts a rise of the oceans with an average minimum of 70cm by the end of the century, if the Greenland ice cap does not melt. Joseph is an Australian priest who helps him in his fight, and he lives part of the year on this atoll.
The cemetery where are buried Nigel’s grandparents is underwater, houses sink into the ocean, crops are depleted because salt water seeps into the soil from below… And Nigel as leader of his community is working to emigrate at least 50% of the population of the atoll in the next 5 years. With his land, he is also loosing arts and culture linked to it. He doesn’t come to Paris to complain or accuse, he comes to seek solutions.
It’s one thing to know that there are already victims of these disasters, it’s another thing to meet someone who is experiencing them.
A break on Sunday between the two weeks, the Village of Alternatives
On Sunday 6, no Factory, it’s the day for a well deserved break: with a few peoples, we took the opportunity to go out for some fresh air in the Village of alternatives in Montreuil, and attend a piece of concert by HK et Les Saltimbanks.
Video : Alternatiba
#4 Empathy In action
Back to the Factory: the fourth theme was empathy, and North-South relations in general, at the beginning of the second week.
All French on site were angry or depress after the high score of the Front National (extreme right racist party) in the first round of French regional elections.
So this topic was very timely, and from an idea by Eloi Saint Bris, we laughed a lot (with Eve Demange, Julie Villain, Loan Diep et Annekathrin Otto) inventing a provocative awareness campaign for the northern countries who fear the refugees (which you have understood are going to be more and more in the coming decades due to soil aridity and rising sea levels)…
I wish I could see posters featuring this slogan in the streets of Paris, Marseille, Lyon, Montpellier, Nice…!
Another team had another very interesting idea: starting from the Nigel’s story and the fact that it is the individual stories that moves us, and not the scientific knowledge, they conceived to create an online and offline gaming platform whose purpose is to unlock these stories on climate.
Sharing individual stories affects us more than rational speech because our decisions are often based more on emotion than on reason
One of their slogans?
You can’t predict the future, but you can make it happen.
Once again, this session summary in video.
#5 A Chrildren’s World
In the middle of the second week, we started to feel fatigue. After the previous session, which was extraordinary, this one on the theme of childhood was difficult collectively, we had trouble keeping the intense concentration required that we were supporting for more than 10 days.
Additionally because of the attacks and ensuing security policy, the school class that was planed to come to meet us has been forbidden to do so, and we would have needed the energy and presence of children …
But David asked me to do a two voices reading (him in English, me in French) of my little comic on frogs to open the session, and it was a real pleasure!
Participants appreciated, and from that moment that I was less shy to talk about what I do.
Again, Kjell intervened as an expert with Paulina, to speak about their Climate Strike initiative, carried by school and university students…
Their message is really simple: It’s our generation which is going to be the most affected, it belongs to us to act. Do it yourself, now ! How ? Start by planting a tree, it will always be some absorbed CO2!
One team asked me to help create a card game for everyone, not just children, which consisted of a social game card where we wrote “Name and contact:”, “I give:”, “I want:”, “Together we want:” and exchange it. The cards have a theme element (Air: Pollution, Earth: Forest, Water: Ice, Fire: Industry).
This game is called “butterfly effect”: this is by sharing at small scale one does gradually snowball on his commitments.
For her part, one of the participants I got along well, Anne (Annekathrin Otto), imagined local communities called “Nowtopia”.
You can see her in the summary of the fifth session on video, but it’s not fully set up (duration half an hour, sorry! You can see my exhausted face in the background during the second presentation ;p)
#6 Life Renewed Re-visited
I had trouble following the last session, which was a summary of all the others, because I was helping the team to clean everything and print the latest posters. The factory had to pack up for the evening whereas we were still in the process of a workshop.
I could do a second two voices reading with David of my frogs comic, also very well received. And draw an imaginary sustainable tree shaped city organized with communities at the request of one of the teams …
But the funniest thing was to try to summarize what should be changed in one word :
How to summarize what the Creative Factory taught us ?
Hard task, but, David did it while I was writing and translating this article… !
In short, here is what he say about what the Factory taught us on how to convey the climate change message:
1. The new climate story should have the shape and poetics of great stories that have mobilised the masses at transitional points in history
2. The need for unifying a progress narrative of transition/emergence
3. Fun, humour, new hedonism, and addressing our inner child can help!
4. Spiritual renewal, and becoming more loving climate evangelisers
5. Understanding the motivational values of people who are not like us, and frame our messages in ways they can relate to
6. We need to move beyond, the ‘greenie’ frames in which climate change is entrenched
7. There is a difference between ‘sympathy’ and ‘empathy’ when talking about climate impacts and climate vulnerable peoples
8. The New Climate Story must be articulated through art and popular culture, and we must seek new iconography
9. We need to confront some of the taboos within the climate movement
10. How we tell the story: the need to be emotionally honest and to improve the performance of leadership.
I couldn’t say better… And I encourage you to read his views in detail.
Peoples I met
But these two weeks PlaceToB, it wasn’t Creative Factory only, far from it. It was also meetings with people from everywhere, everyone with a richer project than the other.
I ate vegetarian, spoke English, started at 8am and ended at 11pm every day, attended small private concerts (hello and thank you Charlie Winston and Abd al Malik the poet), shared the concerns of the team working so hard on the event,
exchanged ideas, shared my drawings, talked about what we should do, our multi-jobs, our journeys, what we do, what has not been done, of why we were there…
You feel less alone in these moments, the collective energy carries us and gives a lot of emotions. It’s like recharging : with what I experienced in two weeks, I have the material to work two years.
Here are some drawings I have done “live” from a very small part of the people there, specially at the Factory and during the PlaceToBriefs.
Eve Demange during a discussion one evening said, “Here, it’s Ecology’s Disney Land !”. And it was true 😉
Among the significant guests at PlaceToBrief, I retain:
– Vandana Shiva, the Indian eco-feminist, which is largely up to her commitment.
– George Marshall, who explained to us why it is perfectly natural to want to ignore such a bad news as climate change.
– Philippe Bihouix, for his sharp and devastating humor, and his work on high-tech demystification… because connected bikini, no it is not future, it’s just stupidity and waste of scarce resources !
– Cyril Dion, for his motivating film, Demain (“Tomorrow”), he introduced us and which you should see once it will be translated:
I especially met an extraordinary PlaceToB team, and people with whom I hope I will stay in touch: Flora, David, Chris, Ophélia, Tiphaine, Kjell, Scott, Adriana, Paul, Eloi, Giselle, Charlotte, Anne-Sophie, Pierre, Nicolas, Karl, Tom, Julie, Eve, Marie, Natacha, Thomas, Arthur, Julien, Anne, Anne-lise, Gayané… and many others, who shine or wait patiently, contributing or rushing, and everyone wishing to change their world.
And also a gentleman (his real first name is Philip, but nobody call him that), who held the role of a strange character, at PlaceToB and in the streets of Paris: Sustaina Claus (see drawing above). Canadian living in China, he kept his costume for two weeks, trapping all who were intrigued to discuss sustainability and living together, and do a selfie with him making the sign of the three fingers (ecology-society-economy)!
At first I confess I do not really understood the approach, and be approached by a talkative Santa Claus doesn’t necessarily help to get comfortable, but he is impressive over time: he found his own way to make a difference at his own level, and he keeps going, in a country where there is no freedom of opinion (eg this is the panda teddy he lugs around which is officially the movement leader !), and he did that for 15 years.
Many activists do not have that consistency and that strength!
One of my discoveries of these two weeks may seem ridiculous, but I think it says it all: I ate a burger and fries… but with tofu, meat free. It was delicious. It was a shock: the image of burger and fies is so distant from the vegetarian meal!
Whatever how much we read, question ourselves…
Our imagination is always colonized!
When I eat with Flora who became a vegetarian and who explains her background and the reason for her choice, I’m wondering myself, even if I like it, and I choose it local and even organic, should I continue to eat a pollutant and luxury product as an ordinary product ?
When I know that burning gasoline raises the ocean and drown the small land remaining to Nigel, when Kjell so aptly explained it to me, do I have to get rid of my car, even though I live in the mountains and it’s the only easy way to move around and travel ?
Of course there are compromises and intermediates between never eat meat and eat it every day, between not having a car at all and use it all the time…
But it is in contact with people who act that arises the most questions, knowledge is not always enough.
What I missed
I missed so much … but in particular, there are two things I want to tell you:
The radio on site
Stéphane Paoli, a French journalist at the national radio France Inter, led radio programs at PlaceToB between 12 am and 1 pm… But I didn’t managed to listen even one ! I saw him animating his program while I ordered my food at the bar, without the possibility to really listen.
But everything is online, I’ll catch up, this ephemeral emission was called Portes Ouvertes(Open Doors). Sadly for english speakers, it’s only in french…
The Climate Games
The most provocative initiative which took place in Paris was the Climates Games. A civil disobedience action organized among other by John Jordan (drawing above) and by the labofii (The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination).
Although it was not in the same way, and I didn’t really feel like spending the COP in police station, I think what they did was just as creative as what we have done at PlaceToB .
“The Paris Agreement”
Of course, as expected, the negotiations lasted a little more than expected, and Friday, December 11 evening, we learn at PlaceToB that there was an agreement in Le Bourget.
I went to visit Le Bourget on Thursday with Natacha Bigan, the talented graphic designer / illustrator from PlaceToB team, just to see the building of civil society, big and a little solenel with stands… It was something to see, to see it.
Anne-Sophie Novel, who told me the news of the agreement because she just received it on her mobile, and lived on site the disappointment of Copenhagen in 2009, spontaneously said “it’s good”, browsing the news. And she is right, but nobody jumped for joy.
This agreement is good, but it’s rather better than nothing. There is nothing to be proud of spending over 21 years to reach a consensus… and unfortunately the content is quite insufficient in relation to the issue, as you would expect from a laborious compromise.
The most valuable metaphor which I have heard is as follows : 195 junkies, some of which are dealers (of petroleum), meet and agree : “Tomorrow, we’ll stop !”. Must see!
The most interesting is the deal to revise the agreement every five years, which will bring a closer dynamic, although five years is very slow!
Here is how I tried to summarize it with my frogs afterward:
And here is how 350.org summarize it, which I completely agree with :
A solution is not going to come from above, it’s up to us!
We made a little party in the evening anyway… not to celebrate the agreement, but to release the pressure!
On Saturday, December 12, the day following the last day of the negotiations, actions and demonstrations had been planned in advance, because many didn’t expect a miracle from the agreement. These actions were called “D12”, on the 12th day.
Of course these demonstrations had been banned, and finally allowed the day before.
Everything has ended that Saturday, and I took the night train to go home in the evening.
Leaving to demonstrate was hard, everyone was exhausted by the party the night before and by the two very intense weeks we had just passed, we were not sure not to be taken by riot police, and I thank Adriana for motivating me to move with Scott that morning.
So, direction la Place de l’Étoile. The D12’s manifestation was planed to happen on the Avenue de la Grande Armée, on the great avenue between the Arc de Triomphe and Defense, the one of July 14th, national day in France.
First issue : the Charles de Gaulle Etoile station is closed, we can not stop there. We are therefore obliged to go beyond by RER train until La Défense, then turn back by the subway until Argentine station.
In La Défense, our inner Paris metro tickets are no longer valid because we changed zone. A Parisian girl passes her card 30 times in the machine to unlock us and let us go… !
Finally got there, hardly late, we are on the great avenue… To demonstrate in Paris, in the middle of these monuments, theses gigantic avenues, steeped in history, it’s something else than in Gap or Grenoble (the smaller French towns I used to live)…
We want to draw “red lines” symbolizing the limits of justice that have been crossed by the agreement. The injustices it does not fight if you prefer: the fate of indigenous peoples, the victims of climate change, the oil that will continue to burn, the other reactors which will ultimately explode (because, yes, it already happened, we are 100% sure)…
Everybody wears at least one red cloth and there are great banners which draw these lines. We are many, maybe 5 000, but our ranks are thinned out enough on this gigantic avenue and it is less than what I hoped for, that we all hoped.
Somebody shout : « What do you want ? »
We answer : « Climate Justice »
Somebody shout again : « When do you want it ? »
We answer : « Now ! »
In fact we do not walk in Paris, we stay on this avenue. Members of the french riot police surround it, but their ranks are slightly tight and they only observe.
By moving to the heart of the crowd with Scott and Adriana, we end up reaching one end of the demo. A wall of huge cubic balloons is erected there. Women are disguised as angels and stands rights in front of the avenue. White and red. Far from the usual green and blue. In the background the Arc de Triomphe, the noise of the crowd and the slogans. That image is now burned on my brain.
Not to forget, I drew it:
And suddenly, the wall breaks: balloons fly away, jump above the crowd which push them back to the sky, and they rush down the avenue, boosted by every person that touch them.
Video : 350.org
It brings tears to my eyes every time I watch this video ! Why were we only 5 000, and maybe 15 000 or 20 000 with the other demonstrators whom we were going to join afterward at the Eiffel Tower ?
Because yes, there was another gathering organized on the Champ de Mars, at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. A foghorn sounds the end of the red lines, and the riot policemen channel us by the Porte Maillot, and we cross the extremely wealthy 16th district of Paris, where the riches at their balconies watches us pass with a disbelieving eye.
By chance, we find Anne-Sophie Novel, Stéphane Riot and Pierre Poitrat. Anne-Sophie gives me a red cushion that I will keep until my return to PlaceToB 😉
We reach the Eiffel Tower after a half an hour walk, which Scott sees for the first time. It’s difficult to enter the Champ de Mars because the policemen formed access barriers, to search everybody at the entrance. For our safety, to prevent an attack, but the result is to break the crowd and the demonstration. We can only queue to enter.
Inside, the same feeling to be a few. It is 2 pm, and we discover with pleasure that some organized a free price distribution of meals, in the middle of the Champ de Mars: they had a great deal of difficulty in making accept their kitchen equipment to the policemen.
We find Kjell too, and we eat with a group of people he knows: here we are, a German living in Mexico, a Slovak, a Filipino, a Togolese and I, French, sharing a plate of vegetables and cereals looking at the Eiffel Tower. Gathered by climate.
Kjell dresses me in Ende Gelände activist (in white suit)
with his Filipino mate, and we go to the end of the Champ de Mars, where a stage has been set, and where Naomi Klein, among others, make the report that this agreement is not enough, that we should not stop there, it’s just the beginning of a long struggle.
photo : Adriana Karpinska
Then we disperse, returning by subway.
In the evening, I said goodbye to everyone I’ve met, thank, I hug, I don’t want these new links to fall apart… Then I go take my overnight train.
Are there any solutions?
Climate change is not a problem that can be solved alone. There are very few people who are directly responsible for it, but we all have indirect responsibility in Western countries. It’s a problem of civilization, no individual, nor even group, neither nations.
There are solutions: say yes to the future and no to the capitalistic and fossils solutions of the twentieth century, deal with the problem differently in Africa that desertify, in the Pacific atolls disappearing under water, in the Alps mountains where the snow melts and when the glaciers are disappearing.
Above all we must do it ourselves. Explain ourselves, plant a tree ourselves, bike ourselves and do not expect miracles from politicians. Everybody has to change, not only the heads of state.
And understanding these problems and start implementing the solutions, is a long way: we can be sensitive to the subject without doing anything, do some things but not others, cannot afford it, do not understand immediately, question (ourselves) slowly, not to feel able to do anything, but little by little, after many years, we begin to have an overall view and to act, step by step.
And what’s next ?
It was only a month and a half ago… just yesterday. We keep in touch, and the Factory will probably manage to implement some of its ideas, online or by meeting again. David Holyoake has just suggested to form an online collective SwarmDynamics.
On my side, I intend more than ever before to create this comic, and I will enrich it with this experience, although I will also need to “keep the shop going”.
Thank you PlaceToB! Thanks to everybody for sharing together this moment of History! And to you reader, thank you for reading…