FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Paris Climate Talks Don’t Matter

The COP21 climate talks began on Monday in Paris. Leaders around the world are seeking a legally binding restriction on emissions, hoping to save future generations from near-certain environmental collapse and catastrophe. But these talks won’t change a thing.

“Can the earth be saved by bureaucrats in long meetings, reciting jargon and acronyms while surrounded by leaning towers of documents?” Rebecca Solnit asks in a compelling piece for Harper’s. She’s right. Long talks and testimonies bear little fruit in making steps to achieve climate justice and combat climate change. What’s important is what happens in the crowded and sweaty streets. Solnit was writing before the November 13 terrorist attacks claimed 130 lives in Paris, before the government declared a state of emergency, before this state of emergency led to a ban on all public organizing.

The revolutionary fervor so pined for, the radical democratic politics of climate activism and mobilization, can no longer be realized under French law. The government has banned public protests, marches, and rallies. What started as a means of achieving peace and security has culminated in the total destruction of dissent. As of 27 November, at least 24 major climate activists had been placed under house arrest.

The conference is located outside the city of Paris itself, and is secured by over 2,800 police. An additional 8,000 police guard the border. In this way, climate change really is the great security issue of the new millennium. The dialogue is so securitized, that nearly all oppositional voices have been quashed.

Already, Parisians are finding ways to sidestep the rules. Protestors left out 10,000 empty pairs of shoes to signify the space of the march that would have been. Shoes were donated by the likes of actress Marion Cotillard, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, even Pope Francis.

According to reports, feet did fill some of the shoes in the streets on Sunday. Around 5,000 protestors faced off against hordes of riot police amidst the abandoned loafers. Some protestors hurled “projectiles” – those empty shoes, candlesticks honoring those killed in the attacks. I like to imagine the the Pope’s shoes, smashed up against an oversized riot police helmet. Pushed and crowded and intimidated, it was an act of desperation and self-defense for activists. Police saw it as aggression and outright hostility. There was tear gas, and about 200 arrests – even though even French officials admitted that only a small proportion of the crowd created any kind of trouble.

Art, too, occupied the streets of Paris in the absence of people. Brandalism, an art collective, hoped to reclaim the space traditionally occupied by corporate sponsors advocating endless consumerism. In this case, more than 600 pieces of art helped fill in the empty space created by the state. One ad for a French airline reads, “Tackling Climate Change? Of Course Not, We’re an Airline,” another, “New & Improved: GREENWASH”. But Parisians are encouraged to stay in their homes. No one dwells the streets to see the exhibits.

Heads of state and wielders of power will not act against their own self-interest. Change entails a new bottom line, something different than economic growth. It entails hearing the voices of those without power. Yet again leaders will seek cheap policies driven by technological advance. Yet again we’ll end up with piecemeal reform and empty words of promise.

It is in the streets that new forms of democracy, organization, and inclusion are enacted, that new ideas are tested and voiced, that risks are taken. Around the world, people are gathering and marching. They are voicing their dissent and their discontent.

But things won’t change in Paris. Not unless the French government eases its restrictions on organizing, and abates its abuse of public fear and paranoia. Or unless the people can show that they have a stronger will and reach than the state. COP21 will go the way of the rest of them.

Prove me wrong. Please, somebody show me I’m wrong.

More articles by:

Nick Mott is a freelance writer, activist, and educator based in Fort Collins, CO. He has an MA in Anthropology/International Development. He worked as a journalist for the Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets, and, most recently, he’s published in The Denver Post. 

January 16, 2019
Patrick Bond
Jim Yong Kim’s Mixed Messages to the World Bank and the World
John Grant
Joe Biden, Crime Fighter from Hell
Alvaro Huerta
Brief History Notes on Mexican Immigration to the U.S.
Kenneth Surin
A Great Speaker of the UK’s House of Commons
Elizabeth Henderson
Why Sustainable Agriculture Should Support a Green New Deal
Binoy Kampmark
Trump, Bolton and the Syrian Confusion
Jeff Mackler
Trump’s Syria Exit Tweet Provokes Washington Panic
Barbara Nimri Aziz
How Long Can Nepal Blame Others for Its Woes?
Cesar Chelala
Violence Against Women: A Pandemic No Longer Hidden
Kim C. Domenico
To Make a Vineyard of the Curse: Fate, Fatalism and Freedom
Dave Lindorff
Criminalizing BDS Trashes Free Speech & Association
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: The Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Edward Curtin
A Gentrified Little Town Goes to Pot
January 15, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
Refugees Are in the English Channel Because of Western Interventions in the Middle East
Howard Lisnoff
The Faux Political System by the Numbers
Lawrence Davidson
Amos Oz and the Real Israel
John W. Whitehead
Beware the Emergency State
John Laforge
Loudmouths against Nuclear Lawlessness
Myles Hoenig
Labor in the Age of Trump
Jeff Cohen
Mainstream Media Bias on 2020 Democratic Race Already in High Gear
Dean Baker
Will Paying for Kidneys Reduce the Transplant Wait List?
George Ochenski
Trump’s Wall and the Montana Senate’s Theater of the Absurd
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: the Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Glenn Sacks
On the Picket Lines: Los Angeles Teachers Go On Strike for First Time in 30 Years
Jonah Raskin
Love in a Cold War Climate
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party
January 14, 2019
Kenn Orphan
The Tears of Justin Trudeau
Julia Stein
California Needs a 10-Year Green New Deal
Dean Baker
Declining Birth Rates: Is the US in Danger of Running Out of People?
Robert Fisk
The US Media has Lost One of Its Sanest Voices on Military Matters
Vijay Prashad
5.5 Million Women Build Their Wall
Nicky Reid
Lessons From Rojava
Ted Rall
Here is the Progressive Agenda
Robert Koehler
A Green Future is One Without War
Gary Leupp
The Chickens Come Home to Roost….in Northern Syria
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: “The Country Is Watching”
Sam Gordon
Who Are Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists?
Weekend Edition
January 11, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Richard Moser
Neoliberalism: Free Market Fundamentalism or Corporate Power?
Paul Street
Bordering on Fascism: Scholars Reflect on Dangerous Times
Joseph Majerle III – Matthew Stevenson
Who or What Brought Down Dag Hammarskjöld?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
How Tre Arrow Became America’s Most Wanted Environmental “Terrorist”
Andrew Levine
Dealbreakers: The Democrats, Trump and His Wall
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Que Syria, Syria
Dave Lindorff
A Potentially Tectonic Event Shakes up the Mumia Abu-Jamal Case
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail