Wednesday 10 February 2016

My climate change journey, Part 2: Joyful disruption; making a leap to a quiet revolution in Paris - by guest blogger Patrick Driscall

“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” – Andy Warhol

Paris next stop! I’d decided to go to Paris, to take part in the demos putting pressure on negotiators at COP21 to make an agreement that would stop climate change, back in the summer. I’d already booked a train to go to Paris and a hostel to stay in through Friends of the Earth as well as hotel accommodation in London en route. With the terrible Paris attacks having happened I went through some tense weeks questioning the risks taking part in demonstrations and checking what demos if at all were going ahead. I even signed a campaign to the mayor to allow outside demos about climate change despite the city being on high security. I had met Alison, a Swansea member of Greenpeace, who said she was still keen to go. We planned to meet in Paris.

I was relieved to find that Friends of the Earth successfully regrouped with some organisations and had concrete plans for a networking event and public demonstration within the security restrictions. I was keen to join in the 350 degrees Red Lines demonstration. I had some reservations, especially in the face of a police force in Paris that were understandably rattled by terrorism.

Arriving at Gare Du Nord on the early Eurostar from St Pancras we were escorted to our hostel not far from the Canal St Martin. If I was to take part in the Red Lines demo I was to attend an induction event starting an hour after my arrival. I briefly chatted in the hostel foyer with someone called Lucy who was considering going. We joined forces in a mad dash across Paris to the Z.A.C. (Zone d’Action Climat) for the induction. There was a touch of serendipity as Lucy turned out to be a friend of Fern’s from Emergence in Swansea.

The headquarters of the Coalition Climat 21 at Z.A.C. was set up to serve as a place where people in Paris could attend screenings, participate in discussions or discover art exhibitions about climatic disruption. The Z.A.C. was intended as a place to increase the rhythm of the mobilisations: with preparations for symbolic actions and artistic happenings and a media centre as a working space for journalists. Coalition Climat 21 was a response to the failure of the 2009 Copenhagen conference and the hijacking of the 2013 Warsaw conference by industry interests (which led NGOs to walk out). It brings together 130 organisations from social movements, religious and international solidarity, environment and human rights. All affirm that the COP21 negotiations, though necessary, are not enough to combat climate disruption and it’s resulting inequalities. The objective therefore, was to capitalize on the political and media exposure of COP21 launching a strong and sustainable movement for climate justice.

The Red Lines plan was to walk in pairs towards the Champs Elysee. When horns sounded we would step off the pavement onto the road heading towards La Defense; the financial district. We were assured, perhaps naively, we would be in relative control and could withdraw from the protest if things became tense or violent. Lucy was already suitably paired up so I had the slight embarrassment of “speed dating” for a buddy to walk with. I paired up with Sam from Sussex.

Lucy invited me to a presentation by ArtCOP21 at an old theatre. ArtCOP21 was set up to challenge the idea that climate change is seen through policy or a scientific lens, and that solutions are discussed in political offices, boardrooms and negotiating halls. They believe that climate is culture and that active engagement of citizens worldwide is needed to transition away from fossil fuels towards a greener sustainable future economy.  ArtCOP21 has established an amazing global climate festival of over 550 major events.

What moved me was a personal account by a Philippine artist and activist. He spoke of the devastation caused by a typhoon on his city, the looting that followed and clearly communicated the emotional costs to him.

Next we headed to Jardin D’Alice, an office building being used as an experimental social and ecological laboratory. For a small entrance fee we were treated to a meal of curried brussel sprouts and rice. The building was packed with artistic and political activity. An impressive area was being used as a studio to make banners, posters and sculptures. Art materials and tools were available. Lucy helped paint banners and I was inspired to do a banner ready for the demo the following day.

In my artistic enthusiasm in such a busy space I lost Lucy so went on to the nearby Palais de Congres where Friends of the Earth had been explaining the plans for the next day. I’d missed the main activity and a small party was in swing. Tired after an exciting day I headed back to the hostel and to bed.

Catching up with Alison over breakfast we decided to walk to the Red Lines demo at Arche de Triomphe and meet up with my buddy Sam. Passing through Place de Republique we were moved by the many tributes to those lost in the recent tragedy. 

Place de la Republique, Paris - November 2015
Further south we stopped for coffee close to Le Carillon restaurant; scene of some of the worst of the shootings its glass shattered with bullets. It felt surreal. My thoughts turned to the dead and their families and those around the world who have also suffered at the hands of terrorists.

The walk through the wonderful Paris streetscape in the sunshine was an antidote.  You could not help but be aware of the COP21 talks with posters, adverts, graffiti, signs, art and sculptures everywhere. We spotted Caroline Lucas from the Green Party at a security check at the demo start and I managed to shake her hand. Meeting Sam we were relieved to hear that the demo was now declared legal.

The demo was diverse, with a brilliant vibe of collectivity, independence, focus and creativity. It was truly mesmerizing! Horns sounded and we paused remembering those affected by war, terror and climate change. Then a further horn sound and the demo began. Red was everywhere: on people’s clothing including quirky costumes and in the red flowers and umbrellas carried by activists. Very striking were the huge lengths of red cloth held above people heads down the length of the street and waved up and down to the myriad rhythms of bands, singing and chanting.

There was a carnival atmosphere and we headed back and forth up and down the Champs Elysee. The police blocked the way to La Defense and every side street. The activists represented many causes with climate justice being the most prominent. Somehow we remained peaceful and even joyful. Most exciting were the huge inflatable red and silver cubes originally planned to serve as a barrier against any police counter activity. These became playthings, banded up and down the street over our heads.

 COP21 Paris – D12 demonstrations/actions/mobilisations: 
Short clips from some of the many actions, meetings and demonstrations that took place during the last two days of COP21, the climate summit in Paris by Sam Milford

After lunch we gathered underneath the Eifel Tower for another rally. There was a peaceful sit down protest. The police had split the area by the tower into three zones so no large gathering was possible. We followed a Mexican band of demonstrators to the final zone next to the stage where Naomi Klein gave an inspirational speech about the planned fight in 2016 to keep fossil fuels in the ground. I think we calculated we walked about 12 miles that day and what a day!

 The demos left me inspired and energized. What stood out for me was the positive energy and humanity of the people from around the world united in that one street.

Humanity is defined in The Collins English Dictionary as “the quality of being human” and “kindness or mercy”. It is further defined as charity, compassion, understanding, sympathy, mercy, tolerance, tenderness, philanthropy, benevolence, fellow feeling, benignity, brotherly love, kind-heartedness. Maybe brotherly love would better read as respect for one another.

The great success in Paris was the connectedness represented there that day. A question for the future is how we build even better connections with each other locally and globally to combat climate change. By the Eifell Tower a student from Portugal interviewed us for her research asking how we felt about climate change. I was able to answer I felt positive. Naomi Klein declared “we are nature”. I agree we need to rekindle our spiritual link to each other, the planet and nature. We must accept responsibility for causing climate change and accentuate and celebrate the positive qualities of humanity. We must question capitalism and find a new model of economics and of living respectfully together that doesn’t damage our humanity or the planet irrevocably.

As the activists sang on the day: “Changeons le system pas de climat.” Change the system, not the climate.

“There is still much to do but we now have the means, the intent and the hope. In the days, weeks, months and years ahead art, culture and imagination will continue to play their part, helping us to bridge the gap between what we know, and we know we must do. We can see that another world is possible. We have only to choose to create it.” – Bill Mc Kibben

Patrick Driscall is a head gardener and occasional journalist whose interests include growing, music, climate change, human rights and new economics.

Monday 1 February 2016

My Climate Journey - Pt. 1: Melting Ice and the Kindness of Humanity - by guest blogger Patrick Driscall

“Fear makes us feel our humanity.” Benjamin Disraeli

What a year it’s been. Little did I know in January of last year, that by December I would be sitting on a bridge in Paris demonstrating against climate change, or that I would share many meaningful conversations about climate change at the COP events Emergence organised.

My partner Phil’s father Selwyn told me stories of how he had collected sheep dung from Singleton Park in Swansea during the war selling it from his bicycle to local gardeners for profit. Having realized it was a notable anniversary of the blitz on Swansea during World War 2 I found myself looking at pictures of the war damage in Swansea and was thoughtful about the effects of war on people’s lives.

Somehow, this internet quest led me to peace activism, Satish Kumar and from there to a peace walk being organized right here in my city by Emergence. I didn’t stop to think. I was going to do the walk in memory of my mother Esme who was evacuated from Brixton to Cornwall. The trauma of evacuation and the fact that she never had a chance to reconnect with her parents probably contributed to her suicide when I was seven. Another reason to join the walk was I myself now wanted to feel more connected to Swansea. From these beginnings, the peace walk was the start of something much bigger.

The Swansea Station to the Sea Peace Walk - 27th June 2015
 My climate change interest started in the 80s when we talked about aerosols, and the hole in the ozone layer! Inspired, I made quirky designer T-shirts to sell in London markets to help get the message across. Thirty years later living in Swansea, I realised the fast approaching COP21 climate change negotiations in Paris were the last chance saloon for taking positive steps to stop the world from overheating. I’d already planned to go on the London climate march and now became hopeful of making the Paris demonstrations.

The peace walk turned out to be an amazing and moving experience in good company.  I followed it by booking a place on a Harvest Walk also organized by Emergence.  This included a lovely trek up to Arthurs Stone on Cefn Bryn on Gower and hearing about local growing and farming. The experience reminded me of my activist youth and left me even more determined to go to Paris! A problem for me as a newcomer to Swansea was I was not well connected locally. I literally had no one to demonstrate with in Paris.

“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” - Brene Brown

Listening to Fern Smith from Emergence successfully connect many people together I asked her if there was a way Emergence might organize something around climate change locally. I suspected there were other people like me who felt overwhelmed and even isolated in their quest to do something. To my surprise, out of the blue, a friendly phone call - how would I like to help out in some potential events she was considering?

These events were to be known as COP1, 2 and 3 here in Swansea. The events combined discussion, creative offerings from local performers, music and film screenings. It was fun to be part of the organizing team and to understand that by sharing our concerns and fears we could plan individual solutions and collective actions.

These COP events helped me see my own relationship with climate change. I was encouraged to face up to the guilt I feel, my own part in it and to recognize the breadth of the issue. There is no easy solution and the starting gun has already fired. Sparks flew as the audience let off steam. It was personal and at times challenging. Among the films we saw were Chasing Ice and This Changes Everything.

 The film “Chasing Ice” brought us up close and personal with the melting of the ice caps. En masse it has enormous beauty. When it melts it potentially spells disaster in many ways. The film graphically and beautifully proved it is disappearing and fast. I’m writing this having read that a few weeks ago the temperature at the North Pole shot up by 30 odd degrees in winter perhaps due to climate change. On Twitter there is a report that 35000 walrus are currently grouped on one beach in Alaska because they can’t find any ice nearby. 8000 Arctic Murre birds have been found dead from starvation on another Alaskan beach because the sea is too warm. Icebergs are arriving four months earlier than usual off Newfoundland. Where are we heading on this planet? What can I do about it?

Jack and Finn Harries ’s Arctic Mission video for WWF (kind of a follow up to Chasing Ice)

The enormity and range of issues that add up to climate change can be hard to take in. We really can’t do it all alone but we can do a lot in our own backyards and preferably together as part of this thing called humanity. Many of the best moments for me in the COP events were the conversations between us. Diverse opinions were expressed. Personal reactions and, experiences and inspiring potential solutions were shared. There was much to listen and learn and reflect upon.

The film “This Changes Everything” was a collection of stories brought together by Naomi Klein in her book. They showed the terrifying impacts climate change is already having on this planet’s land, food and people. Importantly it showcased ways in which people across the world were banding together to fight the issues, often with very different people sharing a common cause. Indigenous people were teaming up with ranchers, oil workers with environmentalists. There was destruction throughout, but also hope, as progress was being made. It challenged us to think again about the way we continue on a capitalist growth path and that this threatens our future on Earth. At the COP events there was live music and time to draw, write and discuss all helping us to express how climate change affected us. I felt empowered hearing stories of new initiatives; individual and collective, and found people’s personal reflections particularly illuminating.

 I had mixed feelings when I headed up to London to join the Peoples March for Climate Justice and Jobs. I was sad to be missing the local demos yet felt a strong attachment to London, having lived there for years. I hoped to march with a couple friends and the territory was familiar and easy. I felt this was a big issue that demanded people power on the streets. Arriving in London on the Saturday, I’d arranged to meet my friend Seppe and his new partner Mehmet. We shared a meal together in Soho. The funny thing was Penny Arcade who played a role in Andy Warhol’s film “Women in Revolt” had just been sitting in the very same seat I was now sat at having known Mehmet from his days in New York. I’d just missed her. She is apparently now a performance artist in her own name.

The demo started in squally weather that was enough to scare off my friends from coming. So slightly bedraggled I positioned myself with Greenpeace stuck behind some bear figures held on poles that threatened to knock our heads as we marched. There was an eclectic mix of music from Radiohead’s Thom Yorke who was dj-ing from a wooden ship on wheels. I quickly teamed up with a lovely woman, Jane from Sussex. She shared stories of her involvement in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament at Greenham Common. Hearing about activism was an inspiring thread in my climate change journey.

Greenpeace Polar Bear - Climate March 2015- Patrick Driscall
The march was atmospheric and included many different causes.  It was exciting to see people from all parts of Britain and overseas. Jeremy Corbyn spoke as did Caroline Lucas of the Green Party and the leaders of the anti fracking campaign in Lancashire were particularly popular. The march ended at Westminster with further speeches including a rousing one from comedian Francesca Martinez and a song from Charlotte Church backed by a Welsh choir.

There were more than 50,000 people on the march. The overall impression for me was one of solidarity around climate justice. The will to change things was clearly expressed in the faces and voices of the people around me.

The biggest thing that stuck in my mind was when Jane said “they are all kind people here”. For me kindness is clearly connected to our humanity. It was our common humanity that was driving us forward that day. It strengthened my resolve to go to Paris.

Patrick Driscall is a head gardener and occasional journalist whose interests include growing, music, climate change, human rights and new economics.