Six months ago when I mentioned I was planning to go to Paris for COP21, many people had no idea what I was talking about (“You are going to a conference about cops?” Cops is American slang for the police). A month ago when I told people I was going to the 21st Conference of Parties climate negotiations most had now heard of the COP, but the response was one of envy that I would visiting the “City of Light.” But after November 13th, when I told people I was traveling to Paris soon, many expressed concern and asked if I was still going.
The ISOL attacks around Paris on November 13th were senseless and have left many people in shock. There has also been a terrible backlash against Muslims and refugees that I find mind-boggling. Thus, I felt it was even more important to come to Paris with climate activists from around the world who are committed to work together, in peace, over an issue that is affecting all of us, albeit some more than others. By the very nature of climate change, no one country or culture will be left untouched, so we must work as a collective whole to try to change the course of our future.
As an artist, since I did not have any affiliation with an NGO, I did not have access to the actual negotiations in Le Bourget, a town just outside of Paris. In fact, when I arrived in Paris, I learned there are many who were originally granted permission to be observers, but since the attacks, those numbers were drastically cut back. Apparently cIty officials want to keep a cap on how many people will be congregating for the talks. I presume this is to limit the chances of another terrorist attack, but it is a shame that so many stakeholders with great knowledge and experience will not get to directly be a part of these talks. I heard that one NGO that had planned to bring 70 delegates had their number cut to just 14!
The COP21 meetings are still going on in Paris until the end of this week and I wish I could have stayed until the end. Even without having access to the inner “blue” circle of negotiations (a designation defined by a blue lanyard on one’s name tag) there were so many other related events that I would have liked to participate in. Still, in the time I was there, I met many concerned citizens, climate activists, and even a scientist I greatly admire, that it felt well worth what seemed like a quick visit. Since I had so little downtime while I was there, I just took notes and photos and decided to write up fuller posts highlighting each day’s events and will publish them over the next week.
For me, going to Paris feels like an apt culmination to my Witness Tree project. Although I will continue to document the effects of climate change, I have grown increasingly more interested in focusing on community-based solutions than the problems. My new project is focusing on permaculture and The Transition Network (TNT) and I will write more about it as the project progresses.
Day 1 – Saturday November, 28, 2015
With that project in mind, it seemed fitting that soon after arriving I ran into Albert Bates, an American permaculture instructor who invited me to join him at an event hosted by the group Transition Paris. I had met Albert in September at the International Permaculture Conference in the UK (IPCUK) where I exhibited photographs from my Witness Tree project. In Paris we were both staying at Place to B – a headquarters of sorts for over 400 climate activists from around the world. (more on this in future posts)
The Transition Paris event was being held in a former electrical distribution facility that was being used as studios by a group of artists. It was a wonderful space both inside and out. One of the artists welcomed us and mentioned that they would be losing the space at the end of the year as it was going to be turned into a movie theater. It seemed a shame since the artists did not keep this cool space to themselves but often let groups like the Paris Transition Network use it for community-based events.
This French branch of TNT had planned a day of presentations and workshops around such topics as Recycle with Creativity, Transition in Big Cities, and Creating Better Infographics. The crowd was a mix of young and old, ex-pats and native Frenchmen and women.
Most of the workshops were being conducted in French so I chose to sit in on one about Infographics which was being facilitated by a British woman.
The highlight of the evening was a presentation by Rob Hopkins, a professor of permaculture who helped initiate the first Transition Town in Totnes, a community of 8,000 in Devon, UK. I had first met Rob at the IPCUK and spoken with him again when I visited Totnes after the September conference. Rob was in Paris to promote his new book, 21 Stories of Transition: How a movement of communities is coming together to reimagine and rebuild our world.
Rob was joined by some of the people whose communities were featured in the book including Jeanne-Claude Mensch, the mayor of Ungersheim, a village in the Alsace region of France, and a couple from Belgium (left) who helped plant community gardens on concrete blockades (shown on the screen behind them) that had been installed to cut back on traffic in the red light district.
Although my jet-lag crept up on me and I was unable to stay for the closing party of the Transition event I was excited to meet so many locals who were already involved in community projects and, like me, were hoping that COP21 would yield some concrete results and no blockades at the negotiations.