The climate crisis has been on my mind for years. Last September, I felt at one with my “tribe,” marching in New York, and in the room when the Rockefeller Brothers Fund announced its divestment from fossil fuels. So I was primed to consider going to the Paris climate summit. Countless global citizens, willing to do whatever it takes to change the world’s course, beckoned me. After publishing Climate leaders should work with oil companies to put a price on carbon in The Guardian with Hunter Lovins, I booked my trip. Then, hoping to engage a powerful advocate to aim high, I wrote Elon Musk Can Rescue the Paris Climate Summit in the San Jose Mercury-News.
The attacks in Paris shocked and horrified me. I felt concern for a place I visit often and for relatives (I’m a quarter French). I found inspiration from Parisians announcing #PortesOuvertes (Open Doors), pairings with the previous day’s bombings in Beirut, and solidarity everywhere. That scary weekend, many Parisians refused isolation. Thousands, including many French Muslims, left their homes to mourn, embrace and talk with strangers, affirming their common humanity. May these responses prevail over demagogic appeals to fear and unreason.
Since November 13, as friends and colleagues asked if I was still going to Paris, I’ve responded “Yes,” and that I hope multitudes show up. Especially now, this City of Light that is treasured by the world needs our support. And the link between defending civilization from terror and protecting our future has never seemed more natural. The climate summit and support demonstrations around the world can connect a healthy climate and humanity. We need to defend the air, water, land, and life that sustains us. We’re tied to every dominated and attacked individual and community. We can’t advance without recognizing we’re all in this together.
What about the climate summit? Fortunately, despite a state of emergency, with climate change our greatest long-term security threat, all agreed the official Conference of Parties (COP21) had to proceed. But the government cancelled large demonstrations November 29 and December 12. The outdoor ban extends to all of France, making over 2,o00 scheduled international rallies even more vital.
In Paris, constraining participation by what’s called “civil society” will limit the authority and impact of COP21. Its key principles — ambition, equity, and transparency — are best fulfilled with pressure and vigilance of bottom-up counterparts to top-down negotiators. Long-planned programs by artists, advocates, business people, educators, and so many others are essential. The Coalition Climat 21 will find ways to assemble people to affirm the need for ambitious, idealistic, but fundamentally realistic actions equal to the crisis. Activists recall warily how the growing anti-globalization and global justice movement lost momentum after the 9/11 attack.
As I’ve emerged from a few years of depression about our prospects, the last-minute setbacks haven’t sapped my energizing optimism. The Pope’s encyclical makes me a secular acolyte, saying “Today we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” Barack Obama says, “We’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground,” starting with Keystone. ExxonMobil is under investigation. Western states and British Columbia continue closing off coal and oil pipes and tracks. Hillary Clinton offers a plan for coal miners and communities. Futurist Alex Steffen backcasts eloquently and soberly from a conservation meeting in year 2115.
We’re near our long-awaited turning point. Whatever formal agreements emerge, almost 200 countries are signing up for a great human challenge. We will evolve our societies, institutions, and economies, to become renewable, working to end inequality and plunder. And we will change our moral priorities, protecting our futures by valuing the well-being of each individual, culture, and ecosystem.
Without credentials or a press pass, I expect to join over 10,000 at “Climate Generations,” next door to COP21 at Le Bourget conference center. I’ll work with 350.org, Citizens’ Climate Lobby, The Sierra Club, Environmental Entrepreneurs, and other liked-minded people. We want COP21 to include rising national commitments, meaningful financial and technical support for mitigation and adaptation especially for the most at-risk populations, and pledges that nations will effectively, efficiently and equitably price carbon.
Wherever we are, on November 29 we can affirm that Paris, civilization, and our common home are worth saving. We’ll look out for each other; every human life is precious. And after COP21, we’ll come together to celebrate, thank the delegates and all those who devote their lives to averting climate catastrophes. We’ll gain strength from each other as we resolve that December 14 will be the first day of the next stage of the climate campaign that will last the rest of our lives.
P.S. As always, great minds think alike. I’ve found these words about what comes next moving and helpful: Jason Box and Naomi Klein, Why a Climate Deal Is the Best Hope for Peace (New Yorker), Rebecca Solnit, Power in Paris Harper’s (written before Nov. 13), Naomi Klein, What’s really at stake at the Paris climate conference now marches are banned (The Guardian).