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Illustrations: Elsa Salonen
Two months ago I was running through the deep sand of an open-cast coal mine. I was running for life – for life everywhere – and I was being chased by German riot police. But I wasn’t alone. There were 1,500 of us and we had all pledged to non-violently block the gargantuan excavators with our bodies, thus shutting down Europe’s largest source of CO2 emissions for a day.
The action was named ‘Ende Gelände’ (‘Here and no further’), and we succeeded in what was one of the largest acts of direct action against fossil fuels ever in Europe. In that apocalyptic lifeless landscape we drew a line in the sand: if you, the toxic blend of governments and corporations, don’t stop digging the fossil fuels out of the ground, something all the climate science warns us we have to do now and not later, then we will do it for you.
Galvanised by the inspiration of that day, I’m now living in Paris, co-organising with numerous collectives acts of civil disobedience that will take place during the UN climate summit.
According to France’s president, Francois Hollande, ‘In December 2015, just like in 1789 when the French Revolution gave great hope to the world, history can be written in Paris, this time for the future of the planet.’ But in the same breath his government has admitted that if an agreement is signed it won’t limit warming to 2 degrees, the safe threshold after which the climate could tip into irreversible chaos.
It seems the future Hollande speaks is one where corporations continue businesses as usual. What we, the climate and broader social justice movements, have to do is to stop the war on the poor that is the climate catastrophe – and that’s going to mean all of us stepping out of line, everywhere. Paris is a world stage where we could show our capacity to do this.
The world’s governments have been talking for 20 years: in that time, CO2 emissions have increased 63 per cent and misery continues for those affected now by the wrecked climate. The process has been a total failure – unsurprising, given that the corporate takeover of the climate discourse goes to the centre of the UN summit.
The French government has chosen a handful of climate criminals to sponsor the talks. They include car manufacturers Renault and Nissan, airline Air France who blocked an EU carbon tax on aviation, mega-coal project funders BNP bank, fracking lobbyists Suez Environment, and EDF, which infamously tried to sue 21 climate activists who occupied its new gas power station in Nottinghamshire. The only revolution coming from inside the talks is the turning around in circles of endless discussions.
But outside, things are moving in unique directions that give a lot more hope for life on earth. A day of action has been called for 12 December (‘D12’), just as the two weeks of talks come to an end. It is the first time such a diverse coalition has called for civil disobedience. Over 150 organisations, from big NGOs to trade unions, faith groups to radical collectives, are supporting the actions. The rallying cry is ‘We will have the last word’ – and that word will be written with our disobedient bodies. The line in the sand drawn in in the mine during Ende Gelände will turn red on D12, when thousands of people will encircle the summit with red lines. Red lines that are the minimal necessities for a just and liveable planet. Red lines that will inevitably be crossed by the talks.
Imagine: the final UN plenary is reaching its conclusion. Outside, the city grinds to a halt as thousands occupy the streets, encircling the conference centre. Some have come with wind turbines, solar panels, bikes and mobile gardens, to represent the future they want to see, others are setting up tents Occupy-style. Farmers from the frontlines of France’s biggest anti-airport struggle are lining up their tractors alongside frontline communities from the disappearing Pacific islands. Everyone is calm but determined, refusing to be moved.
At the same time, around France, Europe, worldwide, the ‘red lines’ meme appears everywhere, drawn along proposed oil pipeline routes, scrawled in villages threatened with airport expansion, stretched across the entrances of institutions that refuse to divest from fossil fuels, marking the fields were fracking rigs are planned. These lines can show where further disobedience will take place in the spring of 2016, when the movements have made a global call for fossil fuel infrastructure shutdown.
If all goes to plan it could be the largest act of climate disobedience in Europe, and the world’s media focus will shift away from the empty words of the negotiations towards the movement’s actions. Buses and trains full of people from across the continent are booked to arrive in Paris that weekend. Meetings and non-violent direct action trainings are taking place in cities far and wide, and, as I write, some ingeniously creative forms of disobedience are being dreamt up.
After all, it was in Paris – a city whose streets have shaped our collective imaginary of revolutions for 300 years – that the art of the barricade was invented. A new form of barricade for the 21st century is being prepared by the art activist collective Tools for Action. They will be teaching people to build hundreds of gigantic playful inflatable cubes, some 3m square, which will help draw the red lines around the summit whilst protecting the crowds and replacing confrontation with the authorities with confusion.
Who knows what will happen on D12? The only thing we can be sure is that it won’t be business as usual – you will kick yourself for years to come if you don’t take part.