(This blog delayed by a busy 24 hours in Paris, then return travel to the Bristol Climate March
We rode into central Paris in sunshine on Thursday afternoon. The French climate had been kinder to us since the weekend, and Thursday morning dawned brighter than any that welcomed us into Brittany and Normandy.
Françoise and Laurence, our hosts in rural Senneville, a mere 60 km from the centre Paris, had fed us well the night before. Françoise even filmed our departure and rode the first kilometre with us.
The Paris that we found was getting on with life with all of the insouciance that we would have expected, regardless of the criminal actions of a few bearing guns two weeks before. Barack Obama has today saluted
the UN COP21 climate talks
as "an act of defiance"
– the Parisiens with whom we four British cyclists shared a Metro carriage, on the way to a (most) welcome dinner with SW Green MEP Molly Scott Cato
, would not have had it any other way.
Friday morning brought the European Parliament Greens / European Free Alliance (EFA) group
pre-COP21 seminar, in the Tara Ocean and Climate Pavilion
- Rebecca Harms, Greens/EFA President, spoke of her grounded optimism in COP21's bottom-up approach;
- Romain Troublé, Co-ordinator of Tara Expeditions, gave an overview of the #OceanForClimate campaign at COP21.
- Molly Scott Cato argued that public money creation must lead the way if we are to conquer climate change, as part of an expert debate on climate finance that included:
- Monica Araya of Cost Rica stating that "We need to switch narrative to co-operation & collaboration, and not apologise for it", and identifying "the biggest and most difficult question" as "how to unplug dirty energy projects" – George Osborne really should have been there!
- Alix Mazounie of France saying that France, like many richer countries, needs to increase the political will, and focus more on funding adaptation to climate change.
- Claude Turmes of Luxembourg advocating de-risking energy finance via IRENA to shift solar power from where the money is, to where the sun is.
- Isabelle Lövin, Swedish Minister for International Development and Co-operation, warning negotiators not to let "the usual suspects" of vested interests make 'best' the enemy of the common good at COP21.
- In a discussion of possible outcomes and communication, Asad Rehman of FoE identified the strategic challenge as democratic: recognising that people do not currently have enough power to deliver the positive change they demand – while Carole Dieschbourg, Luxembourg's President of EU Council of Ministers for the Environment, summed up the EU position with "we must raise our ambition - be courageous and take responsibility".
- A concluding interview with Polish journalist Karolina Zbytniewska highlighed why we all need the EU if we are to conquer climate change, saying that the Polish Government "thinks its national treasure is coal", but the positive future lays in the Polish diaspora wanting to feel included in the international debate. The Guardian's Fiona Harvey had sent apologies at the last minute, when she secured an interview with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.
The hardest thing was leaving Paris, not just because I had been reminded how much I love the city, but also because our train to Caen was an hour late – meaning that Roger & I almost missed the ferry back to Portsmouth.
Sunday's Climate March in Bristol
was universally good humoured, if a little damp.
At least we had been able to march to encourage the COP21 negotiators. In Paris itself, the local anarchists were always likely to defy any ban, and seek confrontation with the riot police – but the people of Paris won the day in coming up with the defining image…
…10,000 empty shoes, including those of Ban Ki-moon and the Pope
, shining a beacon for democracy across the globe, and forward for future generations, who depend on a positive outcome from Paris over the next two weeks. We can only hope that they all receive the hope that they so richly deserve.
As everyone knows, after the dreadful events of two weeks ago, all mass demonstrations had been banned in Paris, which was a bit of a setback as that meant that there were Climate Rallies taking place in major cities all around the world - except Paris, where the Climate talks are about to start!
Well, fortunately, that was not totally true, as there has been the virtual rally in the Place de la Republique, where thousands of shoes (including donations from Pope Francis and Ban Ki Moon) were placed to represent the people who would have been there had the authorities allowed. And there was the human chain which had been agreed by the authorities along the Boulevard Voltaire here at noon today (Sunday 29 November).
So Ricky and I (the two surviving Climate Vision cyclists) travelled the Metro to Charonne Station and on emerging to street level found several hundred already getting in line. As midday approached, more and more emerged and joined in until there must have been 5-10 thousand people strung out along the boulevard. Ricky and I found ourselves alongside Jenny Jones (Green Party representative in the House of Lords), Christine Milne (former leader of the Australian Green Party) and a number of Green MEP staff. It was all incredibly positive, and peaceful. It was just good to be with so many people of determination and goodwill. And there was not a single policeman or soldier in sight. After an hour and a half, the human chain gently melted away.
Apparently, some people went on to the Place de la Republique to gather where, unfortunately a small number of people bent on provocation also went. And so followed a confrontation with the police who were a little too diligent in trying to stop the action - all too predictably, people were attacked, tear gas fired and around 200 people arrested. All we knew about it was when we were travelling back from the human chain, our Metro train did not stop at Republique Station and, as we passed through, I could see a couple of dozen armed police on the platform and people being held back from the platform. Unfortunately the media, ever-attentive for a dramatic story to tell, will doubtless focus on the violent few and ignore the peaceful many. Nevertheless, they can never take away the abiding memory of all those wonderfully motivated people.
One other extraordinary experience was when Ricky and I, reaching the end of the human chain along Boulevard Voltaire, found ourselves in front of the Cafe Voltaire, where one of the attacks took place two weeks ago. Along with the other people who were paying their respects, I found a white poppy in my pocket and was able to place that with the flowers and candles. And to offer a prayer for peace.
If you have been following our blog on www.pedal2paris.uk
you will know that Roger, Ricky, Ewan and I have had a rather challenging cycle ride to Paris - the weather was wet, windy and cold for the most part. However, the camaraderie of the four helped us all along and on Thursday 26 November on a bright sunny day we caught our first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower as we cycled into Paris! On Friday, the Federation of European Greens held a series of talks about how to finance the changes required to move from fossil fuels to a renewable future. It was very positive and exciting, and during the meeting we were able to hand over a number of copies of Luci Isaacson`s Climate Vision report to a number of national representatives and MEPs.
In the afternoon, I decided to see if I could deliver the letter that I had carried all the way from Looe in my cycle pannier bag. I walked to the Place de la Concord and along the street to the Elysee Palace; as expected, there were metal barricades up around the Palace and armed police in considerable numbers. I spoke to a young black policewoman saying that I had a letter to deliver to the President. She instructed me to stand on the street corner, in clear view, and to not move! She then crossed the street to consult with her senior colleague. He came over, listened to my request and asked to see my passport. They then both escorted me to a side door to the Palace and told me to wait with the junior officer whilst the senior officer took my passport through the side door. A moment later, one of the Palace police, resplendent in kepi and gold braid, stepped out of the side entrance, accepted the letter, gave me back my passport and thanked me most courteously for the letter. And that was it! Considering that the whole of Paris was on high alert, it all took place in an easy and quite straightforward manner! I had visions of not being able to get within half a mile of the Palace!
So, job done! I must say it was an honour to be able to carry this important message to the President and the people of Paris and France.
Below left: I receive the letter for President Hollande from the Mayor of Looe.
Below right: A view of the Elysee Palace just before I handed the letter in to the Palace Police!
Despite all one might hear, although Paris if full of soldiers, everywhere; although the air is full of sirens and the streets full of police cars and motor bikes, basically it's a city brim-full of people just doing what people do in cities. Problem is, since all the Green groups and NGOs have given copious details of all they intend to do, it was easy for the authorities to insist that everything is cancelled - which is what happened to the bike cavalcade today - and because I s'pose (unfortunately) we/they have to respond appropriately and responsibly, they just said 'no go' and we had to formally call a stop to everything - gutted!
However, Euan and I, anarchists that we are, nonetheless cycled all the way to the hitherto meeting place at the Eiffel Tower and staged our own mini-2-man demo - caused a sensation as you can imagine for the thousands who gravitate there anyway everyday. Daft!
Went to a multi-faith service at Notre Dame tonight and afterwards met up with the whole admin department of 350.org in a lovely brasserie by the Pompidou Centre - all beautiful, young and super-switched-on. It is so energising to be made aware of just how many of the cream of Europe's young intellectuals are beavering away for change. It makes sense: they need a planet to live in - the one that we baby-boomers have all but destroyed.
Hopefully, there will be more to report tomorrow. Another try for a fun photo: if it don't upload, s.th is wrong. Here goes: [nope!]
After all the rain, hail, wind, frozen fingers and feet, our last day`s ride into Paris was wonderful! Our amazing AirB+B hosts, Francois and Laurence, after feeding us royally the night before, and furnishing us with a hot coffee and splendid chunk of real chocolate to fortify body and spirit, launched us on the final leg of the journey. As a free-lance tv camera person, Francois filmed short clip of our departure which should appear in some media site somewhere; and then off we went! It was a beautiful bright morning with a rime of frost on the grass as we pedalled through gently undulating countryside for the final 35 miles to Paris. The only negative experience was some wally driving a badly-tuned diesel car that emitted clouds of black smoke in our faces as he cut us up. Wove our way through the outskirts and then, suddenly, as we arrived in St Cloud, we caught our first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower - magnifique!
Cycled across the Pont St Cloud, stopping for quick lunch of mushroom soup, bread and a coffee before heading through the city, mostly on designated cycle lanes, sometimes shared with buses(!) and finally arrived at our AirB+B in the 18th arrondisement, handily located next to the Riquet Metro station. The B+B consisted of what was originally a one-bedroom apartment on the third floor which now contained one triple-bunk, two double-bunk beds and two sofasd that could be made up into beds. Very snug! Oh, and one toilet, one bathroom and a compact kitchen. Basic, but enoough for our needs and the other inmates, whoops, sorry, residents seemed very good-natured and kind.
After settling in and showering, we headed off to meet Molly Scot-Cato, MEP, who treated us to supper before we all moved on to the evening`s ClimÀrt event, put on by the Federation of European Greens. The talks and poetry were all in French so I got the gist but not the detail; however, the music, provided by African father and son playing gourds strung with many strings, was amazingly beautiful. The captain of the Tara expedition (an aluminium-hulled sailing vessel which has spent the last two years sailing the oceans and monitoring the impacts of climate chage; and had sailed across the North Pole!) also gave a brief talk. A lovely welcome to Paris.
At Greens COP21 reports given to and interesting discussion with both Sweedish and Luxembourg green government ministers. Both, Isabella Lovin and Carole Dieschbourg very interested in hearing about the messages of the report. Also Tine Heyse Environment Alderman from zGhent who have a very forward looking city carbon reduction policies
Also, of course Molly and Jean Lambert and other countries MEPs
Our host today not far from Paris, Francois, is an audio-visual tele cameraman - Roger was ecstatic! He went with his wife and a friend on a trip to the Jungle in Calais. He showed us the video he had made, as yet unedited, hand-held, point and shoot - heart-rending, no matter how often you have seen similar footage. Many of the people he spontaneously interviewed were from the UK - proud of them - saying some spot-on things. Here's to the Merton ladies and the fantastic work they are doing on behalf of us North Devonians who are disgusted with the way in which our government is behaving. He took a short video clip with interviews of us - too big for here but we'll find a way somehow later to show the world!
Having trouble downloading photos - let's try - here we are with his wife Laurence outside their beautiful home - we were so lucky to find them - excellent people. Nope!
A good day today - one more to go and we'll meet Our Molly tomorrow night - the approach and 'entry' into Paris is going to be BUSY! Gonna have to have our wits about us.
This Blog post comes to you courtesy Ewan's genius i-phone connection (no wifi here).
After a day's respite France continues to throw its plus mauvais temps at us in an attempt to thwart our attempts to reach Paris, but we will not be daunted.
Today started with spitting when I went out in the pre dawn to fetch the breakfast croissants, by the time we left it was light rain which progressed to heavy drizzle with a biting Southwesterly before easing to a mere mizzle by mid afternoon.
Continue reading Rainy day, dream away…
Oliver of Tonic Attack
not only very generously sponsored us but also provided a load of sachets of wheatgrass juice to fuel us across France.
I must admit when Ewan first distributed them in Saltash I was a little sceptical. I had been expecting a bottle to have a swig from periodically, but these are little sachets each containing 33ml to be taken one per day. Continue reading The joys of wheatgrass
Monday 23 November - sunshine filtered through a heavy mist onto the frost-touched grass. A fine day! Breakfasted packed and on the road before 09.00, pedalling into cold misty countryside, but at least it was dry! Crossed the River Orne and headed more or less east, weaving around various country roads to make sure we did not get on to any of the busy main roads.As we were on the Plain of Caen, the hills were not quite as steep and the valleys were more gentle, which made for very pleasant cycling. Even by midday we were still spending some of our time in freezing mist, then emerging into sunny patches. One of the nicest stretches was after a 1-2km ride up a hill then through a beautifully managed woodland of sweet chestnut, oak, beech and other deciduous trees where a huge buzzard lazily flapped its way ahead of me, then perched on a branch to get a better look at me; deciding I was inedible, it then drifted off into the woods! Arrived into the town of Lisieaux at 15.30, checked into our AirBnB which was in a fourth storey 1960s apartment - luxury of luxuries, we each had our own bedroom with a double bed (which explained why it was the most expensive of the B+Bs). Set out to explore the town, including visiting the relatively new (20thC?) Basilica with an impressive dome and attractive modern frescoes adorning the walls. Lit a candle for peace. Shopped for provender then returned to our billet for home-made supper of bread, cheese, pastries and wine. Continue reading Sunshine Supermen!