Climate protests – has the time really come?

When I was a child I wrote a poem about pollution and I rhymed it with solution. My younger self believed that the problems of dirty air and toxic waterways would be remedied by the time I reached adulthood. I had already witnessed a change in the ways our Chicago streets were cleaner once the word litterbug entered our lexicon. For a decade or so, I allowed myself to be seduced by the view that the ecology movement (as we called it then) was finding that solution. We had unleaded fuel, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. We had taken the CO2 out of our refrigerators and attics were being insulated. It was just a matter of time.

Some forty years later, I find myself supporting Extinction Rebellion and last week, David and I joined in the Climate March in Nice. I was walking down Felix Faure heading towards Place Massena at an aging tortoise’s pace when I realised that this march was strikingly different from other marches. Unlike anti-brexit marches, there weren’t any protesters at the side lines swearing at us or calling us stupid. After all, who’s going to disagree with wanting to save our planet and improve our health and quality of life? That view hadn’t changed since my childhood.

But something else had changed. There are now climate change deniers. I know, I have waxed on about this sub-human form before.  But to date, the only ones I know are far-right politicians and the companies that sponsor them, those who have the most to lose financially by switching to clean energy. These are not the kind of protesters who take their arguments to the streets. Their methods are more insidious.

I also noticed a few gilets jaunes in the crowd in Nice. These are the people in highClimate 2

-viz yellow vests that have been protesting every Saturday across France for nearly a year now. Most of their protests have been aimed at tax reforms and the lack of spending power for low to medium income individuals. Ironically, the origins of the gilets jaunes movement were over the carbon tax on petrol,  a way of reducing France’s carbon footprint. The gilets jaunes were against it. Is it that they now join any protest that comes along? Or has the last year of climate protests and public discourse about our environment changed their minds?

I don’t want to be seduced into positive or complacent thinking again.

I’ll end this blog as I started it with lines from a poem. This from American poet Rita Dove:

Hold your breath: a song of climate change

The water’s rising
but we’re not drowning yet.
When we’re drowning
we’ll do something.
When we’re on our roofs.
When we’re deciding between saving
the cute baby or the smart baby.
When there aren’t enough helicopters
or news crews to circle
over everyone. When sharks
are in the streets. When people
are dying…


Yellow Vests and Black Days

As I write this, hundreds of protesters are being arrested in Paris. In my years of living in France part-time, I’ve witnessed dozens of protests – participated in a couple myself – and have been inconvenienced by countless strikes. But I’ve never seen anything as violent and inexplicable as the current wave led by the gilets jaunes, so named for the yellow safety vests, required by drivers, that they wear as they pace down the streets, stopping traffic and causing chaos.

What started as a demonstration against a rise in vehicle-fuel taxes has snow-balled into a general protest against President Macron. While some protesters on the news complain about a litany of changes to taxes and pensions that help the rich more than the poor, others speak in vague mantras about Macron’s arrogance and that he should resign.

While my natural inclination is to support the underdog, I have mixed feelings. I can understand people protesting against a rise on taxes, but the fuel tax is to help fight climate change – there are other taxes and issues to fight. Incidentally, the climate change protesters were also out in force this week in France. I’m also uneasy with the claims that these protesters are supporting those who are ‘starving’ and ‘becoming poorer.’ I don’t doubt that a growing number are struggling to make ends meet or are experiencing real poverty. Yet, these demonstrations have coincided with the Black Days of shopping, where what started in America as Black Friday has morphed into Black Days, a long weekend of discounted shopping for clothes and electronics. The shops and boutiques of France have been packed. The irony – or perhaps it’s juxtaposition – makes me question people’s sincerity.

Perhaps I’m not as sympathetic as I ought to be because I’ve been appalled by the breaking of windows, looting of shops and setting cars ablaze. Such actions merely hurt people and the cause. What’s happened to peaceful protest (which could include non-violent civil disobedience) and voting in another government when the time comes?

Black days also come in the form of something larger, more sinister. In France, the extreme right and extreme left have hitched on to these protests, twisting them into justifications for their own forms of government. And the political opportunism doesn’t stop there. The sad excuse of a US president first claimed these protests supported climate-change deniers – like himself. Later he claimed that the protesters were screaming out ‘We want Trump.’ Of course, that’s already been disproved by several reputable sources. I mention it only because it allows me to end on a laugh.

Postscript – if I weren’t laughing, I’d be crying.