So, after cycling more than 250 miles to get here, today is the big day, the day we’ll do what we came here to do: riding en-masse with about 400 other cyclists to start the Red Lines action following the concluding of official COP21 business at an out-of-town, fortified business centre.
The day starts in a bit of a rush as I scrabble around trying to figure out how the Paris Velo scheme works – and to find a machine that actually works – so that a bikeless Greenpeace friend (er, Rachel, who features elsewhere in this blog) can join in.
We cycle in groups of about 40 again (to avoid more unwanted police attention) from the hostel to the meeting point, Jardins du Trocadéro, which just happens to have incredible views of the Eiffel Tower. It’s selfie time!
Here, we join forces with other cyclists from France and all over Europe, including Spain, Belgium and Denmark. Then we’re off, back towards the Arc du Triomphe, only this time we are legit and have police support – they even shut the traffic on the Triomphe and we do two complete laps of it!
— Brighton Energy Coop (@brightonnrgcoop) December 12, 2015
Pretty soon we’re back on Avenue de la Grande Armee but this time it’s a very different experience; the street is lined with thousands of people and everyone is clapping and cheering. It’s pretty incredible to be such a central part of the event and the experience. In the crowd I spot Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben – people who inspired me to be here in the first place. We’re in good company!
We can’t really move much further, so we get off our bikes and join in the dancing, singing, flag waving, shouting and, when it’s required, moments of silence to think about the Red Lines that are going to be crossed even with the COP21 ‘agreement’.
Eventually it becomes clear that it’s time to move on, so we drop off into smaller groups to move around and see what else is going on. Just stuff like this:
It also becomes clear that police have closed all the side roads and there’s only one tiny route out, so we have to file out of the space, very close to rows of more ridiculously oversized police. Fortunately, the mime artists are out in force to have some fun, including this guy giving a police motorbike a clean with his mop:
With the main action over, we cycle in a smaller group of about 10, towards the Eiffel Tower to reconvene there. Eventually most of the Time to Cycle crew make it to the meeting point, and we do the obvious thing: crank up the sound system and have a dance under the Tower!
From the fear and nerves that people held just a couple of days before, and after all the pain and shock that Paris has experienced since the terrorist attacks, to be able to spontaneously set up a sound-system under the Eiffel Tower and have a party feels like quite a release, a good moment for civil liberty, and a brilliant high note to end on, but it turns out there is more to come…
Later in the evening, after we’re all back at the hostel and our bikes have been packed into the vans (thanks guys!), we hear about a party that’s happening in a nearby commune. We head over and it’s absolutely ram-jam-packed. Again, there’s amazing (cheap, vegetarian) food on offer, and there’s a kind of gypsy-punk band playing. Normally one of my least favourite genres of music, tonight it makes total sense and fits the anarchic mood perfectly. There’s people crowdsurfing and a big sign saying ‘The COP is part of the problem, not the solution’.
The party ends around 1am but it spills out onto the street for a while after, with loads of people chanting anti-capitalist slogans. I suddenly fear that, with our guards down and no-one else around, this might be the time that the police swoop, but they don’t and we make it home safely: tired, elated, a little drunk maybe. 🙂
All that’s left to do on Sunday is jump on the Eurostar and do, in two and a bit hours, a journey that took us five wonderful days by bike. According to Seat61, the per-person CO2 output for this journey is 11kg. By plane, 122kg. Plane stupid, even more so since the emissions do more damage when released at high altitude, and one of the reasons flying from London to Paris and Brussels should stop tomorrow, and why I won’t be flying in 2016.
According to the CO2 offset calculator on my bike computer (which multiplies distance cycled in km by a factor of 0.15), the ride from London to Paris by bike (and not including the ferry) would have produced 47.9kg CO2 had it been done by car*. (It doesn’t have figures for train or plane unfortunately.)
On the train there is time – finally – to think and chat about whether COP21 has been ‘successful’ or ‘good news’ for the planet. Opinions are mixed. The printed European edition of the Observer/Guardian (with a huge picture of one of the Time to Cycle crew on her bike) reports the outcome document as being “better than expected” and everyone seems to agree that it’s better than Copenhagen.
But there’s a nagging, undeniable feeling that it’s still far too little, too late. Many nations, including India and China, won’t reach peak CO2 output for another 20-30 years at least. This, along with continued human population growth, bodes for a dangerous, frankly scary future, and absolute disaster for wildlife and ecosystems. It’s hard to stay positive in the face of such doom and gloom.
And so, as we disembark at St Pancras and – miracle of miracles – are reunited with our bikes, the adventure draws to an end. It’s over for now, but the fight is not. WE ARE NATURE, DEFENDING ITSELF. There’s talk of future actions and activities, perhaps in the UK to target fracking, or in Germany next Spring to target a huge coal-fired power station. It definitely feels more like the start of something, something special, rather than the end.
Huge thanks to everyone I was lucky enough to have shared this journey with, especially my buzzing BEES (Sam, Ti, Morgan, Eleanor, Ben, Jack and Lucy), and all the organisers, facilitators and drivers. What a brilliant, inspiring bunch of people to be with. I hope it won’t be the last time I see you all… I have a feeling it won’t.
*2008, based on the average emissions of a petrol powered car.