Thursday, November 26, 2015 – Issy-les-Moulineaux to Paris
I am shocked at how many people smoke in Paris. I see no active campaigns against smoking, although there is a campaign encouraging people not to throw their cigarette butts on the ground. The billboard announces that Parisians toss 350 tons of cigarette butts a year. I wonder how many municipal workers are thus ensured full employment? And I wonder about the global carbon footprint of cigarette consumption?
It is Thanksgiving, and the day is cool but sunny. I have an easy 5-mile trek to central Paris, crossing the Seine River where my end point today is L’Arc de Triomphe. My final day’s walk will be from there to the UN Climate Summit’s conference site in the northeast suburb of Le Bourget.
I see on the streets of Paris all the preparations relevant to the summit, and it strikes me that this event is as important to Paris as the Olympics would be to any major city in the world. But unlike the Olympics, we should hardly expect 24/7 coverage on U.S. television, and perhaps very little coverage at all.
But can it be fully on board if the voices of the average person are silenced? On Sunday, I will finish the last six miles of this 200+ mile walk, despite the French government’s decision to ban protests, marches and other “outdoor activities.”
In the wake of the November 13 terrorist attacks, caution and vigilance are essential. I get that. I support that. But squashing public participation is wrong and unjustified.
It’s really a question of priorities. The French government allows Christmas events to continue. The crowded markets I saw yesterday along the Champs-Elysées weren’t canceled. Sporting events will go on. The actual Summit continues as planned.
What I hear some people in Paris saying is that this is an intentional effort to silence the grassroots and the voices of those most affected by climate change. And since President Obama has not raised any objections with French President Hollande, I can only assume that the Obama administration supports the French government in this silencing of the public’s voice in the climate debate.
It will be interesting to see what happens on Sunday, with the march that anticipated hundreds of thousands of people being cancelled. I hear more and more rumblings that something will happen, that people will not be silent, even though many of the established grassroots organizations that were behind the march have meekly complied with the government’s request. I am not sure I’ll be able to walk to the summit, to conclude my journey as planned. We’ll see. I’ll give it my best.
My Thanksgiving dinner tonight is with five strangers. We are crammed together in a packed little restaurant, a place described to me as a “couscous restaurant.” I have vegetables, couscous, and some wonderful conversation with four Parisians and an Algerian. As I have come to expect, they all understand the urgency of climate change. But the Algerian man feels rather hopeless. I tell him I am cautiously optimistic that what comes out of the climate summit will give us all a much-needed dose of hope.
That remains to be seen. For today, I am thankful that we have made it to Paris, that I have met so many wonderful people along the way, and for this delicious variation on the traditional Thanksgiving dinner.