Bicycling, Brandalism, and Black Bloc at the Paris Climate Talks

It’s that time of year again, when world leaders and masses of activists convene to grapple with a dying Earth. Largely indifferent to the effects of climate change, overpopulation, and ecological collapse, this year we’ve seen a slight intensifying of rhetoric from Barack Obama and Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel. Even notorious climate denier Vladimir Putin made a few sympathetic retorts.

Credit the Pope for laying down the hammer this fall on his US trip when he called inaction on climate change “suicide”, and in his 190 page encyclical published this spring. The document is a rousing moral wake up call about the dangers of capitalism, the ways we build cities to divide each another by class, and of how we’ve devastated vast swaths of our natural world.

While 2015 has seen some significant victories like Shell’s failed arctic drilling ambitions and TransCanada’s failed KXL tar sands pipeline, it seems still there are few willing to challenge capital’s roll in creating the climate crisis or to alter their own consumption habits.

With the climate conference ramping up this week, there are a few exceptions to the bland, stalling rhetoric. Peter Walker’s piece for the Guardian hit on some points I’ve been writing about for years.

As the great and good gather in Paris for climate change talks, it’s time to consider what role the humble bike can play in combating global warming. Transport, in most nations, is the second highest source of greenhouse gas emissions after energy generation. Across Europe, half of car trips are less than three miles, a distance most could cycle in 20 minutes.

Every gallon of gasoline burned generates some 25 lbs of CO2. By commuting by bicycle, you’re personally responsible for cutting tons of carbon pollution every year. That’s something to be proud of, among the dozen or so other quantifiable benefits that riding grants you and your community. But don’t hold your breathe waiting for any world leaders to extol the virtues of the bike, aside from maybe the Dutch prime minister.

Another rebellious act of tactical urbanism targeting the conference arrived via the guerrilla art group Brandalism. Formed in 2012, Brandalism blanketed Paris last week with some 600 adbusting images mocking corporate greenwashing of the talks, sponsored by some of the worst polluters out there.

From their press release: “Amidst the French state of emergency banning public gatherings following terrorist attacks on 13 November, the ‘Brandalism’ project has worked with Parisians to insert unauthorised artworks across the city highlighting links between advertising, fossil fuels, and climate change. We are taking their spaces to challenge the role advertising plays in promoting unsustainable consumerism.” Brandalism’s full gallery of installations is here.

And what climate conference would be complete without a little bit of #ShuttingShitDown by way of black bloc?

Undeterred by Paris’ current unconstitutional ban on public protest, the more radicalized elements of the climate justice movement did battle with Police, getting gassed and battoned in the process. Bottles were naturally lobbed back in kind.

A police spokesman stated these radicals weren’t concerned with climate solutions, just making trouble. And yes, he was talking about the protesters, not the world leaders pandering behind fortified walls. In their crack down, police predictably conducted warrantless raids meant for terror suspects instead on climate activists, placing protesters under house arrest for the duration of the two week conference, a move that blatantly violates rights to due process.

Yes, it’s certainly that time of year again, when those who heed the moral imperatives laid out by the Pope are locked up for subversion, while inactive politicians endanger millions upon millions of lives. Welcome to the Paris Cop21 Climate Talks. Different conference, same bullshit.

At least you can always ride your bike.

See you in the streets.