Even as you take your first first few steps inside the climate summit in Paris, it’s easy to get a bad feeling about things.
First, you notice that there are nearly 200 concrete pillars lined up in rows in front the center, each wrapped in flags of the world’s nations. You wander among them, realizing many of the pillars are taller than the Island Nations they represent, wondering who will be the first to be wiped out by the scythes of rising seas and maddening cyclones.
Next, you are welcomed by a number of attractive Air France-like stewardesses, with long legs and marvelous smiles, as if you were in the dystopian Vonnegut short story about entering a government’s suicide-assistance building, where you offer up your life for the greater good.
"Red lines will be present everywhere in the Paris treaty, and far too many will be crossed."
Third, you might catch an Island delegate running frantically through the hallway, and if you’re a journalist looking for a story, you might ask, “Ambassador, how are the talks going?” Only to hear “Not well!” as he rushes by.
Things aren’t faring well in Paris.
If you’re following the news, you’ll know how Indigenous Rights are on the chopping bloc, how the fight for a 1.5C target is being ever-blocked by Saudi Arabia, and how climate finance is an uphill battle, especially for genuine public funds for things like seawalls.
But here’s what’s important to get here.
Even if these talks soon fall apart and then magically and stubbornly come back together in the last hour (which they’re apt to do) that deal, at best, still commits us to an ugly world—if not a wholly monstrous one.
The reasons for this are many.
The talks are negotiating between a popularized 2°C goal and an underdog Island-championed 1.5°C temperature rise. The key context here is that we’re already bound to pass 1C this year and as such we’re debating God-awful vs. gradients of awful-awful. 1.5 won’t be as bad as 2 (what most rich countries would prefer), or 2.7-3.5 (what Paris has us on track for) or upwards of 5C (the path we were set on after Copenhagen), but it’s still a world of super storms like Hurricane Sandy and Typhoon Haiyan—it’s still a world of Marshall Islands bedrooms filling up with water, of hope-lost farmers on the move in Syria and other bespoiled landscapes.
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The talks are negotiating for $100 billion a year in climate finance by 2020, at best. The stated goal isn’t even reached yet—and depending on who you ask, is either 62% there, or far below. The rub, though, is that the economic damage caused by climate impacts for just the 20 most vulnerable countries has been estimated at $400 billion by 2030 (rightfully assuming an ineffective global mitigation response). The number for helping the 48 poorest countries tackle climate change is now up to $1 trillion for the decade following 2020. We’re debating “peanuts,” according to the UN’s very own climate chief.
And then there’s "Loss and Damage." All hope seems lost for compensation or liability—for reparations from big carbon polluters for the little countries they’re pummeling into the sea. That said, even a climate displacement facility isn’t guaranteed. This would be some kind of UN body that could help the millions and millions of migrants who are being forced to leave their climate-haunted homes. Even if such a facility was to move forward, it won’t be in time for those who are already drowning, fleeing a drought- and war-torn Syria, or the flooded out Bangladeshis stuck in traumatic Australian refugee camps (where conditions are so bad refugees are reportedly calling for assisted-suicide facilities).
Cue the marvelous French smiles, and the warm “Bonjours” at Le Bourget. Red lines will be present everywhere in the Paris treaty, and far too many will be crossed.
All those red lines, they all mean the same thing: the Paris treaty will not be enough. No matter how lauded the deal that comes out of Paris is, no matter how much anyone still dreams it will save us, the truly important work will remain.
This work will carry on by maximizing resistance—in making blockades and occupations so big that we are literally unstoppable. It will mean unleashing the next wave of cultural divestment—by painting Exxon so black they have no more hooks in our politics. And it will mean tugging sister movements more snugly together, fighting for the tipping points we need.
Red lines are everywhere in our world, not just in the Paris text. And it’s time to draw them.
As John Jordan, an artist who’s been working on the D12 action for months, reflected, “The red lines meme [already] appears everywhere, drawn along proposed oil pipeline routes, scrawled in villages threatened with airport expansion, stretched across the entrances of institutions that refuse to divest from fossil fuels, marking the fields where fracking rigs are planned. These lines can show where further disobedience will take place in the spring of 2016, when the movements have made a global call for fossil fuel infrastructure shutdown.”
And so, on December 12th, the day after the talks are scheduled to end, thousands and thousands of activists will bravely flood the streets of Paris, streaming a 100-meter, red-painted banner above their heads, tossing up inflatable silver cubes with red stripes laced around them, converging on a yet-announced iconic point that one can only imagine has something to do with the city’s richly revolution-colored past.
Helicopters will surely fly above this grand flood of courage—and as the movement converges, one will see it pulsing, red lines shooting out like the sun’s rays—singing, cheering, and alive.