While the world is watching and waiting for world leaders to act on climate at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP21, things are already heating up for French climate activists...
Understandably, France is still recovering from the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, so security is a top priority for authorities. But should climate activists be on top of that security watch?
French authorities seem to think so; French police put at least 24 climate activists under house arrest. And activists could leave their homes only to sign a post office register confirming their whereabouts — three times a day.
“Our Civil Liberties are in Danger”
What crime did these activists actually commit? Disregarding a ban on organizing protests. While this ban isn’t consistent with the French ideals (Liberté, Égalite, Fraternité) that my French teachers drilled in my head, it is perfectly legal under the new state of emergency laws, post Paris terrorist attacks that killed 130 people.
And many climate activists are speaking out. As The Guardian reports, Naomi Klein, author and climate change campaigner, accused authorities of “a gross abuse of power that risks turning the summit into a farce.”
Klein goes on to tell The Guardian that the conference shouldn’t be another photo op, and:
Given the stakes of the climate crisis, they are by their nature highly contested. That is democracy, messy as it may be. The French government, under cover of anti-terrorism laws, seems to be trying to avoid this, shamefully banning peaceful demonstrations and using emergency powers to pre-emptively detain key activists.
Legal activist Joel Domenjoud echoes Klein’s frustration with the current system. Domenjoud experienced cops raiding his home and being followed by undercover cops because he was wrongfully accused of being a “principal leader of the ultra-left movement.” Other activists have had their computers, documents and personal items seized. Domenjoud captures the overall sentiments of these recent abuses of power when he says, “it shows that they can target people for no reason at all and our civil liberties are in danger.”
What are Activists Fighting For?
Despite the setbacks, many of these climate activists remain undeterred. In fact, many are getting creative and finding legal loopholes because their cause is that important. Climate activists represent a new wave of environmental activism. Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies assessed common beliefs and motivations of climate activists, and found some common themes: many believe climate change is a threat, it’s solvable, and individuals and collective actions can make a positive difference.
Climate activists want to help the world — not engage in criminal behavior. So why are French authorities treating them like criminals?
Many French climate activists were quick to criticize COP21 after learning who the conference’s sponsors were. According to The Guardian, the activists believed that the conference was “financed by French champions of pollution,” also known as Air France, Renault-Nissan and BNP Paribas, and the conference would be “greenwashed” and riddled with hypocrisy. Climate activists are bad for big business because they have the facts on their side. In the United States, climate activists have shut down the Keystone XL pipeline and hundreds of coal-fired power plants after a national anti-coal campaign.
Activists around the world are in danger of being silenced by people who don’t want to hear their message. We can’t forget that from 2002 to 2013, 908 activists were killed in 35 countries – with only 10 convictions.
Silencing climate activists isn’t aligned with French values. Sign and share this petition urging French President Francois Hollande to stop treating French climate activists like criminals and to protect their civil liberties.
Photo Credit: Young FoEE