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by Alexandra Chaignon

Ecology. When Citizens Regain a Hold on the Climate

Translated Friday 14 September 2018, by Paula Smith

Thousands of French people decided to take to the Streets this Saturday. This unexpected movement by citizens demonstrates that the battle for the environment does not correspond with the pursuit of liberal, production-driven politics.

“Do I have a structured society in the streets in order to defend bio – diversity (…)? Do I have a national union on an issue which concerns the future of the humanity of our own children?” While announcing his resignation live on France Inter on the morning of August 28, Nicolas Hulot implicitly called upon civilians. The message was clear: you have asked a lot of me, but you allowed me to go alone to the front, without any support. Since then, the former minister of Ecology Transition has revealed that he hoped that his "resignation was not in vain, that it would provoke a leap forward". Apparently his appeal was heard. As since this famous day, spontaneous initiatives have not stopped emerging, taking on an unexpected scale after the request for ‘a walk for the climate’ this Saturday, September 8, launched on Facebook by a simple ‘citizen’. “The ecological crisis concerns us all. It is important to go beyond political bickering and react” constantly, says Maxime Lelong. On this day, his request had a response of more than 20 000 participants and almost 100 000 people who were interested.


How do you explain such a craze? The random sequence of extreme climatic changes that have occurred this summer (heat-wave, lightning, floods and forest fires) has continued to convince public opinion that erratic weather is a reality. “The resignation of Nicolas Hulot has clarified the fact that liberal politics such as that of Macron are incompatible with the climate crisis”, says Maxime Combs, economist dealing with climate, who confirms a ‘rare enthusiasm’ from French society. “The entire government action, going back one year, does not give the impression of going toward a social and ecological improvement. The resignation of Nicolas Hulot, with what he represented, is an additional sign for some that this government is not on the right path, which is social development. And the appointment of Francois de Rugy will not do anything” adds Didier Aube, from the Solidarity Union, who supports the walk. In addition, the attack from MEDEF, that proclaims that the solution for the matter of ecology will come from the ‘private sector’, has sparked opposition, aware that the battle to preserve the environment is incompatible with the intentions of liberal, production driven politics, which rely on lobbyists.

Based on the four corners of the country, from Paris to Lille and Marseille while passing through Clermont-Ferrand, Chamonix or Angers, the walk on September 8 actually coincides with the movement RiseForClimate (in our streets for the climate) organised at a global level in more than eighty countries, in the run-up to the world summit on climate action, which will take place in California from the 12th to the 14th of September. In France, the resignation of Nicolas Hulot has accelerated and even reinforced this call to react now in order to avoid witnessing in fifty years’ time temperatures climbing by 3 degrees celcius. Supported by thirty NGO’s, several political parties (Unsubmissive France and The Green Ecologists) have also announced their participation.


The view of a large number of people is that the ecological development plays a daily role on the ground “A strategic idea held, for example, of conflict having a leverage affect” thus explains Txetx Etcheverry, the spokesperson of Alternatiba, the citizen movement that proposes concrete alternatives to campaign against global warming. “For this the territories offer lots of leverage action and advocacy. We have many possible alliances. Also in movement, among those who suffer from pollution – rail workers battling on the track and cycle workshops. Also there are all the local elected representatives. Multiplied by 36 000 municipalities, succeeding in convincing all these stakeholders will be an enormous task”.

“In terms of culture we have already won the battle; now the question is how to keep a hold on it. This should come from territories, basically, insists Clemence Dubois. On a daily basis, people eat organically, support those in poverty, engage against useless projects like EuropaCity or NDDL. They try to achieve concrete alternatives which demonstrate that the liberal, produce-driven model is not compatible with the movement against global warming. Except this is not seen at a national level”. One of the issues therefore is the individual engagement becoming collective to have an opportunity for concrete change. “While the salaried workers of La Souterraine, in Creuse, fight to maintain their business, and Macron responds “There is employment 80 kilometres away” "just Take your car”! This simply entails more traveling, more cars and more pollution. Today, battling for one’s job is also battling against this” asserts Marie-Claire Cailletaud, spokesperson of the national federation of mines and of energy CGT.” In the same vein, to battle law regulations is to battle for employees’ rights with regard to business strategies. All these battles, we wage them and they have to do with alternative developments. They are crucial for the climate change campaign. We really have links to build with NGO’s on all subjects”.

Should we, because of all this, stop having expectations in relation to this government? On the contrary, respond the NGO’s, who would like, more than ever, to show with support from citizens the inconsistencies of Macron’s liberal politics. “One needs to highlight the contradictions of this government, which is reducing social benefits and at the same time, bringing out the red carpet to City traders, who bring anti-social and anti-climate politics, responds Maxime Combes. We require a political shift, brave decisions and vision. There is little chance that it will be this government which brings it about, but with all that is happening we can establish a balance of power.

Txetx Etcheverry, himself, does not beat about the bush: “We are entering a new period. Two sides are distinctly clear: the one at 3 degree celsius which drives us to a mortal path as part of humanity. And the other at 1.5 degree celsius who still believe in the possibility of changing things. It is a life and death struggle. It is going to be difficult and it will take organisation. The 3 degrees celsius gang will not lose interest just like that. They will not favour being democratic either. Now they will have to show their teeth. It is time for the confrontation – still pacifists but determined”.


With this takeover by citizens, society wants to deliver a message: the government does not want to react, and we will have to force them. Clemence Dubois, from 350.org does not object. “We will not change the lobbyists without having citizens who are organised” Only this can bring about a power balance able to push politics, demanding social and climate justice. “What this demonstration shows is that the people are ready to take action for the climate crisis and not leave it in the background”, concludes Maxime Combes, delighted that this gathering attracted civilians and that we are not alone.

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