What a journey it has been – Dan Price of Pole to Paris has officially completed his 10,000 km cycle from Antarctica to Paris, making it to the city in time for the 21st Congress of the Parties (COP21).
Given the events of the last month, things won’t be able to go ahead as planned. Large gatherings are out of the question, so planned marches and protests have been called off in the interest of public safety. But that doesn’t make the climate change message any less important or urgent, and Dan hopes the 150 world leaders who have descended upon Paris will be able to come to an agreement upon a way forward for this very pressing issue.
We caught up with Dan to hear about the final leg of his journey, and the events in Paris as they have unfolded so far.
Arrival in Europe was a culture shock. It all seemed really boring after all the action of the last few months. After I settled, things got back on track. I crossed Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and the Czech Republic before settling in Austria. After an extended stop in Vienna to catch up on writing the documentary we are producing, I headed for the Alps. I was very excited, I hadn’t been in the mountains since leaving New Zealand. I am happiest in the mountains, and as a keen mountaineer, it was pretty special to get back amongst them. I climbed a total of 11,000 metres through the range, from Salzburg to Geneva. It was hard going, but absolutely worth it. After giving a talk to youth in Geneva, I headed for France. I got pretty excited when I crossed the border, and covered nearly 400km in the next 36 hours. I was very lucky in the Alps and had clear skies for three weeks. Things got tough in France. The temperature dropped, so keeping my hands warm was tough. On the down hills, I’d have to stop every couple of kilometres to warm them. It was almost Siberian, large forests covered in snow, it was really cold.
Although a State of Emergency is declared in France, we should do our very best not to overlook the fact that our planet is in a State of Emergency too. After the inexcusable events of the 13th of November, the mood is very different to what it would have been. The large climate march was banned which is a shame, but understandable. There is a dominant Police presence in the capital – I was stopped twice entering the city. Even with the crackdown by authorities, it is very important that the people’s voices be heard. Immediately after the attacks, I was worried, worried that they would somehow overshadow the enormity of the task that needed to be completed at COP21. However, as the immediate emotions of the terror attacks subside, a sense of hope is descending on the city. The world did not retreat in the face of terror, but hundreds of world leaders arrived in the City of Love in solidarity. They are calling for action. The threat of climate change may not be so apparent as that of terrorism, but we must not let our inability to validate longer term threats get in the way of what needs to be done. In the larger picture, the threat of terrorism pales in comparison to climate change. We are talking about the ability of the planet to support life as we know it, almost in its entirety.
In the last few days, we have seen climate change rallies take place all over the world in support of the events taking place here in Paris. This is absolutely a reflection of growing awareness around climate change, and direct evidence of the public will to address this problem. We must now see that transcend into political will. And really, it is a crime against humanity if we do not see this happen. I think the leaders have a very clear picture of the feelings people have on this issue. But now comes the challenge of putting commitments on paper. There was a beautiful alternative action in the Place de la Republique – as people were unable to march, 10,000 shoes were put on the ground to mark people’s absence. Also an underground group of artists have illegally placed advertising making digs at big corporates about their role in this problem – such a cool idea, and they are all over Paris.
The difficulty is that for the most part, the threats of climate change are not apparent right now. The problem is that we are locking in these threats today. It’s like slowly injecting yourself with a slow-working poison – a poison you cannot treat further down the line. As we continue to pump CO2 into the atmosphere, which further warms the planet, that warming is locked in, and there is nothing we can do about it in the future. The climate system has a lag to it – like trying to get a heavy train moving, it will take a lot to get it on the move, but once it’s going it’s going; and in our case we don’t have any breaks we can put on. It is very difficult for people to relate to the impacts of climate change, because often they are slow, subtle changes to ecosystems and weather patterns. But I think a key case, which we are witnessing now in Europe, is migration. It is difficult to attribute the Syrian refugee crisis to climate change, but there is a link. A major player in the spark that ignited the revolution was a major drought. Although there are signs this may have been linked to climate change, it is difficult to establish scientifically. However, as such events are very likely, almost certain to become more severe and frequent in future – is is quite a clear situation. With a changing climate, it’s not rocket science to work out it’s not going to turn out well. Politically unstable regions will be placed under even greater stress from environmental changes. As Obama states, we must seek to avoid “floods of desperate people seeking the sanctuary of nations not their own.”
There’s speculation a binding agreement on the restriction of Greenhouse gases can be reached at COP21, but as it stands, nothing that comes out of Paris will be enough. We will have to see a rapid acceleration of our efforts over the next 20 years. With current intended targets (which were pledged by over 180 nations ahead of the conference), we are on track to see and average warming of around 3°C. This is complete insanity. To put this into perspective, the last ice age saw global average temperatures only 5°C colder than today. This resulted in ice sheets growing over large parts of the Northern Hemisphere and Antarctica, sea level was 120 metres lower! We’re looking at going 60% of that in the opposite direction. This will completely change the surface of the planet. In terms of a binding agreement, there is a lot to be done. If a ‘binding’ deal is made, how will it be enforced? How will it be monitored? There are large challenges to overcome. How exactly will poorer nations be supported by the developed world, how will they be financed? How will that money get to where it is needed? The most important thing is that everyone starts moving together in the same direction. Addressing climate change will be a marathon, so what these events in Paris must ensure is that everyone starts to move over the start line, and get ready to run!
It’s not just the leaders who can make a difference. The people need to put the pressure on our politicians, raising their voices as much as they can, especially over the next two weeks. Paris is only the beginning – there will be decades of challenges to come. Use your vote to elect officials who treat this issue with the respect it deserves. Write to your representatives, take part in marches, think of new ways to engage people in the narrative, teach your children the value of the natural world, eat less meat, and if you’re really taking this seriously, cut out meat all together. Get solar panels installed and try to make your home energy independent, I think that is absolutely brilliant if you have the money to do it. Most importantly, you must put as much energy as you can into exercising your rights as a citizen as you put into using less power. One of the biggest challenges is cutting the tight bond between political power and power supply. We need a power divorce, removing the influence the power companies have on our leaders, and then a remarriage to clean power. This is the only way we can get where we need to be fast enough.
Although the Pole to Paris journey has come to an end, the world’s journey must start here. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has spent the last 20 years trying to put in place an effective plan to address climate change. So far, it has failed. It all comes down to this. Why? Because our time has run out. The science tells us that if we continue as we are, we are in big trouble. The changes must begin now. COP21 runs for two weeks. The world must agree to collectively move in the same direction. The meeting must establish a new global partnership. At its core, this partnership must have the value of true stewardship embedded within it. In the words of Prince Charles who addressed the delegations in the plenary.
“Your deliberations over the next two weeks will decide the fate – not only of those alive today, but of generations yet unborn.”
Is there a greater calling than that?
Macpac was proud to get behind Dan, providing him with the gear he needed to carry out his epic mission as he cycled from Antarctica to Paris.
Keep an eye on Dan’s journey on the Pole to Paris Facebook page