Can the earth be saved by bureaucrats in long meetings, reciting jargon and acronyms while surrounded by leaning towers of documents? That is what’s supposed to happen in France this month, when representatives from all the world’s nations gather for COP21, the twenty-first session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (U.N.F.C.C.C.), and the eleventh session of the parties to the Kyoto Protocol. “Just like in 1789, when the French Revolution gave great hope to the world,” Francois Hollande, France’s Socialist president, said about his aspirations for the conference, “history can be written in Paris.” Leaving aside the oddity of a president celebrating revolution — what makes him so sure he’s not the ancien régime? — Hollande’s statement unwittingly raises the possibility that the most important activity in Paris this month will happen not in any meeting room but in the place where most revolutions happen: the streets.
Activists in the People’s Climate Movement, a global organization that grew out of the 400,000-person People’s Climate March that took place in New York in September of last year, have planned another march to mark the opening of the conference, and more radical action is likely in the weeks that follow. These events will be taking place in the beautiful old-world capital of insurrection. Throughout the modern age, but most notably in 1789, 1830, 1848, 1871, 1934, and 1968, the French have taken to the streets to shake their government and often the entire globe, making Paris perhaps the greatest stage for popular unrest the world has ever seen.