The Problem with Canceling Environmental Marches in Paris

By Summer Wong

Following the recent terrorist attacks on Paris, the French government has mandated that public demonstrations related to the UN Climate Change Conference will be banned for the safety of French citizens. The French government’s mandate has caused huge frustration and anger, as organizers had already put in the massive time and effort to rally large numbers of supporters for a planned protest on Nov. 29.

The government’s decision to ban the  public marches (which were attempts to increase people’s awareness of how climate change can affect their lives) can — and should be —  criticized on many levels. It’s hard enough already for the average people to demonstrate for free expression. Their only effective means of getting attention is through marches and protests that draw the media’s attention. Other than that, it’s usually government representatives and politicians who actually have the power and the voice to bring about significant change. Taking away the people’s voices is a cruel utilization of power that unfairly shifts the balance of democracy.

While the French government’s main intentions were centered on protecting its citizens from further terrorist attacks after the unfortunate attacks on Paris, we must also take terrorists’ motivations into consideration. Their goal is to instill fear in us. By banning free expression in public places, we are basically giving ISIS the positive reinforcement to continue in their endeavor of hurting others.

This is not solely an issue concerning the safety of French citizens. There are other ways to respond to the recent Paris attacks, and shrinking away should not be one of them, especially when this movement is a peaceful, passionate and powerful one.

“This is not time to step back,” said Alix Mazounie, a Climate Action Network France campaigner. “We are in a country of free expression — that has always been the source of our power. This will be about unity, solidarity and peace, as well as climate change.”

Climate change is not an issue that should be taken lightly. It’s a global security issue that affects the lives of thousands of people all around the world, especially in places like Brazil, Kenya and Bangladesh.  Climate change is getting progressively worse; food is becoming scarce as crop yields decrease, natural ecosystems are dying and natural disasters are getting worse.

“As time goes on, the poor countries that are in the warmer and drier parts of the planet will feel the crop yield decreases early,” said Michael Oppenheimer, professor of geoscience and international affairs at Princeton University. “When you get above two degrees and into the three-and four-degree range, adaptation becomes less effective. People who were already disadvantaged, more of them are going to be suffering from malnutrition.”

By stagnating the progression of this movement in any way, we are sending a message that our comfort and security is prioritized over the millions of impoverished people all over the world who are fighting to stay alive. Banning these public protests could have a drastic effect on the progression of this movement. There will be less attention directed to this issue, and it’s difficult to bring about significant change when there is little awareness in the first place.

The main decision comes down to whether or not the government will choose to silence the voices of their citizens at the expense of their comfort and security. We should not be compromising the safety and health of millions of suffering individuals, because it sends a whole lot of terrible messages. We do not want to encourage ISIS in any way, and we should show that we are supporting this peaceful and worthy cause; a cause that has a very real effect on people’s lives.

 

Summer Wong is a first-year biological sciences major. She can be reached at summerw@uci.edu.