Some days, in the environmental movement, you feel like you’re some sort of small squishy creature making brave noises just before the great corporate-political-industrial juggernaut squashes you. Some days, you feel very alone.
Saturday was not one of those days.
As everyone probably knows, it was the International Day of Climate Action, where people all over the world gathered to show support for a strong Copenhagen agreement and to demand that steps be taken to reduce the atmospheric carbon dioxide content below 350 parts per million, the level which scientists have determined will keep climate change within manageable limits. (We’re at 387 ppm now. Not so good.)
It was raining off and on all day in Montreal. The event I was most looking forward to was the 350 Concordia Student Bike To Mount Royal, which was supposed to start at 11 am. I biked downtown from NDG, arrived at the Hall Building, and saw…nobody. Some people were setting up a sound system behind the building for an entirely different event (something to do with Uganda, I’m not sure what they were doing exactly) and other than that and a crowd of random smokers by the doors, the area was deserted. No bikes.
Rode over to McGill to check if maybe there was an email I’d missed, and got chased out of the SSMU building by a janitor who didn’t like me bringing my bike inside. (I don’t have a lock at the moment – long and irrelevant story – and don’t intend to have my bike stolen, thanks.) Biked home to NDG, checked my email. Nothing.
So I decided to head back for the next event, which was a musical event at City Hall, supposed to start at 2pm. Rode back downtown, and as I was passing the Hall Building again, spotted a cluster of 350.org signs at the side of the building with one guy sitting next to them. Apparently the bike event had been rescheduled to 2 and everyone else had gotten the email but me. Also, we were no longer biking to Mount Royal, but to City Hall, via Place des Arts to pick up another group of riders; then we were all joining the musical event, which had been changed to three o’clock.
It was still raining lightly, and the organizer wasn’t optimistic. Apparently they’d had four hundred people register for the ride, but the weather kept most of them indoors. When we left Concordia at twenty past two, there were about two dozen of us. Most were on our own bikes, a few on rented Bixis. About half were wearing helmets, and only two of us other than the Bixis had lights going. Go bike safety! Someone asked if we were going to have a police escort. It would probably have looked a bit ridiculous.
We rode to Place des Arts and milled around for a bit. There was a fair crowd there, as apparently they’d just finished doing another event. Lots of people in paper Stephen Harper masks. I don’t think we actually picked up any extra riders there, though. Eventually we got cold enough that we needed to start moving again.
We met up with Geoff Garver and a bunch of other people at the Champ-de-Mars field outside City Hall.
That’s Geoff, me and Ed. There still weren’t nearly as many people as there would have been with good weather, but at least we were enough to make a decent crowd.
Clearly the police had expected a much larger presence as well; there were five police vans parked in the parking lot. Periodically an officer wandered by to see what we were doing and how long we planned to stick around. Nobody seemed much bothered by us. Pedestrians stopped occasionally, not many.
At 3:50 pm we went out on the lawn and played the note F for 350 seconds. The guy with the guitar is Brendan, the organizer of the event.
The frequency of F is 350 Hz – okay, actually 349.23 Hz, but there’s no point nitpicking, especially since we were probably pretty out of tune anyhow, as most of our instruments were the kind you can’t really tune, like pennywhistles and things. Oh, and a musical saw.
Can you tune a musical saw? I have no idea, but it sounded awesome.
After we’d done that, we formed ourselves into a 350 shape and got our picture taken. I haven’t received any pictures of that yet, so, um, here’s a picture of people in Aotearoa, New Zealand, doing it instead.
That’s where the Moral Economy Project’s Robert Howell lives, so it’s almost as relevant.
Afterwards, someone from CTV showed up with a camera and they said they wanted to film us doing a different event entirely; there’d been another Montreal event called “Jump For The Future” where everyone went up on the mountain and jumped up and down. They wanted to put that on the TV, but it had already happened, so they got us to jump up and down instead, and filmed it. We had a small child with us, which automatically makes us look better on TV.
The CTV video player isn’t embeddable, but here’s the link.
Everyone kind of dispersed after that, and I headed home along with a few other cyclists who were going in the same direction. Herding together for mutual protection is Urban Cycling 101. The ride back through Westmount to NDG was quite pleasant, actually, once we got out of the rush hour traffic around Atwater. Lots of leaves on the ground making pleasant squishing noises as we rode through them. Montreal’s official bicycling season ends November 15, which means that’s when they’ll take down the bollards protecting a bunch of the bike lanes and let people park in them and so on. There’s so few good days left.
Did we accomplish anything? I have no idea. The slideshows on 350.org are inspirational, for sure. There are certainly a lot of people willing to come out and demonstrate about this. I have no way to measure how many of those people went to their demonstrations by car; how many of them will go home and decide not to take that unnecessary flight, or buy that new TV; how many people walked by the events, or saw them on the news, and went and looked up what they were about, and started thinking seriously about this stuff for the first time; how many politicians added climate actions to their list of Things That Will Make Me Look Good To Voters If I Do Them; how many flapping butterflies’ wings it takes to start that storm. We aren’t going to know any of that until it’s been settled, one way or the other. We just have to keep on doing our bit, and hope it’ll be enough.
In the end, it all comes down to faith.