This post doesn’t matter in the way that Paul’s recent post on the insanity of the British Met Office matters. But I thought I’d put it up anyway to get it off my chest. And because there’s another chronology than that obeyed by Met Office press releases – that of creative artists.
When I reviewed Benoît Rittaud’s book “Ils s’imaginaient sauver le monde: chroniques sceptiques de la COP21” (Books Editions 2016). a year ago here I promised to translate a chapter. Almost a year later might seem a bit late for a book on the very ancient history of the Paris Agreement. But the book is interesting, not only for its blow-by-blow account of a very boring event, but as an illustration of what a creative artist might do with this momentous material, if only all the world’s creative artists weren’t all otherwise occupied sticking organic third world products up their noses, or sticking their noses up the backsides of their masters in search of European Funding to Counter the Terror of Fundamentalist Denialism or whatever.
Benoît’s book is a diary of his reactions during those momentous days in December 2015 when the future survival of the planet seemed to be in the balance. It mixes politics, religious exegesis, science and personal reflections to produce an original literary work, the reaction of an intelligent observer to momentous events which can compare with Defoe’s “Journal of the Plague Year” or John Reed’s history of the Bolshevik revolution: “Ten Days that Shook the World.” Or not, depending how this story ends.
This translation is dedicated to Professor Mike Hulme who has so long campaigned for the involvement of creative artists in the campaign for the greater understanding of climate science.
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Chapter 6: If God Exists… (December 3rd 2015)
“On est dans la phase de maturation du texte”
Ségolène ROYAL, December 3rd 2015
Laurent Fabius, President of the COP21, has announced that we have to speed up the process, because, as everyone knows, there’s a host of drafts, each one with its propositions in parentheses. The only thing to do is to stick these different propositions end to end and leave the choice between the wealth of contradictory positions to later, even if it means taking hasty decisions which, no sooner announced with a fanfare, will have to be speedily denied. It would be laughable if the climate weren’t such a serious subject.
“’Scuse me m’sieur, are you working?”
The young lady who accosted me in the station waiting room while I was pondering the state of play in the COP21 negotiations on my laptop seemed very worried. Surprised by the question, and not understanding the reason for it, I replied: “Yes.”
She raised her eyes, gave a desperate sigh, and moved away.
“Er, can I help you?” I understood her plight at last. “Do you need to use the internet?”
She turned round and showed me her smartphone with its smashed screen. The phone was broken, but someone had explained how to get it working again. The solution was complicated, and the young lady had obviously not understood it, except for the fact that it required a computer and an internet connection. I don’t normally accept this kind of request from strangers, but this time, confronted with the girl’s tearful expression, I was ready to offer all the help I could, and too bad for the COP21.
Setting up the repair process took a while, and when it was done, my laptop indicated that it would take half an hour. My train was leaving in an hour. The young lady’s train left in forty minutes. It was cutting it fine, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.
She took a second telephone from her pocket, less sophisticated, but adequate for her needs. I tried to calm her anxiety:
“It’s annoying when your smartphone lets you down when you’re travelling. But at least you can keep in touch, that’s the main thing.”
“Yes, but I can’t do it with Snapchat.”
Snapchat – isn’t that the app that lets you upload photos on the internet but which wipes them automatically after a certain time? She looked at me, amazed that there was still someone in the world who didn’t know what Snapchat was.
“Right.” I tried to calm her down again. “It’s not the end of the world if you haven’t got Snapchat for a few days. Just a few years ago, no-one had it, but now you have!”
“Yes, but now there’s Snapchat, and I use it all the time.”
I wasn’t trying to judge this young lady, simply to reassure her. I didn’t know at the time that this short conversation was effectively at an end, while events were about to take a crucial turn. The young lady turned her attention away from me and called out:
“Hey, sister, do you know how to..?
This unlikely remark was addressed to someone sitting not far from us. The young lady didn’t know her, but had identified her interlocutor as someone within her social circle. May I mention, without being misunderstood, that the two women were black?
Anyway, the young lady’s intuition was correct. Despite a certain age difference, the two women struck up an immediate friendship. While I could no longer even pretend to be interested in the 250 or so possible options in the summary which would serve as a draft for the COP21 Paris Agreement which would have to be proposed in less than 48 hours, the young girl opened up her heart to the lady who had accepted to play the role of her elder sister for the evening.
She was eighteen years old and two months pregnant, and she recounted the fact with a naïve pleasure which was both touching and disquieting for her future. The father didn’t know.
“You have to tell him.”
“I can’t. Every time I call him I end up telling him what I think of him. He’s a bastard. A right bastard!”
Patiently, the lady explained the importance of a a child having a father. She said all the right things. Nothing extraordinary, but because it was she who said them, they had their effect.
“Do you have children?” asked the young girl.
“Yes. One of fourteen, and one of nine.”
Earlier in the conversation, the lady had given her age: thirty-two. 32-14=18. The young girl was therefore face to face almost exactly with what she herself might be.
“And – you’re married?”
“Yes, I’m married” – said with a certain proud smile.
Several times a week this lady waited for the train as she was waiting this evening, sometimes for three or four hours, in this miserable waitingroom. She was a saleswoman and she recounted with pride how she made a point of always doing her job as well as she could. And she was married with two children – no doubt already in bed at this late hour.
Here was the light from above. An angel sent from heaven so that the poor lost young girl would have the chance, just once in her life, to hear the message of salvation, the example to follow. Unfortunately the lady’s train arrived, and she got up, said goodbye, and left.
My computer was slower than expected at performing the operation that would save her smartphone. It was indicating that it still needed 8 or 9 minutes, and the young girl’s train was leaving in 10 minutes. Then she mentioned her ticket. She hadn’t realised, but it wasn’t valid.
“Quick! Go to the platform!” I insisted. “Your ticket isn’t valid and on the night trains the tickets are checked before you get on. The ticket inspectors may not let you on, and you’ll have to convince them. I’ll follow you.”
We ran to the platform, her in front and me behind with my cases, holding my computer open, linked to her nonfunctioning telephone.
As I feared, they wouldn’t let her through. I expected her to object furiously, but nothing of the sort. She gave in straightaway, venting here anger at the station walls, which echoed for several seconds to her angry exclamations. Then she returned to the waiting room, cursing the French railways, inspectors, trains and invalid tickets. I must have seemed ridiculous, following her for no obvious reason like a poodle with my two big suitcases, my computer, and the telephone which I was taking care not to drop.
“I don’t give a toss! I’ll spend the night here in the waiting room! Let them try to throw me out!” the young woman declaimed defiantly to the empty air.
In front of her was her suitcase. Forgotten. If they’d let her on the train, she’d have left it behind.
At last the computer announced its mission accomplished. Alas, for some mysterious reason the smartphone didn’t light up as hoped. Fate had decided that I would not perform some meritorious deed that night, but simply that I should witness one small example of the everyday misery in the world.
“Can I help you?”
“No, I don’t think so,” she answered without looking at me.
I unhooked the dead telephone from my computer and gave it back to its owner, said goodbye with compassion, and headed for my own train. She was already on the phone, in conversation with some unlikely friend who, she hoped, might be able to put her up for the night.
I’ve no idea where this young lady spent the night.
How can a rich country like ours, which spends so much on education, on the young, on social programmes to ensure that no one is excluded from our society, have failed so disastrously for this person? This young lady was vivacious, charming, but no doubt so used to a life of misery that she was unable to distinguish between the minor problems of life and the more serious.
If God exists, would some reader please direct His kind attention towards the case of this young woman and her future child?
This happened on Thursday December 3rd 2015 around 10pm at the gare d’Austerlitz, Paris. I hope the reader wil excuse me for having felt the need to describe it. Nothing, up till then, had so clearly demonstrated to me the utter futility and pointlessness of the COP21.