Cyclists take part in a march called "Claim the Climate" in Brussels, as the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24) kicked off in Poland, a climate protest called "Claim the Climate" was held across Brussels. Ye Pingfan/PA Images. All rights reservedProtecting the environment plays a tangential role in the violent
protests sweeping France since November 17, reaching a crescendo on Saturday,
December 1. Donning the bright yellow vests required in French cars in case of
a flat or other emergency, drivers all over the country are in the streets
protesting President Emmanuel Macron’s new set of taxes aimed at curbing auto
emissions. And even people who don’t own a car feel the solidarity and are
joining in, to express their anger over another economic pressure on the
middle, working and lower classes.
In a nod to the 2015 United Nations Climate Conference
(COP21) and its Paris Accord, which attempts to limit global temperature rise
to 1.5 degrees, the French government decided to raise taxes on automobile fuel
prices substantially by over 20 percent. Cutting subsidies on more-polluting
diesel fuel, which is popular in France for older cars, will drive diesel
prices even higher. Tax credits and subsidies are on offer to purchasers of new
fuel-efficient cars, especially electric ones.
While visitors to Paris marvel at the efficiency of the Métro trains
that encircle the City of Light’s tourist sites and fashionable neighbourhoods,
the non-élite live farther afield. A small one-bedroom apartment of 50 m² in
less desirable eastern Paris costs at least a million euros to buy and rents
for more than €1,500 plus expenses. It’s not much less expensive in other
cities in France. Minimum wage in France is €554 a month.
In a nod to the 2015 Paris Accord, which attempts to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees, the French government decided to raise taxes on automobile fuel prices substantially by over 20 percent.
There is train service throughout France, but it is
costly and plagued by long delays and frequent cancellations. “Make sure you
demand a refund,” admonished a fellow traveller in a huff as she ran off to
make other arrangements after a 4-hour delay ended in a train being taken out
Working class people, families with children, the
handicapped, elderly and others in outlying areas and small towns must make do
with the least expensive means of transport to get to work, doctors, school,
shopping and appointments. And that often means an older diesel car.
In Paris, the protests have turned destructive and violent with
at least one death, 133 wounded and about 400 arrests. Tear gas clouds the air
on the Champs Elysées near the Arc de Triomphe and Avenue Kléber is blocked by
burned out vehicles, while fire fighters try to put out blazes around the
Opéra. At the foot of the world’s most luxurious shops and restaurants,
hundreds of angry, yellow-vested protestors are covering their faces and
picking up and hurling paving stones.
While protestors are travelling to Paris to make their voices heard,
there are also demonstrations throughout France. Similar scenes are taking
place in Toulouse, yellow-vested workers shovelled cement and dirt in front of
tax offices in Limoges and Total gas stations in St Chamond, and traffic has
been blocked on the A47 highway to Lyon. In Aix-en-Provence, yellow vests
lifted a tollbooth barrier and let drivers onto the A8 highway for free.
Meanwhile on the shores of the Mediterranean, drivers are continuously honking
their horns at a central traffic circle in Montpellier while crowds are
gathering all around Marseilles. Speaking to French
newspaper “Libération”, Marseilles residents Caroline and Damien believe the
protests have reached all people, crossing racial, ethnic and economic
divisions, and are not only about the gas hike. “The president of the Republic
is paid even after he’s out of office for the rest of his life,” explains
Damien, “but when you earn €1,500 a month and lose your job, you’re left with
nothing really fast.”
Employees may have greater protections in France than in other countries
but it is increasingly more common to be hired on a temporary contract than to
be considered a regular employee.
Both the political right and the left have accused each other of being
protest “casseurs” (hooligans or instigators). Interior Minister Christophe
Castaner insists that ultra
right-wing opponent Martine LePen stirred up the protests, but admits that most
of the people arrested were ordinary citizens he believes to have been merely
inspired by far right groups. LePen retorted that “The
minister does not seek peace and order but in reality wants the situation to
get worse and take advantage of it.” The real problem, however, is an
out-of-touch government courting favour with the world on the backs of the
In Marseilles, yellow vest spokesperson Paul Marra told BFM-TV “It’s
been so many years that we have listened and so many years that we have not
been listened to,” while his friend held up a cell phone photo of an almost
empty refrigerator and said it belonged to a mother of three children. Marra
said the real hooligans are in the government and spoke about uniting the
yellow vests with orange-vested Banque Alimentaire (Food Bank) workers. The
national charitable organization is out on their annual effort to collect food
donations and serve meals to the poor. When asked if the protestors’ road blocs
will disrupt the collection, Marra replied, “The yellow vests
will help the orange vests this weekend. For all those who are suffering, we’re
not only not going to block them, we’re going to help them.”
Automobile exhaust is an important contributor to air pollution, but this fuel tax inordinately hits people of moderate to low income who are already using as little gas as possible.
Meanwhile, COP24 is held in Katowice, Poland. Since
the Paris Accord of 2015, emissions and pollution have continued to worsen,
culminating in the United Nations’ dire warning in October that the world has
only 12 years to contain climate catastrophe.
Automobile exhaust is an important contributor to air pollution, but
this fuel tax inordinately hits people of moderate to low income who are
already using as little gas as possible, cannot afford to live closer to where
they need to go or buy a new, fuel-efficient car. Curbing industrial emissions
through technology or degrowth, improvement in mass transit, urban planning and
policies aimed at gentrification and investment real estate are alternatives.