One-hundred-fifty events to combat climate change, at the rate of roughly 30 per day, were taking place the week of Dec 7-11 in various parts of the French capital, against the backdrop of the U.N. climate change conference in the Paris suburb of Le Bourget.
"Our purpose is really just to provide space to create awareness on a large scale," said Nils Loret of Coalition Climate 21, an alliance of climate change activists organizing the sideline events.
He spoke to Catholic News Service Dec. 8 in a hallway of Le CENTQUATRE-PARIS, a huge public cultural center where a majority of the events were happening.
As he spoke, environmental activists addressed an animated, anti-climate change crowd in one room; indigenous peoples from around the world relayed their climate-related troubles to attentive journalists in another; and, in another room, a movie about how climate change had ruined parts of Tunisia was playing.
Coalition Climate 21, explained Loret, "is an organization of 130 syndicates, social movements and NGOs (nongovernmental organizations). Our members are young, old, retired, heads of family ... and even people who have taken off work just for the day to come and volunteer here."
"We have faith-based members, as well," he said, citing two French Catholic-based member organizations—Secours Catholique, the French branch of Caritas, and CCFD-Terre Solidaire, a French Catholic development agency—as well as Catholic "pilgrims from the Philippines who walked all the way to Paris."
Loret noted that Coalition Climate 21 had been one of the main organizers of the Nov. 29 rally to combat global warming; the rally was canceled by French authorities after the Nov. 13 terror attacks in Paris. In response, the coalition formed a human chain, and, with the help of thousands of volunteers and the Internet, had "called on others around the world to march for us in their homelands," Loret said.
A Coalition Climate 21 pamphlet said the alliance originated from "the failure" of the 2009 climate conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, and the "hijacking" by industry interests of the 2013 climate conference in Warsaw, Poland, "which caused NGOs to walk out."
Many attending the coalition's events at the public cultural center Dec. 8 projected that the climate conference in Paris -- or COP21, as it is known -- was similarly doomed.
They claimed COP21 was controlled by big industries and corporate interests and speculated a climate change agreement friendly to poor nations and indigenous peoples was impossible.
"Time and time again you guys have failed to show up with real solutions," said Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, a 15-year-old Aztec Indian, environmental activist and hip-hop artist from Boulder, Colorado.
"It's up to the people to change the world. Our voices united will make more of a difference than world leaders ever have and ever will," he said.
Gisele Monniot, a Parisian psychologist, was among hundreds of volunteers handing out pamphlets and answering questions at the Coalition Climate 21 events. She said she was volunteering her time "because I want to feel useful ... and I am a defender of human rights."
Although she said she had "no illusions" that negotiators at the U.N. climate conference would produce an agreement in favor of the world's poor, Monniot said Pope Francis' recent trip to Africa, and his statements in support of developing nations in general, had inspired many people, including herself, to hope.
"I hope (the climate conference negotiators) come up with an accord that helps the world's developing nations ... and stops exploiting them," said Monniot.