The Climate Change Meeting That Really Matters, Everyone Says So

Paris Climate Conference

The Paris agreement to address climate change was adopted on Saturday, Dec. 12th, by 196 countries. They pledged to work together to limit global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels with a goal of keeping the increase below 1.5 Celsius. It calls for stopping the rise of greenhouse gas emissions.

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Athena Kildegaard, CURE Board Member and instructor at the University of Minnesota, traveled to Paris earlier this month with her husband, Arne. Arne was an observer to the Paris Climate Conference (COP21). Athena agreed to share her Paris experience with us.

CURE Board Member, Kildegaard, Reports from Paris

Athena Kildegaard

Athena Kildegaard

Hanging along one side of the nave in Notre Dame, in Paris, are five tapestries of cartoons, or illustrations, by the Benedictine artist Dom Robert. Each tapestry depicts the natural world in riotous exuberance—a tender exhibition to coincide with the Paris Climate Conference (COP21).

Dom Robert was born Guy de Chaunac-Lanzac in 1907 and took orders in 1930. Early in his artistic career he moved from painting religious scenes to mélanges of the natural world—butterflies, flowers, birds, and animals. “I am used to wandering aimlessly with my notepad, to catching whatever I happen to meet in the course of my walks,” Dom Robert said. Indeed, a photograph in the exhibition catalog shows Dom Robert as an elderly man, sitting shoulder-high in a field of flowers, sketching in a notepad.

Roses bloom in a small garden behind Notre Dame, a modest surprise after a leisurely walk from Montmartre to the Seine. We wound our way on sidewalks crammed with holiday shoppers. Streets in this old part of the city have two lanes of traffic and it seemed the drivers were in no rush; they accommodated pedestrians and bicyclists without complaint. And, unlike in our rural Minnesota hometown, all the cars were compact: no SUVs, no Big Ass Trucks, no Escalades. Paris, City of Light, city of buildings no higher than five floors, is a city without escalation. It seems just right for talks of de-escalating the burning of fossil fuels.

Arne Kildegaard

Arne Kildegaard

We joined the Minnesota contingent to COP21 for happy hour and dinner—legislators, educators, activists—some getting ready to go home, others, like us, just arrived, and feeling slightly lost but invigorated, despite jetlag. We cheered when we heard how Chris Coleman, mayor of St. Paul, had ice skated the night before. He attended an event at the Eiffel Tower for some 1000 mayors from around the world. On the second floor was an ice skating rink, chilly with wind blowing across the Seine, but the mayor, who grew up playing hockey, was game. Someone showed a photo of him in an elegant suit, holding a glass of wine, cutting a sharp figure across the ice. Below, at ground level, citizens rode stationary bicycles to power the lights on the tower.

At Le Bourget, behind doors, the particulars of the climate change agreement are being worked out. Apparently oceans have been cut from the text. Perhaps they’ll find their way back in over the course of this week—a week of great anticipation. This is the Climate Change meeting that really matters, everyone says so. Something must happen, something monumental: an accord with bite.

One of Dom Robert’s tapestries on display at Notre Dame is entitled “Plein Champ,” “Open Field.” On a dusky green background stand a variety of creatures—turkey, goat, pheasant, lamb of God—amidst poppies, cockscombs and other flowers. Said Dom Robert about this tapestry: “I have the pleasure of working in an exalted, enthusiastic state. Just wait and see how everything jumps, dances, explodes, it all looks stunningly tousled, and I hope it will indeed stun those who see it.” Let that be language for the signatories to the 2015 climate accord.

Read More About the Paris Climate Agreement:

Athena Kildegaard is a CURE Board Member and teaches environmental ethics and creative writing at the University of Minnesota, Morris. Kildegaard is the author of three books of poetry, Rare Momentum (Red Dragonfly Press), Bodies of Light (Red Dragonfly Press), and Cloves & Honey (Nodin Press). Her poems have appeared widely in journals, in anthologies, on KAXE radio, and on The Writer’s Almanac. She was a founding board member of the Lake Region Writer’s Alamanc and the founding director of the Prairie Renaissance Cultural Alliance. Kildegaard received the 2011 LRAC/McKnight Fellowship for her poetry.