Today the United Nations Climate Summit starts
More than 120 world leaders meet in Paris to agree on limits to stop global warming. A great media spectacle and indeed a great opportunity to raise awareness and discover how we can change our habits to preserve our environment.
The Climate Miles
The Dutch have organized a 600km walk all the way from Utrecht to Paris: The Climate Miles. It is a big project organised by Urgenda aimed at raising awareness for climate change and it draws quite a bit of media attention online and on television every day. At Voormedia we also like to contribute and promote this wherever we can, so I walked along with The Climate Miles 4 days ago to give them our support. The stage was 30km long and went from Senlis to Goussainville. This is my account of day 27 of The Climate Miles.
Roeland Lelieveld would join me on the trip. He is an energetic guy and quite a hero for some, as he is greatly involved in land restoration and reforestation. He works for the city council in The Hague and next to this he runs Africa Wood Grow in Kenya and the Dutch charity Forest Market Foundation. I pick up Roeland straight after work with the electric car. After some initial traffic jams on the A13 the trip goes smooth and we arrive later that evening. There were some struggles as we missed the last exit of the motorway and we were left with an almost empty battery. Luckily the local fire department from Saint-Witz came to the rescue. They offered some coffee and French electricity just so we could travel those last few kilometers to the hotel. As we finally arrive in Senlis we hook up the car to the supercharger and check into the hotel. It is far too late now to meet the other walkers so we go up to our rooms and quickly fall asleep.
It is 6:45 in the morning when the alarm clocks go off. A bit of a short night but it gives us some time to prepare for today. Roeland is probably more used to early mornings as by the time he is dressed, my eyes are still hurting and I'm struggling to get out of bed. Roeland is a real social media addict and has received some response from the picture of the fire brigade. He reads them up aloud "Are you in Paris?" and another one "Is that your Tesla?". We laugh a bit as Roeland replies. He continues to read an interview that Linda made of his initiatives. She will be posting that interview later today for her project Twentie Four and asked Roeland to take a final look. The interview opens with a sentence "People expect Roeland to have a degree and they feel disappointed when they hear that it is not the case". It is the only part Roeland feels a bit uncomfortable with so we brainstorm a little and come up with the underlying reason Roeland had difficulty studying at school as he is a bit dyslectic. A couple of minutes later we laugh because we both noticed a typing error in a previous article from Linda. She wrote "come alone" instead of "come along" so maybe Roeland is not really that dyslectic after all. We decide the text is fine and Roeland gets back to Linda through the chat to give his ok on the interview.
Senlis in the morning
We put on our hiking gear, grab the cameras and go downstairs. Wow it is still dark. We put the car on the supercharger for another hour again, so it can get completely charged. We discover we are at the Ibis budget hotel and only meet some French people in the breakfast room. We guess the group is staying at the regular Ibis hotel next door. It is still 7:45 so we can have a comfortable breakfast. I had decided to record the day as my personal contribution to create awareness for climate change. I will try to make some great pictures, write everything down and do some postings on social media. To get into the habit I shoot some photos of breakfast for fun. Roeland is having some difficulty getting connected to the hotel Wifi. I'm writing all this in Notes on the iPhone so experience no problems at all. In France apparently they call sugar "budget", so I put some budget in the yogurt. Roeland is checking his LinkedIn account by now, so when finishing breakfast I propose it is time to meet the others. It is light outside and misty and we notice one of the participants walking by from the small flag she is carrying on her backpack.
We enter the lobby of the regular Ibis hotel where we sit down to relax for a few minutes. Perfect timing: 5 minutes later we meet Rachelle Eerhart, one of the organizers. As she walks in we are given a really, really warm welcome! It is a fun moment so I make a picture and forward it to Roeland who wants to share it on social media. Some great people are now entering the lobby. We meet Kathe Thompson and Kai Sanburn, two older ladies from Florida who have been walking the entire route until now. We meet Fabian from Netherlands and Roger Daldy from New Zealand. Roger seems really impressed by the Dutch like us who just visit the walk for a day. I start talking to Corentin Leblanc in Dutch, but he is from France! We continue in English and he tells me he is also walking the whole route. We sit down with Rachelle and share experiences.
Rachelle Eerhart welcomes us in the lobby
Rachelle set out a large part of the route and is in charge of social media for The Climate Miles, she laughs and brings up the picture from the Twitter post from a minute before. Rachelle comes up with some people we might like to meet, like Christina from Eetbaar park, and the fact that in the evening Marjan Minnesma from Urgenda is planning to speak to Hussen Ahmed from Soil & More and Abiy Ashenafi who is a consultant from Ethiopia. We meet Janine and also have a short talk with Pieter Hermus, a farmer walking the whole route. His walk is going well, only on day 3 he had some difficulties but after that it went better again. Pieter is quite an activist and writes about the negative effects of climate change. One of his articles was published in the Dutch newspaper "Trouw". He writes about drowning crops for the past 17 years.
The group receiving final instructions
We walk outside to meet the whole group. Today 40 people are joining the walk, slightly more than yesterday. As everything is broadcasted on television each day, two special guests are also joining. Rachelle introduces us to Sabrina Starke and Hussen Ahmed. And we are introduced to Noortje Blokhuis. She is followed by a separate film team of the IKON.
And we are off! Let's go!
The walk starts in Senlis and as we walk off we start talking with Matthijs Kettelerij, he is handling communication for Urgenda. A little further up the road we walk with Lucas de Groot. He is an older man and walking the whole route pulling a small cart in his aim for peace and justice. Luckily we are on the pavement and pulling the cart isn't that hard apart from the occasional road obstacle. We walk on. I meet Jos Koniuszek, he has been walking the route for 2 weeks. He is retired but still works for the "Groen Links" party as a council member in Breda. He couldn't join earlier as there was a large budget debate, so started walking from Brussels.
Senlis city streets
Marjan Minnesma is the director of Urgenda, the company that initiated the walk. She is "the" woman walking to Paris that we are all joining. Marjan seems a bit reserved and doesn't ask much. Pretty logical I guess as these days must be extremely intensive with so much going on. I meet her as she is walking with Miriam van Gool. Miriam loves solar power and the three of us talk a bit. We have a laugh about Elon Musk and his defeat on vertical landing by Jeff Bezos of Blue Origin a couple of days earlier, and we have a discussion about travelling to Mars which costs extreme amounts of energy. Miriam brings up The Martian, a film with Matt Damon who played an astronaut who finds himself stranded on Mars. Space travel is very admirable but we conclude it is hardly justifiable and probably more of a young boy's dream than anything else. Miriam's job is to give advice and lectures about sustainability with her consultancy Eco Value. She is currently thinking about a change of focus and proudly shows me her new website that is about to go online in a couple of weeks she hopes.
Climate runner Nelson together with Marie talking to Irma
Completely unexpectedly we get to meet marathon climate runner Nelson Coomans accompanied by his girlfriend Marie traveling by bicycle as The Climate Run. Nelson has been running all the way from Gent in Belgium. They noticed one of the mini vans of the Climate Miles from its stickering and decided to wait for us to arrive.
The group gathering at the next milestone
Every day The Climate Miles put up a milestone by one of the special guests and today it is singer songwriter Sabrina Starke with her slogan "Live with love for yourself and for our world". It is also a perfect time for a little promotion of I-did, the company that develops circular products. They produce products like the Circular Bag and Marjan is an avid promotor. Sabrina symbolically hands Marjam the bag with a famous quote from Nelson Mandela "It always seems impossible until it's done". The whole group gathers around the pole for todays group photo we wave The Climate Run goodbye and we are off again.
Sabrina and Marjan "hit" todays milestone
The picture I just made of Sabrina and Marjan came out great so I'm already busy writing a tweet to post online. We want attention for climate change so this seems like a good opportunity to do my share. I somehow prefer shooting pictures using the Canon camera, they always seem to come out better than those from the mobile phone. It is a bit cumbersome but after some fiddling with the Wifi connection I manage to transfer the picture to the tweet in my phone. Wow it is cold and my fingers are freezing, typing goes terribly slow walking out here. And it is not just typing 140 characters. As I start typing I quickly feel the need to get my facts right, so start looking for the right hash-tags and the Twitter names of Sabrina and Marjan. After 15 minutes walking and at the same time writing the message is ready: "Walking the #climatemiles @Urgenda and Sabrina Starke and Marjan Minnesma literally just "hit" a new milestone".
Elske, Hussen, Roeland and Jos walking through the forest
We now reached a beautiful forest and a great part of the trip. The forest also seems a bit warmer. In the forest I meet Elske van Krieken who works for Urgenda. She planned 5 days of the route at the beginning in The Netherlands. In the past Elske worked as a trend researcher for a consultancy firm and advised established companies. She is very happy about Urgenda because it is focussed more on her real passion. We talk a bit especially about the great effort of Rachelle, who has walked and changed this part of the route for two weeks a couple of weeks before.
By the time we exit the forest we reach some large stretching fields and an historic graveyard. I slow down a bit for some pictures of the entire group.
The Climate Miles walking through the countryside
I connect at the rear of the group where Irma is walking together with Pieter Hermus whom I met before. Irma is walking with Nordic Walking Poles, but as she is a bit smaller her speed is not that high.
Pieter and Irma
The NPO film crew is also a bit slower than the rest. At 12:00 we walk into Orry-la-ville and Joris Linssen is now interviewing Hussen Ahmed of Soil & More from Ethiopia. Orry-la-ville is a beautiful small French village. We pass the most incredible butcher and the most beautiful bakery. The houses are very well looked after, better than what I usually see in the north of France. I think to myself this must definitely be a place where people that work in Paris have moved to. We reach the "Salle de rencontre" where a really nice lunch is prepared by the mayor and his association. They give us a warm welcome in French: "Bon courage à tous!". I am amazed by the organization and the timing. We are right on schedule.
Lunch at the "Salle de rencontre" in Orry-la-ville
The moment we sit down for lunch we are treated with another surprise: the organization welcomes two older ladies: Marijke and Vera from Ulst. They have been cycling as participants of the Climate Express from Belgium. They have been cycling for 300km from Ulst for a week and we all give them a loud round of applause. Now that they have neared their destination the group is split into sets of 2 to travel into Paris. It really amazes me all these initiatives that are taking place.
Marijke and Vera from Ulst from the Climate Express
At the end of lunch Roeland and I go for a picture in the Climate Miles booth as it seems kind of funny and soon after we are already on our way again for the second stretch of the day.
Walkers with Dick van Elk in the middle
As we continue I make some pictures of Dick van Elk who is also a bit older and walking the route with his rollator. It looks funny!
A short pause so everyone can catch up
The group pauses a bit for everyone to catch up. Roeland is talking with Abiy Ashenafi and I make some photos. As we continue I meet Jan Folkerts who works for the council of Littenseradiel. Jan tells me Littenseradiel is a municipality from Friesland in the north of The Netherlands with 29 small towns and 11.000 inhabitants in total. He is quite interested in Tesla and the reliability of the car, so I share some experiences. Jan tells me his job in the council and the way it is organized. Until now I did not tell people that much about my own work but Jan seems quite curious and interested, so I tell him about the services and products of Voormedia and continue to zoom into the story of TinyPNG (which saved 30MB on the photos from this blogpost), particularly how it evolved as a product.
Hallway of the Bellefontaine golf club
We arrive at the golf club of Bellefontaine. Our shoes are quite muddy by now, so we queue up a bit to clean them with the special machines just in front of the entrance. The big hallway of the golf club is full of large relaxing couches and everyone sits down for a nice cup of coffee and some delicious biscuits and pancakes. Liset Meddens goes around with the hat to collect for dinner in the evening for those who wish to join. I am sitting next to Jaap 't Hooft who runs the company 8Winds. He asks me what efforts Voormedia takes to reduce emissions and save energy. It's the electric cars of course, the choices for cloud hosting and other smaller contributions such as automatic power down of servers when not in use. Before we know it we are already on our way again, so we keep talking on our way outside.
Jaap making a photo
Jaap introduces me to his expertise in wind energy and his current focus on wind at sea. It is quite fun walking and talking with him as we both seem to have a technical background. He sometimes suddenly stops to take a picture of the countryside and then continues walking. We seem to be walking a bit slow, seemingly to the annoyance of some and we happily let them pass by. I talk a bit about the internet projects we carry out for companies and government and point out some horror stories we sometimes come across. Jaap is from Alkmaar and mentions Iconum. He likes their straightforward, no-nonsense and down-to-earth approach. What a coincidence: I happen to know Iconum quite well and it turns out he knows Joost Honig, the manager, quite well. It makes the world seem pretty small again.
Countryside north of Fontenay-en-Parisis
This stretch of the walk is quite nice as it goes up and down some light slopes. We are walking towards Fontenay-en-Parisis and in the distance on the horizon we see the church tower in between the low clouds. Jaap suddenly stops again to make a picture of what look like two harvesters about 100 meters away, but he corrects what he said, when the machines turn we can see that they are tractors ploughing the fields. Funny I somehow completely missed the tractors if Jaap had not stopped. As we are a bit slower Miriam is now the only one walking behind us. She is seemingly busy with her iPad and doesn't want us to walk further behind her. Fair enough, so I make some pictures of the scenery without Miriam.
Short coffee stop
When we reach Fontenay-en-Parisis we are treated with a nice warm cup of coffee. Brilliant. I talk with Miriam again, she was walking at the rear with her iPad and after some hesitations she explains why. The stock exchange opened at 15:30 CET and she was busy looking at the solar stocks. Tonight it closes early because of Black Friday so at 18:30 CET she will look again. Although working for IFC in the past she feels a need for more insight into the influence of the stock exchange. And we are off again. Someone asks if anyone wants a lift by car, but everyone is happy to walk the last stretch of the route.
Walking through Goussainville
We enter the town of Goussainville. The town is quite an urban place with lots of people in the streets. They notice us and cheer us on with applause. It feels nice. Rachelle asks if I'm not worried to carry the big camera, but I feel comfortable. Rachelle walks in front and leads us effortlessly to Hotel Bagatelle, our destination. We arrive at 17:10 and get a warm welcome. Noortje Blokhuis is walking up to the entrance. She is the girl that one of the film crews is following for a new television series by the EO and IKON called The Pelgrim. Her feet are aching badly and she tells me she broke her ankle in March. Doctors inserted a few screws but right on those spots some blisters have appeared.
As everyone checks into the hotel Marjan is kind enough to lend us her Opel Ampera to get our own car back. She asks me if I have ever driven in one and if I would like some instructions. I answer briefly with the words "Don't worry, I'll manage" but it is probably not the right reaction as everyone in the lobby starts laughing. Marjan goes on to explain that I can just keep the keys in my pocket, press the little button on the door handle and then the square button on the dashboard. I'm glad she gave these instructions when we reach the car, we start the car effortlessly and drive off. It takes us about one hour and we arrive back at 19:00 for dinner.
Dick van Elk asking for a warm round of applause
When dinner is finished and because this is the last day Dick van Elk takes a moment to give a speech. He initiates a warm round of applause for the entire organization on behalf of all people here. The organization has been very busy for more than six months and along with the continuous applause he continuos with a "Thank you very very much!". More applause follows as members of the organization are drawn to the middle and extra rounds of applause follow for the members of the film crew.
At 20:00 the Walkshow starts. It is the 23rd and last one of climate miles. Lots of chairs, lamps and camera equipment are set up around a big table in a small room of the hotel. Marjan welcomes 5 guests tonight: Sofiane Amziane from France, Abiy Ashenafi and Hussen Ahmed from Ethiopia, Roeland Lelieveld from The Netherlands and Norman Pater from Australia.
Safiane introducing us to the concept of eco cement
Marjan asks Safiane Amziane to introduce himself. He tells us he is a professor from Polytech Clermont-Ferrant and researches cement for the construction industry. In 2004 he changed his research inspired by climate change. He switched to researching the application of waste materials from agriculture and change the composition of cement. Plants can be used for insulation and for concrete and the prices are almost same as with traditional concrete. There is no impact on the climate in doing this. Agriculture creates food and the other parts can be used as building materials. It creates a real circular economy.
Marjan seemingly happy with todays ambience report
An ambience report instead of a weather report is now shown on the television screen in the corner. It is a nice video impression with highlights of today, day 27 of the walk! I'm impressed. It is fun to watch, everyone is laughing.
Abiy Ashenafi is asked for his experience with climate change in Ethiopia. He tells us the big impact they are experiencing. The change of rain has a big impact on agriculture. Ethiopia is very rain dependent so it disturbs the whole system. People employ simple farming which is very sustainable, but if the crops fail for one year they are immediately faced with a big problem. They may have to move or they may suffer from famine. Abiy continues to tell that right now there is a severe drought. And when it is not raining, the upstream wells dry. Cows may need to walk 10 days but that is too far and they will die. It also causes many people to move location.
Abiy from Ethiopia sharing his experience with global warming
Hussen Ahmed from Soil & More gives his impression. He tells Mirjan that Ethiopia is doing its ultimate efforts to bear the climate change. In Ethiopia 85 percent of people depend on farming. The current changes are a matter of life and death: meaning people are paying with their lives. Last time there was very little rain and the population suffered from famine. The government delivers food aid, but that is not a long term solution.
Marjan asks Roeland Lelieveld whether they are experiencing similar effects in Kenya. Roeland finds this difficult to judge, but he explains that planting trees sees big effects on the environment. It stops land erosion and degradation, and it can even result in more rain.
Safiane tells us that Europe and the US are less economically able to put the new solutions into practice. He tells us there are lots of laws and lobbies in the cement and steel industry that try to stop this. We also need to change our perception: cement is not a modern material but instead it is the high tech ecological bio materials. He also warns us with a slide that every French person is using 1 kg of cement per day. And 1 ton of cement equals 1 ton of added CO2 to the climate.
Norman Pater from Australia alarmingly tells us people from Australia do not believe in climate change. People still blame El Niño and the regular temperature cycles. There are terrible floods that should happen only once in a hundred years that are now happening frequently. He sees exceptional storms and tremendous hail damage to cars. At the same time increased cyclone activity in northern Australia, both in volume and in frequency. There are big fires with property lost and people dying. Marjan is asking if the Australian government does anything to battle climate change? Norman tells us they are not doing anything, even after the horrific fires in Tasmania. And in Sydney last year the fires started in September, that is very early in summer. Australia should be in front but sadly they are in the back of the bus. It is a very conservative government. Some people in government are not even allowed to speak about climate change and the officer of Climate Change has left. Australia's Prime Minister has a "horribly low" ambition and even makes statements such as "Coal is good for humanity, poor people in China reserve the right to coal."
The Climate Miles booth video is shown to the delight of everyone
We are now watching The Climate Miles booth. It is a funny daily video with answers to some specific questions.
Marjan asks each of the guests for some ideas what can be done. Roeland thinks people see climate change as problem, but need to see it as an investment. Hussen sees a solution in resilient farming, and planting trees for fencing. Roeland comes up with the idea to put charcoal in the soil so it preserves the water. Abiy explains there is a rural area in the south-west of Ethiopia with a dense tropical forest. The forest is cut to make way for tourism and it is also cut to cook food. He says the fuel saving stoves is a good solution to reduce the use of firewood by 60 percent. And Safiane shows us a nice 100% eco cement house (white buildings) with reinforced concrete. He says the change should happen in our mind, we shouldn't stick to our usual habits.
The Walkshow audience
At the end of the Walkshow a video is presented with a special letter by one of the participants. Today Piet van Lingen has created a special letter and we all should have a look!
Dear world leaders,
During my walk to Paris the last 4 weeks,
I once again experienced how beautiful the world is,
in so many different ways.
I walk this walk because I'm so worried,
about what will happen if we continue,
to spoil the beautiful earth.
And I'm worried what indecisiveness,
about doing something about it will do to all of us.
It would make me so sad if young people,
like my daughter and my son,
would decide not to have children,
because they don't trust the future.
One week from now,
you as world leaders will come together in Paris.
Please make the right decisions when you are there,
you are the ones that have to decide,
noone else can.
Please decide to make reducing CO2 emissions your number one priority,
and to limit the rise of temperature to 2 degrees or less.
Please do not take risks.
Don't accept the dice that means disaster,
if you happen to throw an uneven number.
As a citizen, as a father, I ask you the leaders.
Please give direction to all our efforts as citizens,
and our desire to do what is necessary to stop climate change.
Set the stage.
Help us to do what is necessary in our homes,
when we are travelling, in our companies.
The technologies are there,
and many studies have shown that they are sufficient.
Now we need to take the right track.
There is no other way.
There is no other earth.
A large applause follows the inspiring message by Piet van Lingen.
Participants that walked a large part of the route share their experiences
The Walkshow ends with the people that walked along for more than 15 days. They all gather round the table and I love their personal stories, especially after having met some of them today. It also gives a chance for me to reflect about what is said and what we can do to stop global warming. It is definitely not just up to the world leaders. We all will need to change our daily habits, even though we may have been used to them all our lives. And our lives can still be as comfortable as ever. Technologies are also readily available for the changes to draw back our CO2 emissions. We just have to do it!