Three things happened today, two of them very exciting, one, intense. I heard Eric Meyer of the Generation Atomic sing several pieces of nuclear opera (wow!), I got my official observer badge for the conference (yay!)… aand I had a confrontation with anti-nuclear protesters and the police (o_O). Frankly, I had not thought that my time in Bonn would be quite so eventful.
The morning started by me meeting up the bright young minds behind Generation Atomic and Bright New World at their crowded airbnb, among a veritable sea of laptops, dirty mugs, and half-awake nuclear advocates. After preparations, we navigated to the entrance of the very-official Bula Zone of the conference, where Eric poetically sang about the future of the human race in the rain. I am to blame for any shaking or needless movements in the film (which will be up later). I also got my badge and the free public transport chip, wouhouu. We decided to head to a museum cafe for late lunch, when we walked into… an anti-nuclear demonstration. We decided to dive right in.
Friends of the earth were on a scene making speeches to a crowd of perhaps 50-100 people (not good at estimating that). There were ‘nuclear waste’ barrels (you know, those you use for oil, but painted yellow and with a radiation warning sign) sprinkled around the scene, and an anti-nuclear van fitted with so much scary ‘nuclear’ props that they doubled its height. They talked and sang about the horrors of nuclear power, the message of the German lyrics went something like ‘they are threatening us all, the disaster is around us’ and ‘we should be angry, we have to act now for our future,’ and so on. So much will to make the world better, but laden with such mistaken, simplistic, and fear-inducing messages. It was sad.
Surprise turn: an anti-nuclear protest followed by a pro-nuclear opera
When they were done, Eric, who clearly lacks any kind of survival instinct, climbed onto the scene to let the protestors hear his nuclear opera. I stood right in front of the scene and filmed him (apologies to my husband about that promise to try and not get beaten by anti-nuclear activists). The microphone was still on when Eric began singing, but the protestors soon turned it off. That didn’t slow him down, you should hear that voice – he just stepped away from the mic and continued. A lady from Friends of the Earth went to him with a false smile, trying to say “how nice that you’ve come over to our side” and Eric smiled and shook his head and held up his colourful “nuclear yes please” badges.
“History-yy will show / [nuclear] was the right way to go”, he sang on, and by that time it was too much – the anti-nuclear demonstrators turned on their equipment to drown him out with cacophony. Eric took a bow, several people clapped! He jumped down, and was directly approached by a guy who had a nice smile on his face, who said ‘you should be really thankful that you are not getting beaten’. I was still filming Eric at that time. Another anti-nuclear demonstrator, a tall black-clad man with an ‘organiser’ armband, came and jerked at my hand that was holding the camera, trying to get it. I refused to let it go, and he told me repeatedly ‘let me show what you filmed’ and ‘you’re coming with me now to show me what you’ve filmed’. I refused and stowed the camera away securely among my many pockets. While I was being heckled by him, Eric was trying to show flyers with graphs to people in the audience. This so angered a stout old man in a bright yellow vest that he struck the flyer from his hand and threw it.
Things heat up
Soon the old man was pushing Eric and was really angry, spitting and yelling. He kept pushing Eric bodily away, and he kept putting his hands up, not budging, and saying ‘I’m a peaceful protester’ and asking the man to stop. The old man did not care, he screamed in his face that he was a fascist, and other unintelligible phrases, and kept shoving. None of the other activists thought this seemed like an objectionable way to behave, and they were happy to let Eric get pushed some 30 meters down the street – when I joined the two of them, the old man started screaming, spittle flying, a centimeter or two away from my face that I too was a fascist. I looked at him and asked if he was going to use force against me too. At about this point some of the people on his side made a half-hearted effort to tell him to cool off and step away.
With him backed up for a moment, we tried to have discussion with a Mexican woman (*correction: a New Mexican woman. She confronted me later at the US panel, said she’d read this piece, and said I was a racist. I asked if she really thought I was racist for not hearing her words perfectly amidst a group of people shouting on top of each other. I did say I would be more than happy to correct the piece with the more accurate information, and said how nice it was to be able to talk to her without all that shouting.) holding on to a large yellow banner. She kept asking us if we knew about uranium mining. I asked her whether she was concerned about climate change and interested in what the IPCC had to say about solutions. She said “that’s just one name. You listen only to one organisation”, to which I replied that hundreds of scientists for years and years had worked there trying to get at how to best understand the problem. She told us we should listen to hundreds of native people instead.
Enter the German law enforcement
At this point it turned out that the tall guy in black had gone to fetch the police. Two stern German policemen came and physically held me still and started asking about what I had been filming and they wanted to see the footage. The anti-nuclear people rejoiced, took out their cameras and turned them on us instead(!). I said I had done nothing wrong, and I was not going to give them my camera. The police were being gruff and told me if I knew about privacy rights, and “that it was against the law in Germany to put any of it online”. I said I naturally understood that there were laws protecting people’s privacy. They kept asking to see the footage, but I kept the camera safely in one of the pockets of my three jackets – Finnish cloth layering for the win! We asked them if we could then also see the anti-nuclear protestors cameras, to make sure they had not filmed us. The lady from Friends of the Earth let out an incredulous burst of laughter and said “of course I will not show you my phone. You’ll break it!” Eric asked if the police could do something about the man who had been pushing him around.
The police decided to selectively not hear anything about the pusher or about our demands to see the other people’s phones for their footage of us, and the anti-nuclear protestors were smirking. Instead the police took my name and address and said “if we see anything online, you will get legal consequences in Germany”. (What a load of crap btw – filming a crowd in a public area is supported by the law as long as one does not specifically focus and follow someone – in that case, permission for publication is needed. We had been filming Eric, and made general sweeps of the audience – later someone had insisted on walking into the frame to tell Eric he was lucky he was not being beaten. Threats and shoving people around a-OK, a mention of someone filming a public situation warrants an intimidation by the police? Wow.)
Conspiracy over the World Health Organisation?
The police left, and the New Mexican woman again brought up uranium mining. We tried to explain that there were drawbacks to all kinds of mining, and that we should make fair comparisons between energy forms. She – thankfully not tempted to get physical – raised her voice to drown out our arguments, and asked repeatedly if we knew how uranium was mined and enriched, and that the centrifugation of uranium in the enrichment process demanded energy – coal energy, because her country had no nuclear power – so HA. Nuclear needed coal. We tried to explain that all mining and construction requires energy. She said we were getting our information from the wrong places.
I said we needed to look at the health impacts – and I mentioned the World Health Organisation (WHO). I wanted to draw her attention to impacts of coal, but I never got a word in. She told me the WHO would never tell the truth, because they had signed a contract with IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) that they would never publish anything on nuclear power (weird because I have referenced several of their studies on it). To try to get a better insight into her thinking, I asked if she indeed thought there was a conspiracy at the WHO to ignore evidence on nuclear power, and she said yes – in fact, they “were obliged to do so due to this contract”. She declared that I should “do my homework look it up.”
Somewhat resigned, I promised to look that up IF she would also look up the scientific resources I had collected. Small victories: she accepted my Mothers for Nuclear flyer with a picture of me and summary and graphs of my reasons for supporting nuclear, and promised she would go online and read. I shook her hand and thanked her for talking to us. I am now left with the task of looking for a contract between IAEA and the WHO, proving that the WHO will not publish anything about the ‘true impacts of nuclear power’… any tips on where I might find such a contract? 🙂 Update: thanks to two fellow Finnish Ecomodernists for their quick help with my homework! Behold, the conspiracy. UPDATE – more on that in the piece where I account my second meeting with her, after she has read this piece and has complaints: Conversations with an Anti-Nuclear Protester, Take Two.
Only an hour after my first visit to the COP23, and wow, I was spent! We went for a well deserved lunch of what I introduced to Eric as “Swiss Pizza” (flammkuchen – I take no responsibility over which German speaking part of Europe deserves the honours for the dish’s true ancestry).
By the time we were done eating and calmed down from the shower of adrenaline, we saw that the protestors, including the pusher, had sat down at the same cafe. As we were walking out we waved and smiled at them, and got the finger. Classy.
Surprise surprise, we found that anti nuclear protestors might not be the most fertile ground for a calm discussion about evidence. Still, I am sad and amazed both at the style of their behaviour and the content of their arguments. I can’t help but hope that some of them may feel unhappy about the behaviour of the people “on their side”, and perhaps wonder “what really motivates these people who were being yelled at and pushed around but kept trying to talk calmly about the importance of stopping climate change?”
The answer is that most of us are motivated by love toward our fellow humans and nature. The question is, what is the best way to find out how we can best take care of each other and our environment? Is it all a conspiracy, and one slogan is as good as the next? Or is there a way to actually know, instead of simply assuming?
For more of my articles on climate and energy, look here. Even better idea, however, is to read the short, evidence-dense book Climate Gamble or browse the graphs in their blog. If you would like to have a discussion in the comments below, please take note of my Commenting policy. In a nutshell:
- Be respectful.
- Back up your claims with evidence.