By Charlotte Crang
If you wander by the Panthéon mausoleum in Paris this week, you will hear the bustle of children at play, giggling teens and the chatter of camera-happy tourists.
It’s lovely, until you consider that they are gathered around what was originally 80 tonnes of ice, transported from Greenland by Danish artist Olafur Eliasson and placed on the cobblestone square.
The 12 dripping blocks of ice — “Ice Watch” — represent the hours on a clock, melting before our eyes and prodding the public and, hopefully, politicians to see how fast our climate is changing.
This is my first stop on a swing through the French capital to check whether the Paris climate change talks, or COP21, are having an impact.
Camille Kitten is standing near the ice sculpture. She is a French intern working for Entreprise Contemporaine, a firm that supports projects like “Ice Watch.”
“I think it’s very poetic,” she says, “It’s as if the artist has moved the arctic to Paris to make people realize that it’s actually melting right now.”
She notes that Greenland loses the equivalent of a thousand such blocks of ice every second.
American students Brianna Ashbrook and Alexander Rivkin did not expect to see the ice on their way to the Panthéon. Both students have benefited from the city’s attempts to go green during the conference, including days of free travel on the métro and free exhibits like this one.
On the Champs-Elysées avenue, passers-by can cycle, swing or run in giant hamster wheels to produce electricity used to light the major shopping street, all interactive installations provided by IKEA.
An American woman who asks not to be named said the street exhibits raise public awareness of climate change. “I think people take a look and say, ‘What is this all about?’ It’s not going to take place overnight, but I think there will be a quiet awareness.”
I head to an exhibit, “Radical Action Reaction,” by celebrated artists Ackroyd & Harvey in the Jardin des Plantes. It’s a huge set of curtains made of grass which, pulled apart, reveal a fir tree, with the 17th century Natural History Museum as a backdrop.
“We thought it was plastic or not natural, but it is,” says Marine. “It’s incredible.”
Odile, who also declined to give her last name, doubts that the street exhibits will be enough to influence public opinion. “It’s a good try,” she says, “but I’m not sure.”
As my day ends, I think back to the Librarie Pedone, a bookshop near the Panthéon that specializes in international law.
Youssef El Amrani, a graduate student working there, told me about the debates the bookshop has been hosting. He highlights a talk given by Ivar Ekland, author of the essay “Le syndrome de la grenouille: L’économie et le climat” (The Frog Syndrome: The Economy and Climate).
He is referring to “the boiling frog syndrome”: Water in a container holding a frog is steadily heated up. The frog adjusts to the rising heat, which eventually kills the frog before it can jump out.
The “frog syndrome” seems to sum up many of the reactions in Paris. The water is quite literally getting warmer, and perhaps we won’t pay attention to it until it’s too late.
Charlotte Crang is studying French and English at King’s College London. She is currently attending Sorbonne Paris IV on her Erasmus year abroad. She has lived in six countries and worked at international events including the London 2012 Olympics. Charlotte is interested in learning about other cultures and innovators around the globe.