French climate activists target store lights in Paris night raids

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  • Paris climate activists are taking a stand against energy waste by switching off store signs and advertising screens at night.
  • City authorities in Paris have ordered lights out for signs and advertising from December, but for the activists, it's not soon enough.
  • The French government is urging citizens to reduce electricity use this winter amid the energy crisis.
  • For more financial news, go to the News24 Business front page.

Paris climate activists have found a new way to get across their message against energy waste in the City of Light - switching off store signs and advertising screens that are kept on all night even though the government has urged people to cut back electricity use.

At 09:00 pm on a recent evening, around 20 Extinction Rebellion members gathered for a tactical briefing before spreading out on another night-time raid.

If the police spot them "we absolutely don't run", says "Joad," a 32-year-old veteran of the movement, detailing out the legal risks and advice for those who might be arrested.

"There are 12 million people going cold in France because they can't heat their homes, and on the other hand we're wasting this energy on advertising signs that are completely useless consumption," he tells AFP.

READ | France exits fossil fuel treaty to boost renewables drive

After distributing posters and equipment, including telescopic poles to reach switches for outdoor lights, Joad's team heads for the lively Marais district, a magnet for both Parisians and tourists, where dozens of retailers have outlets.

Click, and off goes a Levi's sign. On other storefronts, the group tapes up posters saying "This isn't Versailles!" - the scolding heard by generations of French children when they leave lights on needlessly.

The team targets opticians, jewellers, perfume boutiques and mattress stores as well as the numerous luminous billboards, prising open the frames to switch them off and replace ads with their own posters.

'Political courage'

The government, under pressure as Russia crimps gas exports to Europe, has urged people to show energy "restraint" as winter approaches, notably by lowering home heating thermostats to 19 degrees Celsius.

It has also issued a decree that illuminated signs and publicity must be turned off from 1:00 am to 6:00 am, starting in June 2023.

The city authorities in Paris have gone further, ordering lights out for signs and advertising from 11:45 pm to 6:00 am from December.

For the climate activists, that's not soon enough.

"We know this is very symbolic because electricity used by illuminated signs is only a tiny fraction of the energy the country uses," said "Pikou," a 36-year-old who also used a pseudonym.

The bigger problem, for Pikou, is the government's "double-speak".

"What makes me angry, and that's why I'm here tonight, is that the government asks ordinary people for restraint, with little gestures like turning their heating down or turning off Wi-Fi, but it doesn't have the political courage to ask for the same restraint from businesses," he said.

As the activists progress along the winding Marais streets, their actions often garner applause from passers-by.

"I completely agree with them," says Federica, a tourist from Milan. Anna, who also stops to watch, call the illuminated signs "a disgrace".

One store in particular draws the activists' ire. It is a clothing boutique vaunting its environmental credentials with the slogan "Because there is no Planet B"- alongside three large advertising screens.

The screens are quickly covered with posters.

"This is phase one. It's about raising awareness and prevention," says Joad, adding that some store owners respond with messages of support and promises to turn the lights off.

"For those who keep the lights on and continue this wastage, we'll advance to phase two, which will be a bit bolder, starting in December."

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