What We Learned From The Fire In Paris



On Tuesday, wealthy donors pledged hundreds of millions of euros to aid the reconstruction of the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris after a fire engulfed the structure on Monday.

France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, also promised a reconstruction effort and to "build the cathedral of Notre Dame even more beautiful than it was” in as little as five years.

According to news sources, fire fighters were able to quash the flames before it completely destroyed the building. Large parts of it remain untouched, although there is the possibility of damage from smoke and heat. Most of the “precious treasures”, including the crown of thorns and the tunic of Saint Louis, have been saved and will be transferred to the Louvre.

The Pope has sent his prayers.

Notre Dame ablaze // Wikipedia

Notre Dame ablaze // Wikipedia

By Tuesday, a few of the richest families in the world pledged over 700 million euros to rebuild the cathedral. François-Henri Pinault, CEO and chairman of luxury brand Kering (Balenciaga, Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen and Gucci) has pledged 100 million euros. Bernard Arnault, CEO of luxury group LVMH (Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Dom Perignon Champagne and Sephora), followed up with a donation of 200 million euros. The Bettencourt Meyers family, L’Oreal, has also promised 200 million euros to the reconstruction project. The CEO of the French energy company, Total, pledged 100 million euros. And the list continues.

The Notre Dame Cathedral was already undergoing restoration, which is one theory as to why the building possibly caught on fire. It was an alleged $6 million project that was meant to improve parts of the centuries-old building. According to some estimates, a complete renovation would cost $180 million. Luckily, many of the iconic parts, like copper statues at the base of the spire, had been removed days before the fire. Largely, it seems to be the roof and spire that were destroyed, all made from wood. Most of the building is made from stone and, according to some experts, that part appears to be intact. However, we still await the final tally of damages.

It is uncertain how much time and money will be needed to repair the architectural masterpiece. It could take more than the 5 years that has been promised by Emmanuel Macron.

Nevertheless, within moments, 24-hours actually, a few billionaire families scraped together hundreds of millions of euros to address a catastrophic fire that provides locals and tourists a glimpse into the lavish jewel of medieval, Gothic architecture. Before we applaud the selfless acts of generosity, the urgency of which the funding has poured in has left some feeling underwhelmed at the gesture.

We have just over a decade to seriously address climate change and rising global temperatures. Increasing storms, droughts and extreme weather patterns have caused thousands of protesters to take to the streets in London, UK. Hundreds of them have been arrested for disrupting everyday life of everyday urban dwellers.

The planet is on fire. Everywhere, extreme weather has created conditions where wildfire and drought have affected hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people. And although it could be argued that the fire at Notre Dame is a visible problem with a concrete solution, it is just that: A thing. It is a brick-and-mortar structure that merely adds to our overall cultural understanding. And so does the disproportionate allocation of funding. It is telling that the affluent are able and willing to spare a few million bucks for a beautiful piece of art over saving hundreds of thousands, if not millions, if not billions of lives by contributing to a larger cause such as climate change or homelessness.

What will successive generations say over this act? That our well-to-do members of society chose a building, a symbol of decadence during a time of great inequality, over current socioeconomic improvements, over addressing climate change, over real challenges that will affect all generations to come, rich and poor alike. If we do not act with the same urgency over our planet on fire, if we do not act with the same urgency at addressing a global housing crisis, there will be no successive generations to enjoy our cultural and architectural achievements of the past.