THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING by Leslie Tate
On June 17th Sue Hampton and I lobbied our MP, David Gauke, as part of the Day of Climate Action organised by Christian Aid, RSPB, Greenpeace and many other environmental and church groups. We were briefed beforehand by Friends of the Earth advisors and Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion. Caroline couldn’t stay long, she explained, because the House of Commons chamber can’t seat the full complement of 650 MPs and if you want to ask a question you have to be seated. So she needed to be in the chamber at least half an hour before the debate, otherwise she would be left standing and unable to intervene. I couldn’t help wondering why such archaic practices go on in a modern democracy. Caroline did succeed in asking a question on climate change, by the way.
Before continuing this account I’d like to say our discussion with our MP contained a surprise element. He told us that it is possible to head off climate disaster through fracking. In hindsight I can see a pattern here. There are all sorts of ‘technical solutions’ being touted to our climate crisis, for instance plasma energy, air capture and fusion power – but all of them have huge technical difficulties and all of them, crucially, divert us from our immediate task – to inform ourselves, live simply, care for others and take practical steps to protect our children’s environment. The climate is changing because we burn and waste huge amounts of energy dug from the ground. In my view, the only reliable fix is to work together to change our habits and keep it in the ground.
Entering the Houses of Parliament is like stepping into a BBC historical drama. High roofs, elaborate decoration, imposing entrances – and then the wait in the central lobby trying to catch the name of the next MP to emerge and meet his or her constituents – not an easy task, with the announcements echoing from the high, decorated roof, and the hall full of guided tours and other lobbyists.
There were five us from South West Herts Constituency – John, Margaret, Helen, Sue and me. It turned out later that many more lobbyists from our constituency were denied entrance because the hall was too full. When David Gauke’s name was called we shook hands by the desk and retreated into a corner of the lobby where our MP explained he was late because he’d just been to a meeting with the Secretary for Climate Change and Energy. We deduced that it was a briefing and the Minister was ensuring that everyone gave out the same message. Here’s how our discussion went:
We raised the issue that 50 years of scientific investigation is unequivocal. The Earth is, we said, rapidly heading to climate chaos with the current atmospheric carbon count at 403.7 ppm (particles per million) – 53.7 ppm above safe levels and climbing by 2 ppm a year.
David nodded; we were all onside.
We raised the issue of fracking because the burning of fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – is the main driver of climate change. We urged the government instead to speed up the development of renewables: wind, solar and wave power.
David surprised us here, describing fracking as a temporary expedient to bridge the gap while we build a mixed power system (nuclear + renewables + fracked gas) adding, in other exchanges, that fracking has reduced carbon emissions in America and hasn’t caused earthquakes or water pollution. The idea that you burn fossil fuels to reduce emissions was new to us and the best I could do was to point out that USA has the highest per capita carbon footprint in the world. Checking the evidence when I got home, a very different picture emerged – but more about that later…
For the rest of our conversation we had an intelligent, civilised discussion. We lobbied hard about the damage climate change does to the poorest parts of the world and the danger of famines, wars and mass migrations unless we take action soon. David conceded that we have energy lessons to learn from Germany. He also told us that the UK has ambitious carbon-reduction targets and intends to take a leading role at the world climate summit in December. We offered a contrary view – that fracking, maximising the use of North Sea Oil and reducing incentives for renewable energy won’t give us much clout at that meeting. David, to give him his due, was aware of the need to invest in renewable energy research and subsidise insulation. He claimed that tax breaks for renewable energy projects are being reduced because the price of renewable energy has fallen. I did put in something rather general about a government having to lead but wished, afterwards, that I’d said we have a moral duty to do more than just follow so-called ‘market forces’. But you only think of these things afterwards.
I think a fair summary of the conversation was that we were listened to, our MP showed awareness of the problem, but we differed over whether fracking is part of the solution or part of the problem. When I got home I found a scientific report using five different computer models to show that any long-term improvement in carbon emissions from fracking is negligible. I also found a major scientific paper about methane release caused by fracking. In the USA these levels are much higher than has been realised up to now – and methane is a much more toxic greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. I also found new scientific opinion backing up the claim that earthquakes in America are being caused by fracking. I’ve sent all three articles to David Gauke and I’m hoping he will reply soon.
After lobbying we enjoyed the day. There were people with banners, in fancy costumes, waving placards, offering freebies at stalls and lots of talk between caring, committed people. It’s a very different world from inside the Houses of Parliament. One of our fellow-lobbyists told us that he believes David Gauke is ‘on side’. I couldn’t tell. I know, like everyone, our MP wants to do his best but I simply can’t agree with him that fracking is the way to reduce our emissions. It depends which world you live in, but I see this as an emergency which needs a bottom-up approach as well as top-down action to achieve a decisive, planned switch to renewable energy.
Climate change also asks moral questions about who or what we value most and how honestly we examine the impact of our own actions. To me, this one issue changes everything.
NEXT GREEN DRINKS:
The Green Drinks are held on the third Thursday every month, from 8pm, at The Old Mill, Berkhamsted. The next meeting is on the 18th May.