Jeremy Hunt, South West Surrey MP and Secretary of State for Health, was unable to come to St George’s Church on March 12 to discuss climate change with his constituents as we had originally hoped, but this turned out not to be the problem that many of us had thought it might be.
In fact, it gave the 30 or so constituents who gathered at the church that morning the chance to have a focused meeting to discuss what questions should be put to him at a meeting to be held later, something that he has promised. Indeed, Mr Hunt has said that he wants “an ongoing conversation” about climate change with his constituents.
Helping us to understand the issues were representatives of Hope for the Future, a group born out of the Church of England and which helps churches across the UK to lobby MPs and parliamentary candidates on climate change.
The meeting acknowledged what many of us feel – that it can seem overwhelming, that we can do little to help in the face of melting ice-caps and sea levels rising so high that they will flood and destroy places like the Pacific nation of Kiribati or cause the soil in parts of inland Bangladesh to become so salty that nothing can grow there, and in the face of a leaked report saying that the UK is set to miss by around 25 per cent its obligations to get 15 per cent of its energy from renewables by 2020.
The meeting also emphasised that there are things that can be done. In particular, as one participant, Clive Kiley, said: “When we all come together, we have a more powerful voice.”
Having a voice and expressing our opinions was central to the day, a fact borne out in the introductory session when Hope for the Future recounted the way the group had helped constituents in Cheltenham to persuade their MP, the Conservative Alex Chalk, to challenge his party on the climate change bill.
MPs, as elected representatives of the people, are duty-bound to consider what constituents are asking them to do, if enough agree, so the more that constituents lobby about climate change the better. However, it makes sense to narrow the focus so that real action is possible.
The discussions on what would be most useful to concentrate on when talking to Mr Hunt were wide-ranging and included many issues that were important to constituents such as transport, planning, building on flood plains, pedestrian safety, solar energy, recycling, local food production, care of the woodlands and much more. However, an effective way of moving forward in discussions is to identify issues that all parties care about and two areas that particularly concern Mr Hunt were identified – the pedestrianisation of Farnham and, of course, health, and he has expressed particular interest in supporting those with dementia and their carers.
The plan was to structure a conversation with Mr Hunt, looking at measures that would both slow down the rate of global warming and have a positive effect on health. For instance, a Health Protection Agency report states that the cost to the British economy of pollution is £16 billion. Emissions from burning fossil fuels cause pollution which causes global warming. Pollution also causes health problems. The pollution in Farnham would be reduced if there were fewer vehicles being driven through and more people were able to walk or take public transport. Walking, too, is good for the health.
Hope for the Future took away with them all the suggestions that we had given them and will now help us formulate questions that we can ask at a meeting that Mr Hunt has assured us will take place soon. With the right questions the church could have a real impact.