In September 2016, a group from St Mary’s Parish, Putney, met with their MP, Justine Greening. USPG’s Carrie Myers was there and reports on an unexpectedly positive experience…
Friday 16 September felt like a very appropriate day to meet with my MP to discuss climate change. After the hottest September week in over a century, Friday brought torrential rain and flash-flooding. Still, a small group from my parish braved the deluge and squelched our way to Justine Greening’s MP surgery.
Before the last general election, members of our parish had written to all the local candidates to highlight climate change and ask what each party intended to do to tackle it. So this was our opportunity to follow-up on their pre-election promises and remind our MP that we hadn’t forgotten about them.
Working for an international mission agency, USPG, I’ve met people from all over the world whose lives are catastrophically affected by climate change. I’ve met women forced to move to the slums of Dhaka, Bangladesh, because rising sea levels rendered their village’s agricultural land infertile due to salination. I’ve sat with families in Malawi without enough food for even one meal a day because changing weather patterns had caused crops to fail. I’ve heard first-hand accounts of Pacific islands literally disappearing into the sea. I wanted to do something, even a seemingly small thing like speaking my MP, as a way of showing these people I hadn’t forgotten about them, either.
But first we had to work out what we wanted to say. We met beforehand to work out what we wanted to say. There were many issues we wanted to raise, so we divided up our questions between us. One member was happy just to take notes of the meeting, which was really useful afterwards as our meeting whizzed by.
Sitting on a row of plastic chairs outside the surgery we felt a bit like naughty school children waiting to see the headmistress, but Ms Greening was friendly and welcoming and put us (more) at ease. She showed a genuine concern for mitigating the effects of climate change, not least as a result of her time as Secretary of State for International Development, where she’d witnessed the impact on some of the world’s most vulnerable people.
It felt like a fruitful meeting and we were really helped in that by Hope for the Future’s advice to treat our MP as an ally, not an adversary. My inclination would have been to go in with a list of pre-election promises on climate change that the government had subsequently reneged on – a channel for some righteous indignation perhaps – but it probably wouldn’t have endeared our MP to us at all. Instead, we opened with the question: ‘What can our parish do to help you keep climate change high on the government’s list of priorities?’
Her advice was that we keep banging the drum, smartly but loudly. So it seems that this meeting was not the end of our engagement. Now we just need to work out how to recruit a merry band of drummers going to make sure that, as the world’s attention ebbs and flows, those who suffer the worst impacts of climate change aren’t forgotten.