‘First, make climate change personal in your own life; second, get angry and get active; and third, and perhaps this is most important, imagine the world we want to hurry towards.’ – Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland; former UN Commissioner for Human Rights; Climate Champion
Friend Rosemary Hartill tells the story of how members of her book group launched a climate action group in a rural area of north-east England. The group, called Green Light, contributed a submission in October to the UK Parliament’s Environmental Audit Select Committee. The Committee had requested submissions from the public on Greening the Post-Covid Economy. The submission can be accessed here.
“For some years now, two bookgroups have been running out of a large and famous second-hand bookshop, Barter Books, in Alnwick, a small town in rural Northumberland in the north-east of England. They are facilitated by me, a Quaker and a former BBC religious affairs correspondent and independent broadcaster. Our backgrounds include pig farming, teaching, project management, science, the priesthood, making music, fund raising for charities, public administration and bookselling.
Normally over the summer, the bookgroups have a break. But with so much restricted because of the pandemic, we decided to continue on Zoom, and take time out from our usual themes – and there have been some great ones – to tackle something more pressing: the fate of our planet.
We discovered that a series of talks was taking place online with some of the big names in the climate world and launched by Sir David Attenborough under the wing of UK Government advisors, the Climate Change Committee. They had brought together 100 plus people from different walks of life, ages and ethnicities to form a UK Climate Assembly to listen, learn and create a report for Parliament. These talks were put online for anyone to study (www.climateassembly.uk/).
This was a remarkable opportunity to get our heads round some of those worrying facts we were reading about. We were beginning to realise we could no longer accept “business as usual” in our own lives or in the global community and that we can’t sit on the fence.
We agreed a name, Green Light, for those of us who wanted to follow the course, and began in mid-July. After 6 weeks of online discussions and background reading we felt deeply concerned, even appalled, at the gap between the annual recommendations to the UK government made by the Committee on Climate Change and the actual performance of government departments; and also the inadequate collaborative working with regional and local communities. People in our group have in the past supported at least 4 different political parties, yet we were united on this. We felt positive and ready for action. But what sort of action could we take? Mary Robinson’s advice came into play.
First, we each made a list of all the things we could each do in our own lives. For instance: halve our intake of meat and dairy; choose an electric car and use it less; support public transport; insulate our homes better, move to an air-source heating pump; drive only up to 55 mph; change our bank to one that makes non fossil-fuel investments; turn down the thermostat on the central heating and other things.
Next, get angry and get active. We would gather information, work with partners – school, artists, business, politicians, faith groups etc – to support local initiatives. Then along came an interesting opportunity to do a little bit more, based on our own experience: one of the key Government Select Committees (where the action takes place off-stage from the House of Commons), the Environmental Audit Committee had called for evidence from the public on Greening the Post-Covid 19 Recovery. There were 6 questions which prompted responses about all the themes we had been studying – housing and the home, transport, energy use, food, farming and land and climate justice.
We wrote to make a local voice heard. The submission shared our experience of how things feel, and are, at the local level and the frustrations encountered. And it highlighted stories that gave an early exciting imaginative glimpse of the world we want to hurry towards.”