I am inspired and brimming with hope. Yesterday I was part of the biggest ever environmental lobby of parliament. I felt a small cog in a big wheel of change as around 12,000 people travelled from across the UK to parliament to urge their MPs to take action on the environment and climate emergency. Surfers, farmers, countryside rangers, school children, students, firefighters and medics all joined forces to deliver this message to their MP: we care passionately about the environment and we want you to listen and do something now.
I spent some of the day walking the mile-long lobby queue to find out why so many people had given up their time. Here are some of the things I learned.
People’s passion is unstoppable
Everyone I spoke to had one thing in common. They came “because it matters”. For them the environment is not an abstract concept to be studied in text books, it is essential to their wellbeing, their livelihood and their future. They wanted their MP to know that they care about what is happening and that their passion for answers and action will be relentless. MPs were told by many that the Environment Bill must be the immediate vehicle of change and that it must include ambitious policies, with no corners cut on how these are funded. There was a common vow made by many in the lobby queue: that they will keep the pressure up on their MPs by writing letters, attending constituency surgeries and using social media.
There is no room for complacency
It’s easy to think that the large outpouring of public support we saw yesterday means the fight is won. Thanks to the lobby, the school climate strikes, Extinction Rebellion protests and parliamentary pressure, the environment has been propelled into our national conversation. But there is a risk that political events will drown out the calls for action. The environment is not the deal breaker issue it should be in the race to become the next prime minister, with their attention focused on other policy issues and trivialities. We cannot allow the environment to drift out of our consciousness. We must continue to make our voice heard.
Many people met their MP for the first time yesterday and the openness with which over 200 MPs engaged with their constituents was inspiring. Discussions and debates took place inside parliament, on Lambeth Bridge, along the length of Albert Embankment and in many places in between. It is a brilliant tribute to our parliamentary democracy that we can engage with our elected representatives in this way. Many MPs encouraged their constituents to carry on talking to them and to keep up pressure to act.
Only collective action will win the day
Environment Secretary Michael Gove reminded us at the end of the lobby that “nature sometimes dies in silence and is eroded in darkness”, and that it must be addressed with collective action across government. His Labour counterpart, Sue Hayman, agreed and pledged that Labour would tackle environmental challenges in a truly integrated way. Caroline Lucas of the Green Party stressed the need for urgency: the environmental crisis must be met with an emergency response. It was business as usual that had led to the devastating decline in nature and the warming climate. As Bill McKibben said, winning slowly is the same as losing: we must hasten the rate of change and not be satisfied with procrastination or broken promises.
Other governments are rising to the challenge. For example, Denmark’s new government has just unveiled one of the world’s most ambitious green plans: a 70 per cent reduction target by 2030 enshrined into law. New Zealand has designed its budget around wellbeing priorities putting social justice into the heart of government fiscal planning. The UK must not just follow, it must collaborate with these progressive plans, and not only emulate them but set its own high standards that others want to follow. There is a community of nations ready to be led and exerting our influence across the planet would not only improve our global footprint, but be the chance for the UK to shine brightly once again on the global stage.
Hope and optimism should be our guiding lights
As yesterday clearly showed, we are undoubtedly stronger together, and we will feel the impact of the lobby for some time. Hope and optimism are powerful drivers of change and should guide our campaigning journey in the months and years ahead. As we prepare for the challenging times that await us, we can take comfort in the words of Emily Dickinson:
“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all.”
As well as hope, we need courage, as some will undoubtedly seek to undermine or marginalise our views. I heard many stories of courage yesterday, from the school climate strikers denied entry to their prom, those standing up to Twitter trolls and the people who refused to take no for an answer from their MP.
What happens when you combine hope, optimism and courage with campaigning nous, policy expertise and cross party support? You will see. It’s an unstoppable force for change.