Welcome to our Powerful and Positive climate conversations series. This is the final instalment of our six part series exploring what works – and what doesn’t – when it comes to communicating with the people in your life about the climate and nature emergency and helping to build a movement for change. You can find the other parts here.
Back in part one of this series we asked whose job it is to talk about climate change? We think that every one of us has an important role to play as a climate communicator, but how can we be part of the bigger conversation too, at a local, national, and global level?
Will anyone listen?
Last year the first ever UK Citizens Assembly on Climate Change was held and a series of recommendations from the participants was published last September. Did our leaders listen? It’s hard to say. The Government has not yet provided a response (one will hopefully by published next month for the one year anniversary of the Citizens Assembly report) and the recommendations from the report that have so far been enacted in legislation (bringing forward the petrol car ban and increasing renewable energy capacity) don’t touch on the majority of the group’s recommended areas for change. In some cases the Government have outright ignored the group’s concerns (building more future fossil fuels with carbon capture technology into their planning) and refused to act on recommendations (frequent flyer levys).
While we wait for that response, an inquiry into the process has shown that the government’s public engagement around climate change is inadequate and the groups of people who are most likely to be impacted by the net zero transition aren’t being engaged. Although ordinary people were involved in the process, this doesn’t exactly feel like a conversation.
Way back in the spring we reached out to our MP to ask him to support the CEE bill. He wrote on our behalf to Ann-Marie Trevelyn, Minister of State for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change. Her response was a smarmy boilerplate telling us how ‘world-leading’, ‘innovative’, ‘ambitious’, ‘bold’ and ‘expert’ the UK’s climate policies are, and reassuring us that ‘We will listen very attentively to feedback, including taking into account the recommendations of the Climate Assembly UK and the importance of public engagement with net zero.’ Her letter did not address our specific questions or concerns, and her claims are directly contradicted by both the CCC and the Inquiry into the Citizens Assembly described above.
This doesn’t feel like a conversation either.
I could go on – I could talk about COP26 and how our opportunities to engage with the process amount to a bit of haphazard tree planting, a couple of hashtags, that nonsense about dishwashers, and a website that’s so useless and ugly it makes my bum clench. I could talk about the Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Bill and how it opens the door for peaceful climate protestors to be jailed for up to ten years for being a ‘serious annoyance or inconvenience.’ Being part of the bigger conversation can feel increasingly fruitless and difficult.
The importance of getting our voices heard
Yesterday part of an upcoming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scientific report was leaked, and it contains two very interesting points on lifestyle change:
- Individuals making low carbon changes in their own lives have the potential to, collectively, reduce emissions by 2 gigatonnes each year – that’s twice the annual emissions of Brazil.
- Individuals making low carbon changes in their own lives can create the conditions for much more significant emissions reductions. It says “If 10-30% of the population were to demonstrate commitment to low-carbon technologies, behaviors, and lifestyles, new social norms would be established,”
This report echoes last year’s UNEP report, which included a chapter on the role of lifestyle change for the first time and emphasised the deep connections between individual and collective change. With this in mind, is it better to put all our energy into reducing our personal emissions, and supporting other people to reduce theirs through our climate conversations, in order to quickly reach that tipping point? Or should we keep trying to make our voices part of the bigger climate policy conversation and, if so, how do we get heard?
I think that the answer lies in another snippet of the report which says that, while individual change alone won’t do enough to reduce emissions, “individuals can contribute to overcoming barriers and enable climate change mitigation”. This means making those changes to our diets, travel, homes, and buying habits while at the same time pushing leaders to make it easier for us to take those changes further, and make them achievable to more people. It’s got to be both.
Unless we’re lucky enough to get selected for any future citizens assemblies, the most accessible route to getting your voice heard is by lobbying your MP (or MS if you’re in Wales or MSP in Scotland). Let’s look at the pros and cons of lobbying as a climate action, then think about ways to make conversations with your MP powerful and positive.
What is lobbying?
Lobbying is simply trying to persuade someone in parliament to take action on a particular issue or support a specific campaign or policy. Anyone can lobby their MP.
Pros of lobbying:
- Initially as quick and painless as sending an email
- Opportunity to influence decision making at a local level which can include really important decisions around low carbon infrastructure
- Opportunity to get questions asked in parliament, which can raise awareness of an issue or sometimes get a useful response.
- An MP’s support can help you gain media attention.
Cons of lobbying:
- Building a good relationship takes sustained time and effort.
- Engaging with the political system feels intimidating for many of us.
- MPs are busy and their inboxes are rammed with people trying to get their attention.
- Our MP may have very different views or life experiences to us.
- Some MPS are much easier to communicate with than others.
- It’s hard to know if and when our lobbying efforts are successful.
On balance, despite the cons, if you’ve only got an hour or two per month to commit to climate action, spending it lobbying is going to be really worthwhile.
Powerful and positive conversations with my MP
There is no shortage of guides out there to the mechanics or actually finding and reaching your MP – some helpful ones are:
So here, instead of repeating their guidance on how to find your MP and make contact, let’s look at some strategies for building trust with your representative and having a meaningful climate conversation.
Find out about them before you get in touch
TheyWorkForYou is a brilliant resource that lets you pop in your postcode and quickly learn a lot about your MP to help you plan how you’ll start the conversation. Their voting record will give you a good sense of the areas you’re most likely to find common ground, and you can establish whether you’ll be preaching to the converted when you speak with them about climate change, or whether they’re more likely to be defensive. However…
Beware the perception gap
Research by the Common Cause Foundation has shown that most of us incorrectly assume that other people hold very different values to us. Although around three quarters of the population identified their values as being broadly compassionate ones – such as helpfulness or protection of nature – a similar percentage of us assume that other people hold ‘selfish’ values, such as wealth and public image. This ‘perception gap’ leads us to assume that the things that matter to us don’t matter to other people, and as a result we can accidentally frame approaches to our MPs in ways that aren’t helpful in creating common ground.
For example, my research on TheyWorkForYou shows me that my MP is highly concerned with defence. I might be inclined to assume that he holds values such as power, social order, and authority, and this assumption would affect my framing of the issue. I might neglect to share those personal stories that would engage his compassionate values, or I might even find it harder to talk to him, assuming that we have nothing in common. What if I started the conversation assuming that he values peace, equality, and freedom instead? Would we have a more positive conversation?
Aim to build a long term and trusting relaitonship
Jumping straight in with demands is less effective than seeking to understand their perspective. If possible, try and arrange a meeting (face to face or zoom), or attend their constituent surgery, so you can ask them questions, let them talk, and get a feel for the things you agree on. Take time to acknowledge that they are busy and often overloaded, and keep all your communications with them brief and easy to read.
Some people like to give their MP a small gift the first time they meet them – a number of craftivism campaigns have centred around creating something personal and meaningful to gift your MP as a way of opening the relationship with positivity and kindness. Other people gift a book they hope their MP will read.
Keep in touch with your MP. You can pop them an email periodically (not all the time!) to share a news article, resource of campaign that’s relevant to your conversations with them, or keep track of their activity using TheyWorkForYou and get in touch to say thank you if they’ve voted in a way that supports your aims.
Make it personal
This tip has come up in every one of these blogs, right? While hundreds of template emails sent as part of a campaign will fill and MP’s inbox they probably won’t help them understand more about the people who sent them and what they need. Using a template email is a great idea if you’re not sure where to start but, if you can, take the time to re-write it in your own words and your own voice. What local issues and opportunities are linked to the bigger picture?
People bringing their own stories to the issue also help break down the perception (less widely held now thankfully) that anything environmental is only of interest to a certain kind of person. By contacting our representative as professionals, parents, people of faith, people of different backgrounds, young people, older people, we can show that there’s a broad social mandate for action.
Be clear about how they can help you - and how you can help them
Even a sympathetic MP will struggle with a demand to ‘do something about climate change!’ What is it that we realistically need them to do? Perhaps we would like them to champion active travel infrastructure so fewer people need to drive? Or ask a question in parliament about the climate impacts of a four day week? Or deliver your letter on home energy efficiency to the treasury?
Do take time to ask them to share their thoughts on the issue you’ve raised, as well as telling them yours. And let them know how you can help – do you have knowledge or expertise to share? Can you direct them to reliable sources of information or connect them other constituents who can help take action locally?
Take the time to say thank you
If you’ve had a meeting with your MP follow up with a quick email to briefly summarise the things you talked about, feedback on what was useful, and indicate that you’d like to meet again in the future to discuss the issue or the next steps further.
Ready to start lobbying?
If you need some help then the brilliant team at Hope For The Future can offer bespoke support, from a personalised lobbying strategy to help with tech for video meetings with your MP. You can get in touch with them here.
This brings us to the end of our Positive and Powerful series – we’ll be starting a new series in the autumn on greenwash, and As we’ve had a lot of interesting feedback on this series we’ll also be running two informal Climate Conversations Coffee Mornings as part of Great Big Green Week on September 21st and 23rd where we can discuss some of the opportunities for powerful and positive conversations we encounter in our own lives. If you’d like to join us then you can register here.
If you’ve found this useful then we think you might enjoy The Something Club. launching on November 6th, this is our new online community for people ready to become climate leaders in their own personal and professional lives. Members have access to a monthly programme of exciting talks and workshops, a friendly online space for discussion and sharing, social events, and practical guides to climate action straight to your inbox.
Everyone is welcome, whether you’re worried about climate and nature breakdown and want to learn about solutions, or you’ve already taken steps on your journey and want to grow your skills and support others. Everyone signing up for our pre-launch mailing list will get their first month completely free – and we can’t wait to announce the programme for launch month in November, it’s shaping up to be really varied and exciting.
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