Tiverton constituents grill their MP on climate change

Most of the attendees with Mr Neil Parish and a banner we made during the afternoon. Written all over it were people’s reasons for caring about climate change, including ‘grandchildren’, ‘common humanity’ and ‘people in developing countries’, and Mr Parish added his own – ‘life, good food and good environment’.

A large crowd of concerned constituents gathered in Tiverton Hotel on Saturday 8th October to discuss with Neil Parish MP what he and the government are doing to address the growing challenge of climate change.

During the afternoon, around 40 people from across Tiverton and the surrounding villages gathered together for part of a national ‘week of action’, during which groups around the country came together to raise awareness and pressure for more to be done about our reliance on dirty fossil fuels, and how to prevent us reaching the crucial 2 degC rise which scientists consider to be a dangerous limit.

Mr Parish, as well as being the local MP, is Chair for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee, so holds a crucial scrutinising role within government, assessing and critiquing policy decisions. During the meeting, he was very open about concerns with the new Hinkley Point Nuclear Power station, joking that it was “not the best value for money I’ve ever seen”. He also shared with the crowd his support of electric cars, calling on the government to catch up with Norway’s booming sales; last year a quarter of all cars registered in the Norway were electric, but sadly the figure here in the UK was only 1.3%.

The national ‘week of action’ was organised by a coalition of over one hundred charities, including National Trust, RSPB, Tearfund and Christian Aid who are all concerned about the environment, and especially the way climate change is beginning to effect their work with nature here, and in the poorest nations around the world. The Tiverton part of this movement was organised by members of the local St Paul’s and St George’s Church in Tiverton, with the help of Tearfund, a large Christian international development charity. The Best Western Tiverton Hotel, as one of the places locally to have a fast charging point for electric cars, kindly hosted the event free of charge to support the local campaign.

Mr Parish was faced with a myriad of questions and concerns from the audience, ranging from local issues such as increased housing covering the natural environment, to recent decisions by government such as the deal with the Chinese and French governments to build a big nuclear power station at Hinkley Point, and to begin ‘fracking’ in Lancashire – a new method of extracting gas fossil fuel from deep inside the Earth’s surface.

Whilst acknowledging the concerns about fossil fuel use, Mr Parish asserted that we must be practical: “We’re reducing how much fossil fuels we need all the time, but because we’ll still be heating our houses by gas, and will be for some considerable time, then I would suggest that there is a need for gas”. Later he reminded the audience “We’ve got to deal with climate change but we’ve also got to be realistic and do it in a way that when we need gas, we have gas available”.

But some of those present were not convinced by his explanation, suggesting the lack of attention climate change received was like “fiddling while Rome burns”. Another attendee reminded Mr Parish that the clean energy industry grew so rapidly because of subsidies, but these have been cut by government, who instead choose to “pour it into the French and Chinese governments” for Hinkley Point. And a third person present was frustrated by the inconsistency of policy makers, explaining the science was very clear: “we’ve already got access to far more fossil fuels than it is safe for us to use, so I don’t understand why are we even thinking of fracking?”

Despite the heated debate about the urgency and methods of responding to climate change, Mr Parish was able to share interesting developments in his campaign for more hydroelectric power, which he prefers to the very visible renewables of wind and solar. “We’re now looking at 20 odd sites along the exe”, he told us, but before any of those are explored in more detail, a tidal power development will be opened near Swansea, with Newport and Bridgewater being potential future areas for harnessing tidal power. Mr Parish was confident that “a lot of power would be generated from that, for about 14 hours a day” and as well as providing a very reliable source of energy, it would even possible to control when energy was produced, to meet the peak time needs, such as 5:30-6pm when the nation make their first cup of tea after work, requiring a lot of energy to be available at once.

One important aspect of the afternoon was highlighting how we can all be involved with the fight against climate change. “It’s not only about how we produce energy it is also how we save energy, how we build our homes, how we add a lot more insulation” Mr Parish explained. He called for a united approach, where everyone worked together to address the problem; to address excess packaging and ‘over-convenience’ of modern food, he suggested that “if when we went shopping and we chose the loose apples and loose potatoes, with a bit of dirt on even, then that would help”.

One hot topic of the afternoon was meat production, and the way our growing demand for meat was the leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as the deforestation of forests and rainforests around the world. Although not pledging to become a vegan, Mr Parish did acknowledge that this was a serious issue that needed addressing. He celebrated the wonder of our animals, “The ruminant is one of the greatest beasts in this world, because it takes very low grain protein which we couldn’t digest ourselves and creates a very high protein”. But he also suggested ways of reducing livestock’s contribution to climate change: “What we need to do is look at the kinds of grasses we grow, to actually reduce the amount of methane coming from sheep and cattle”, and when asked if he would support reducing the amount of meat we eat, in favour of good local cuts, he agreed that would be beneficial. With climate change affecting the poorest nations the most, it is important we opt for British food as much as possible, rather than taking food from nations that will increasingly struggle to feed their own, morally we should make the most of our fertile land.

In closing, Mr Parish encouraged the audience to be optimistic about everything that had been achieved so far, whilst reminding us all of the urgency with which we need to act: “if we wait for twenty years or thirty years and do nothing about it then it’ll be too late. And that really is the issue. I wouldn’t be pessimistic, I think we’ve actually done quite a lot. We can always do more, and you will encourage me and the government to do more”. Mr Parish encouraged constituents to contact him with issues that matter, and details of how to do so can be found on his website: www.neilparish.co.uk.

Jack Wakefield