It is inarguable that a combination of individual action and government action is what is needed to combat the climate crisis. So why is governmental change so slow? By making our voices heard and telling politicians that we care about the climate crisis, we can influence policy and hopefully speed up governmental change.
This is Week 14 of our #CountdowntoCOP campaign, encouraging people to sign up for one or more of the 16 Count Us In steps. We will have a guest blog each week until November’s UK-hosted COP, focusing on one of these 16 steps.
This week, Jess Simmons (18 years old) looks at how you can take the step “Tell your politicians” as part of Count Us In. Despite only having been able to vote in one election so far, Jess and three other young people ran the event “Activism and Optimism with local politicians” as part of SustFest21, the 2021 Sustainability Festival in St Albans District. The event gave young people the platform to engage with local MPs and Councillors across parties about the climate crisis.
Step 1: Understand that your voice does matter to politicians
Although it can feel intimidating, simple steps like emailing your local MP or engaging with local councillors can have a big impact in highlighting priorities in your local area. After all, politicians are supposed to represent their area so they should be paying attention to the issues their constituents are most vocal about. The more of us who raise our voices, the more politicians hear the same message from their constituents and then the higher they will prioritise that action. So all of us raising our voices does matter.
Step 2: Find out who your local politicians are
A breakdown of who represents you:
Your local MP
In St Albans District, our MPs are Daisy Cooper for St Albans and Bim Afolami for Hitchin and Harpenden. They represent their constituency (which is their area) and their party in the House of Commons but they also have the wider national interest to consider when making decisions. In terms of climate, they’re most responsible for things like the national budget and decisions made at COP26 this November.
Your local councillors
Councillors have a sole focus on the community and are elected by the public in local elections. Their job is to represent the people who elect them and work with them and partners, such as local businesses and other organisations, to agree and deliver on local priorities. There are different levels of local authority such as county councillors and district councillors.
Here in St Albans District, we are part of Hertfordshire County Council (HCC). HCC are in charge of recycling and waste management facilities, transport, social care, libraries and some aspects of schools. You will have one county councillor representing your area.
District councils cover a smaller area than county councils. They are usually responsible for services like waste collection, recycling, parks and green spaces, council housing and housing planning. In St Albans District, we have St Albans City and District Council. You will have two or three district councillors representing your area.
Town or Parish Councils
Depending on where you live, you may also have town or parish councillors representing you. Locally, this occurs particularly if you live outside of the central St Albans city: Colney Heath, Harpenden, London Colney, Redbourn, Sandridge, St Michael, St Stephen, Wheathampstead. The town or parish council may take responsibility for green spaces and allotments, as well as community needs and events. Many town and parish councils now have more interest than ever in local climate change. They may also be working on a neighbourhood plan that will shape the local environment for the future. Issues such as wildflower sites, carbon footprint, community event plastic reduction and sustainable procurement may all be on the agenda. You may have two or three town or parish councillors representing your area.
Find out who your MP, district councillors and county councillors are here by putting your postcode in. You can email them through this website. You can visit the St Albans District website to find similar information plus your Parish or Town Council.(Click on “null” in the Parish Council field: if it says St Albans District Association of Local Councils you don’t have a Town or Parish Council).
Step 3: Contact your local politicians and tell them what you want
Make your voice heard. Tell your politicians that you care about climate change and what action you want them to take. Personal emails have a greater impact than those copied and pasted from a campaign Handwritten letters have a greater impact still. Remember to be polite, concise and put your address so that the MP/councillor knows you are from their constituency. Find more help about contacting politicians here.
Signing up to the mailing list of local environmental groups, like Sustainable St Albans or St Albans Friends of the Earth, will help you to keep informed of key local decisions that politicians may have a say on, from local airport expansions to public transport plans.
Step 4: Be inspired by seeing local politicians engage
In June, I, along with 3 other local young people, organised an event for Sustainable St Albans’ Sustainability Festival entitled “Activism and Optimism with local politicians”. It aimed to give young people a platform to ask their politicians questions on the climate crisis. You can find the recording of Activism and Optimisim with local politicians here.
Step 5: Get involved with local campaigns
Firstly, if you can vote, your vote is the simplest way to tell politicians what your priorities are. Please vote in any local and national elections you can.
However, the time scale of elections means that they often aren’t quick enough to trigger enough climate action. As pictured below, protest can be a great way of telling the government the importance of a particular issue to you (obviously please go about this in a Covid-safe and responsible way). Just think about the huge statement Greta Thunberg and #SchoolStrike4Climate made to the government and public about the passion of young people on this matter. At the St Albans November 2019 climate strike, we invited all candidates running for MP at the time. Daisy Cooper showed up which allowed young people to talk to her about climate policy.
Attending events with politicians about certain issues can also allow you to engage with them. Look out for public local events where politicians are speaking or attending or get involved with community groups who engage with politicians.
Add your voice to tell politicians you care about climate change
COP-26 is starting very soon, where leaders from all across the globe will meet to discuss policy to tackle the climate crisis. The series that this blog is part of (#CountdowntoCOP) is one of the many ways of creating noise around COP, and you can help our efforts by contacting MPs or talking to friends to highlight how seriously world leaders should take it. Raise your voice and tell the politicians you care about climate change.
Join in with #CountdownToCOP today
It’s easy to join in with #CountdownToCOP. Environmental groups of St Albans District have come together to set up the St Albans Climate Action Network who are hosting their own special St Albans District Count Us In page. Simply visit the page, explore the 16 steps and pledge to take one step by choosing “Take a Step”. When you register, tick that you are part of the “St Albans Climate Network” to have your step counted on the St Albans page.
Join in today and use Jess’s advice to help you choose the “Tell your politicians” Step as your pledge.
You can track the carbon impact of your own actions. As more people join, we will all see our cumulative efforts across St Albans, Harpenden and the villages.
We will have a blog every Sunday until the international climate talks in November, COP26. Each blog will focus on one of the 16 steps. Look out for next week’s blog “Speak Up at Work” by Dan Fletcher.