Building a movement for Climate Action in Hillingdon
John Probert, Hillingdon Climate Action Group Coordinator
The last year has seen a dramatic increase in awareness that the Climate Crisis threatens us all. However, it has perhaps not been obvious how local people can become actively involved.
Now Hillingdon’s local branch of Friends of the Earth (FoE), the leading environmental organisation, has become a Climate Action Group, to provide a focus for local climate campaigning
John Probert, the Climate Action Coordinator, explains.
Hillingdon Friends of the Earth (HFoE) was established more than 30 years ago, and has recently campaigned against the expansion of Heathrow (in the end, successfully) and the damaging impact of HS2 on the Borough, to cite just two high-profile examples.
In the last couple of years, FoE has been working to establish a nationwide network of Climate Action Groups. Most of what HFoE does already is at least indirectly related to the Climate Crisis, so we jumped at the chance to become a Climate Action Group. This means that we can campaign locally in Hillingdon, but also combine with the other groups (and there are now around 180 of them) to achieve national impact.
The “launch” meeting of the Hillingdon Climate Action Group attracted over 60 people, some already members of the local HFoE group, but with many new faces.
It is easy to be pessimistic about the Climate Crisis, but it is important to recognise that, despite the seriousness of our plight, there are solutions out there waiting for us to grasp. There is also a widely held belief that we can guard against the worst outcomes if only the politicians and decision-makers could share the vision of the scientists and the campaigners, and take action now.
Our meeting, on 28 January, focused on the positive wherever possible, and started to look at what actions could be taken to make a difference in Hillingdon. Five breakout groups looked at FoE’s nominated “action areas”: Transport, Power & Energy, Buildings & Homes, Trees, Land-use & Food, and Consumption & Waste. Reams of flipchart paper were consumed.
Many of the actions identified by this exercise would need to be taken by Hillingdon Council. In fact, FoE is urging Climate Action Groups to work with local Councils on a “50-point Climate Action Plan”, which is backed up by extensive research, and includes specific targets for each Council.
As Hillingdon Council had declared a Climate Emergency a couple of weeks before the launch, and the local group had already met the Councillor who was appointed to lead the Climate brief, things looked promising for possible cooperation. A further meeting of the new Group on 24 February identified three people who were ready to go into talks with council officials.
Unfortunately, the Council’s response, though initially encouraging, became, essentially “wait three months while we work out what we’re going to do, and then we will talk to you and others”. We had hoped that we could be involved in that “working out” phase, but that offer was not on the table.
Now, of course, everything has changed. Everyone is dealing with the coronavirus situation in their own ways, and FoE has rightly advised us not to lobby politicians whilst their priorities are turned completely inside out.
Of course, the question arises as to what a newly formed Climate Action Group can sensibly do while the lockdown is in effect. There has been an explosion in the use of video-based tools for social, work and other uses, and we have plans for online meetings with group members to see how much progress we can make with the “action areas” already mentioned, and what plans we can develop for when the Council eventually responds to our overtures.
Above all, what we must hope for and work towards is that, when the coronavirus ceases to be our overriding preoccupation, the way forward will be a greener one. We need to press even harder for a move towards renewable energy, electric vehicles, restrictions on aviation, and disinvestment from the fossil fuel companies, and their financial backers, that continue to wield undue influence.