The Interview was co-run by Shout Out UK and the Foundation For Democracy & Sustainable Development

Written up by Tuuli Riit 

Sustainable Future

How do you feel about supporting sustainability as a MP ? Have you supported any projects related to sustainability ?

I believe that sustainability is an absolutely critical thing for us to be dealing with at the moment. It is going to be one of the defining issues of this century. Whether you look at it in terms of carbon emissions or resource depletion, or population density: we are in many dangerous places at the moment. We have to take action now and we should have taken more action earlier. By 2040 we should not have petrol on the roads. If we set the timetable now-it is possible for people to know that we have to reach that target. There are also local projects such as the Cambridge retrofit, which I have been supporting. It aims to retro fit every building in Cambridge by 2040. If you take an entire road, it is easier to fix all of them at once than one by one. It is also much cheaper.

Could you give an analysis of why we have failed collectively to do enough in the past? Do you think we are on a better path now?

If we consider the climate change, the UK is doing better than Australia or the US. The Australian prime minister is arguing against the climate change. He has gone as far as closing down government programmes that suggest otherwise.

How can people better understand climate change?

Most people care about their local space, but not so much about the space that is further from their home. We need to move beyond localisation.

Do you think that the education system should focus more on sustainability?

Yes, we focus on the global side of education. But the global and local are connected and we need to close that gap. We have to explain that the new programmes make it cheaper for people to run houses. I do not care if a person insulates his house to reduce carbon emission or to save money. We just need to get to the understanding that the environmental concerns and climate change concers are not opposed to the economy, or to the quality of life. The problem is that a lot of this talk goes around in the same circle of people who are already aware of it.

Is there anything else that should be done to address the collective failure?

It is important to get more people interested in the climate change. That would have an effect on the elections. In Australia climate change is only seen as an issue for the left. As a result there is no such concerns represented on the right, and the people who represent the right will not vote for the left. There is a similar thing in the US. Climate change is an issue for the Democrats. The Republicans do not bother to take up such an issue, because it does not increase the number of votes.

Do you believe that the green issues play a large role in elections?

I do not think it is a main factor. It depends on what you are comparing it to. The elections are a very short cycle to do much about the green issues during that time.

Some countries such as Malta and Hungary try to include sustainability in their constitutions. Do you think the UK should do the same?

I think that for one we should get more young people to vote. It would be useful to get young people to speak for themselves. I personally think that before UK implements any long term bills, it should look how it works out elsewhere.

If an election would happen tomorrow, only 17% of 16-25 years would vote. Do you think this is a massive short-fall on the educational system?

The disengagement of the youth in politics is a massive, massive issue. If people do not show up, politics will be done by others. The youth does not believe in the political system and the politicians are not interested in including them. I think politics is too much about small details and too little about larger values. There is a lack of clear vision and conceptual discussion.

How could the political debate be shifted towards the greater vision ?

It is hard with the lack of trust in politics. Strong values and compromise are often considered to be an impossible pair. People are often very nervous about saying anything very strong. People have to talk and interact more openly.

Do you believe that in the UK the parties do not agree with each other-even on similar arguments- due to their concentration on central scale political views?

In Germany the Green party can compromise to be in a coalition and not be considered a “sell out”. But in the UK we are not used to that idea. I mean, a party argues for something and goes for a compromise. That is not considered as winning.

Is there a way of engaging the public more fully in these debates ?

Yes, there are a lot more sources around than some time ago. The Twitter is a very direct communication for politicians, or for anyone to state their ideas clearly. There is a wide access to primary information. So yes, it is changing, but there is still a long way to go.

Do you believe that the consistent negative ring towards politicians and politics in the media puts a lot of people off politics?

Yes, it does create a lack of trust in politics. A lot of issues are divided on the borders of good and bad, that is very narrow. These are easy stories.

Should there be a campaign to involve more expert people to speak their mind?

I would like to see more people who can engage with evidence in a rational-sensible way. Many of the best people who have done a scientifically important impact have not been scientists. The test is not- are you a scientist? It is can you get science, do you know roughly how it works. Many politicians now come from media, PR or marketing areas. U-turns should not be a problem, and they are not in science. But in politics U-turns are problems. People expect that strong politicians know the right way to go and never stray aside. That is a too high and an unlikely expectation.

Are there ways in which to increase the understanding of risk literacy?

Yes, media should not over emphasize certain facts. People must understand uncertainty. There should be more maths and science that could be applied to the real world. How do I evaluate the risk on my mortgage.

Is the House of Commons moving in the right direction?

One of the best conservative ideas was that all of the MPs will take a basic science method course. Only nine of us went, among them people from science an maths. We have not yet managed to get the engagement we are hoping to achieve. I went as I do not know much about everything regarding science- and some things I do not care about- but I could learn a lot from this.