Time for MPs like me to stop travelling the world talking about climate change and adding to pollution – Barry Sheerman

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I HAVE always been involved in environmental issues. Early in my career, before I got into Parliament, I started the Socialist Environment and Resources Association, and the first branch of Friends of the Earth in England and Wales, in Swansea.

I also started a number of organisations such as Urban Minds. So I “do” the environment, in a sense, but I have obviously not done it very effectively. I have been an MP for 40 years and we have not woken up to the fact that we are destroying our fragile planet. We seem to be hell bent on destroying it.

A young protester standing on a lamp post, in front of The Royal Exchange, London, during an Extinction Rebellion (XR) climate change protest.

A young protester standing on a lamp post, in front of The Royal Exchange, London, during an Extinction Rebellion (XR) climate change protest.

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I have worked with Brazilians and other South Americans. I used to co-chair the British-Brazilian all-party parliamentary group, and I started a charity in Peru working on rural and urban development, giving jobs to young people in Lima and the countryside. I know that those are not primitive, backward people.

They are highly intelligent and clever. Often they are absolutely let down by bad governance, but they are talented. They have talented scientists. Some of the best technological and scientific innovation takes place in Brazil. It was one of the best competitors in the aircraft industry – a pretty sophisticated industry. Brazil has enormous talent and I sometimes wonder why we do not reach out to that talent more effectively.

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Extinction Rebellion (XR) protesters camp in tents around the Monument to the Women of World War II on Whitehall in Westminster, central London, as the climate change protest continued.

Extinction Rebellion (XR) protesters camp in tents around the Monument to the Women of World War II on Whitehall in Westminster, central London, as the climate change protest continued.

I get fed up, and I think the time is coming when the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association must wake up to the fact that getting on planes and going to visit and talk to other Parliamentarians is something from the past.

Some colleagues will not like that, but we must develop new techniques for Parliamentarians across the globe to work together. We can do it by clever video conferences and the social media potential is enormous. We should reflect on that as Parliamentarians.

When I speak to clever Brazilians, they say to me: “But look what you’ve done 
to the world. You’ve deforested Europe.

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At present you are probably despoiling the quality of soil right across Europe and in the UK. You are doing dreadful things that are awful for the environment as well.”

Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg.

Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg.

When we look at the facts of the matter, we are exporting some of the worst chemicals for people all over the world to put on their land. We should have a conscience about what we are exporting, the soil degradation that we are causing and the fact that we must prove to the Brazilians that we are concerned about climate change worldwide.

I have been inspired by the younger generations. I have 12 grandchildren. Four of them live in Cambridge and a couple of them have been leaders in the climate change campaign.

I am inspired because young people get it. Greta Thunberg has galvanised the level of activity and interest. On the other side, I am ​inspired by the young people coming out in support.

In Huddersfield the other day, we had a wonderful event in St George’s Square with great speakers. They were young people. It is young people who excite me, because they have got it, and things are changing.

Barry Sheerman is the Labour MP for Huddersfield.

Barry Sheerman is the Labour MP for Huddersfield.

Young people are changing what they eat, so there are more vegans. The fact 
of the matter is that young people’s 
habits – what they eat, what they do, their impact on the environment – are changing fast.

My other inspiration is Professor 
Steve Jones of University College 
London, who has produced a book that 
I have just finished reviewing called 
Here Comes the Sun. If people want to know the real science, he is a Reith lecturer and one of the leading experts in the world.

I say read this book. It is a hard read, but it tells the unvarnished truth about how we are destroying the climate. This is not just about the species and the wonderful flora and fauna of the Amazon, but about the fact that the Amazon rainforest helps to regulate the weather globally. When are people going to wake up to the fact that these changes – these fires, these droughts, these floods – are related to climate change?

We must wake up to the urgency 
of what we face, but not then despair 
and say “Oh, it’s all too difficult for us, 
we can’t tackle this”. We need good science, good technology, sharing of information, sharing of new methods 
of agriculture and new ways of consuming.

Barry Sheerman is the Labour MP for Huddersfield. He spoke in a Commons debate on Amazon deforestation – this is an edited version.

Police remove an Extinction Rebellion protester from Trafalgar Square in central London.

Police remove an Extinction Rebellion protester from Trafalgar Square in central London.