What to say to a bunch of annoying kids who want you to vote for a radical climate bill

 

“Good morning, children.”

“Good morning, Senator.”

“So you want me to vote for a radical climate change policy, this Green New Deal?”

“Yes!”

“Okay. For me to do that, I need to understand why you want me to vote for this bill and you need to understand my role as your representative, what I can and cannot achieve. Agreed?”

Silence.

“This is not a trick question. I need you to understand how the process is meant to work. What I hope to do with my questions is to discover what we can agree on. We need to find common ground because without common ground we cannot hope to make a deal. So will you answer my questions, please?”

“Yes.”

“Good. I will now make a few assumptions and I want you to tell me whether I my assumptions are right or wrong. Here is my first assumption. You want me to vote yes on this bill because climate change scares you. Is that right?”

“Yes!”

“Climate change scares you because you will be the ones living with the consequences, the fall-out, of climate change. Not we older people. Is my assumption correct?”

“Yes!”

“I understand. I understand because I have grandchildren and I worry about the world they will live in. Can you agree that I do understand your fear even though I won’t be around to experience it the way you will?”

“Yes.”

“Are you willing to agree that, because of my grandchildren, and for all the kids in the world, I am likely to take any policy seriously that will reduce the impact of climate change?”

“Yes.”

“We have identified a useful amount of common ground. But now we come to an issue on which we might not agree. However, we must at least try to understand the issue from all sides, not just from our individual side. This does not mean that you must accept other views. It means that you must listen to other views, listen deeply and empathetically. Are you willing to listen to my side of the issue?”

“What about our side?”

“I have read the proposal. I have already engaged in many conversations about it. Can we assume that at this stage I have a better idea of the issue from your side than you have of the issue from my side?”

“Yes.”

“Good. My side of the issue is simple. Let’s assume I want to vote for the bill as it is now worded. However, because the wording sounds quite radical, which is after all the intent, my vote for it would be merely symbolic. Let me explain why I think so. We don’t have enough representatives today willing to cast a radical in-favor vote. this means that we have work to do. We must change hearts and minds. If I push for a vote too soon, before we have more converts, then we won’t even have the opportunity for a meaningful debate, the type of debate and discussion that can change hearts and minds. We will get shut down. Can you understand my concern even if you think my concern is groundless?”

“Yes.”

“But that does not mean I do nothing. I know what I need to do to influence my colleagues. Do you know what you need to do, starting today?

Silence.

“Okay. Let me ask you another question. Do you agree that every day that goes by brings us closer to the next election?”

“Yes.”

“Will you be old enough to vote when the day comes?”

“Yes.” “No.”

“Yes and no. If you said yes, then I expect you to vote, not just talk about it. I assume that you understand the consequences of not bothering to vote. Yes?”

“Yes.”

“If you said no because you will not be old enough to vote, then please don’t give up. You have far more power than you realize. Any day now I expect my grandchildren to say, ‘Nanna, if you loved us you would vote for this bill.’ You see what I am getting at? There are lots of strategies you can use to get your parents to vote and even to influence them into how you want them to vote. You can do the same with your older friends. Nag them into voting. You can write to your representatives, you can email your candidates. Do you agree you have the power to make a difference?”

“Yes.”

“Good. When I said nag them into voting, I meant it. Please never think of bribing or buying votes. That has to stop. Agreed?”

“Yes.”

“I’m sorry. I have to go. My time is up. But I have one last question for you. Will you help me to help you, knowing that often, just to move things in the right direction, I must be more practical than you would like me to be?”

“Yes.”

“Thank you. Remember, I work for you. All of you, even if you did not vote for me. If you think I don’t believe the climate change science, then vote me out of office. Deal?”

“Yes!”

“One last thing. Think about how many times I got you to say yes. That’s how you create common ground on which to build radical change. Thank you for saying yes. Goodbye.”

“Good bye, Senator.”

 

Postscript:

Dear Politician, I know that it is much easier to come up with “what I should have said” after the encounter, but here’s the catch. No-one, except maybe your ego, forced you into this job. You chose the job and as they say, these encounters come with the job. This means you have no excuse for sounding unprepared and impatient. Your job is to respond coherently and effectively in any unexpected situation. A future generation should not be the ones to shame you into learning this.

And while we’re talking about learning moments, please keep in mind that any time you talk to us could be a teaching moment. You lot never bother to explain how you plan to do the job on our behalf. Don’t fob us off. We would never get away with that where we work. Neither should you get away with it.