How to talk to working people about climate policies
Source Hans Ehrbar
Date 09/03/08/19:28

Dear Patrick, you wrote:

> > Shouldn't we be doing much more in the cap'n trade debate to remind
> > people that the main profiteers are indeed the big energy firms,
> > financiers and lawyers, and that this they really should be opposed
> > to?

UNFORTUNATELY there is no consensus whether cap'n trade as such must
be shunned like the devil, or whether some version of it, such as the
cap and dividend program promoted by Jim Hansen, can be made to work.
When talking to an unsophisticated newcomer to the climate discussion,
it's our responsibility to first teach them the generally accepted
facts and scientific insights they need to know. Instead of taking a
position around contentious issues such as cap'n trade (or nuclear
power, or CCS), I think the general fact they need to know is that the
companies will use the strategy of bogus solutions: they will use the
climate emergency as an excuse to extract subsidies which are designed
to help their bottom line and not the climate.

OK, I admit, we can do more than that. I think we can safely heap
scorn on offsets--Joe Romm consistently calls them rip-offsets and I
will recommend to my students to use this terminology. Besides, Gar
Lipov has convinced me that price mechanisms cannot be the centerpiece
of the policy; the centerpiece must be public investment in research
and infrastructure and a good deal of old-fashioned regulation
(efficiency standards, outlawing of oil shale and tar sand
development, ban on new coal without CCS, transit-oriented urban
planning). Try to avoid the word "command and control regulation,"
and also try to avoid the word "climate skeptics" (they are not
skeptics but one-sided deniers and obstructionists).

I am still thinking of how to set up my service-learning class this
Summer, where students have conversations with ordinary people who may
or may not be aware of the climate emergency. I'll tell the students:
don't push your favorite solution on them but it is more important
that they become aware of the problematic.

We can probably also say that a cap and trade system in which the
polluters get free allowances, as in the EU ETS, is basically a bribe
to get industry on board. Once the real stakeholders in the climate
issue, the population, raise their voice, it is to be hoped that such
bribes are no longer necessary, but that we have enough power to force
the businesses to do the right thing.

I also think we have to communicate the seriousness of the situation.
My students will be in an unusual situation, and they can use this to
make their point. They can say "I wouldn't be ringing your doorbell
or sitting in your living room if I didn't think this is a serious
situation where we all have to work together."

If they meet a hard-core climate denier, it is probably
counterproductive to try to convince them on the spot. At this point,
the unspoken subtext of the conversation should be: I respect your
opinion, please respect my opinion too. Reassure them that you are
aware of their economic concerns, and that you are trying everything
to come up with a solution which is economically fair.

In some situations it might be appropriate to remark that an economic
strategy based on cheap and abundant energy is based on an illusion;
the times of cheap and abundant energy are over. But be careful with
this and formulate it in a polite way because this is an accusation.
If you say this you accuse them of having illusions. It may only be
appropriate as a come back if they come with accusations first. Don't
turn the other cheek but show that you have the arguments and that you
could play hardball if you wanted to. But be relaxed about it;
instead of winning the argument it is much more important to
leave them in a place where they can change their mind later in a
face-saving way--because most of them will recognize the truth of the
situation eventually. For instance with "Right On", I would try to be
congratulatory (without sounding condescending) that he sees the
importance and effectiveness of cost of living allowances. But
instead of asking those who have COLA to give it up, I would say that
in my opinion, everybody should have COLA.

The other day, a University of Utah student said on the radio: "If we
don't address climate change, we can't address anything else. Social
justices, gay rights, cultural rights, racial rights, nothing matters
next to this." Although this is strictly true, it is the wrong thing
to say. You cannot get allies by saying your issue makes their issue
irrelevant. If those concerned about climate change do not take all
the other issues on board, if they don't see climate change as the
ultimate human rights issue, if climate justice is not the first plank
on their platform, they needlessly isolate themselves.

In solidarity,

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