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This Politician's Response To A Question From A Teenager Will Infuriate And Depress You

author

Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

clockJul 23 2018, 12:38 UTC

The young are the most climatologically cognizant generation to date. Avivi Aharon/Shutterstock

Who is Scott Wagner? You’ve almost certainly never heard of him, which is perfectly understandable: he’s a GOP state senator – and candidate for governor – in Pennsylvania, so why would he make international headlines? Well, as spotted by Splinter, he’s not only a climate change denier, but he’s an incredibly patronizing one too.

While he was speaking at a town hall gathering in Glenside last week, an 18-year-old named Rose – a member of the Sunrise Movement, a climate change advocacy organization – stood up to ask him a question. It was in reference to comments he made a while back, which we really need to repeat in full.

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Back in March of last year, he was asked about climate change by a reporter at a public event, to which he replied: “We have more people. You know, humans have warm bodies. So is heat coming off? Things are changing, but I think we are, as a society, doing the best we can.”

He also suggested that the planet’s getting warmer because the Earth is getting closer to the Sun (it’s not), which is almost adorable in its ignorance. Still, the “body heat” claim is the cherry on top of the cake of despair, and Rose decided to ask if those comments had anything to do with the money that the fossil fuel industry send his way through lobbying efforts.

His applauded response was brain-achingly awful: “Rose, you know I appreciate you being here. You’re 18 years old, you’re a little young and naïve.” He comprehensively failed to even acknowledge the question.

“Are we here to elect a governor, or are we here to elect a scientist?” he added.

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Now, Wagner isn’t even a good climate change denier, by which I mean that he doesn’t even word his denial in a vaguely clever way. Those armed with more agile linguistic deceptions – Scott Pruitt, say – were never fooling those in the know, but his denial tactics were worded in such a way as to muddy the waters of climate science, and sow seeds of doubt in people's minds.

He's nothing like Pruitt, or even the ever-bumbling Rick Perry. He’s more similar to Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, who infamously threw a snowball in Congress to “prove” that climate change was mythological. In fact, Wagner is near-Trumpian in his climatological discourse.

The denial of politically inconvenient science is just par for the course for much of the GOP, whose lobbying by the fossil fuel industry makes for some eye-watering reading. What’s particularly grim here is Wagner’s attempt to frame Rose as a naïve, unknowing youth who shouldn’t speak up about such issues.

As it happens, that generation are profoundly aware that not only is climate change real, but that humans are largely driving it, and that it’s going to and already is having powerfully negative consequences for much of the planet.

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The Sunrise Movement is just one of a smorgasbord of youth climate action groups. Another is trying to do what so many cities have so far failed to do: bring those responsible for driving or not acting on climate change to court, and they just won their latest legal battle.

Just last weekend, yet another climate advocacy group coordinated 20 marches around the globe. As reported by Earther, this diverse band of mavericks is headed by teenagers.

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This generation, armed with the facts, have the chance to vote them out of office. The only thing protecting people like Wagner is their unwillingness to vote in the first place, but hopefully the midterms will bring about a pleasant surprise.

Update: I got in touch with Rose herself to see what she thought about the encounter with Wagner. She explained via email that “we were looking for him to say that climate change is an urgent priority and say how he would address it as governor,” while addressing the lobbying money he has received.

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“Realistically, we didn't expect him to do this,” she added, noting that their other goal was “to call him out for his corruption and hypocrisy.” Although it’s unlikely that Wagner will change his tune, Rose explains that if enough young people witnessed the exchange, they will also be “empowered to stand up to politicians threatening their futures” – perhaps even at the ballot box.


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