Though we’ve known for four years that the 2020 US election cycle would be even more fraught than the strange and painful fall of the 2016 elections, most of us still find ourselves a little disoriented these days. For some, the urgency to remove Trump from office has immobilized us. For others, it’s fortified us into action to get out the vote and to sway those who are undecided, apathetic, and reluctant.
In the final five weeks before the election of a lifetime, we asked writers to consider the undecided voter and contribute compelling arguments and ideas for making the world right. Some contributors sent us work that takes on issues with precision and gravity. Others sent us different work, perhaps an even more visceral snapshot of this alarming moment — a one-act play, an open letter, a story of exile. New writing will be published weekdays; we believe its wisdom and strength will help us all navigate the uncertainty ahead.
I’m willing to bet you agree the crisis of climate change is one of the most serious threats facing our planet. Sure, you know what real science confirms: that human beings and the greenhouse gases we’ve pumped into the air over the last 150 years have already taken a deadly toll.
But I’m also sure you’ve had frustrating conversations with neighbors and family members. I’ve got plenty of them who dismiss climate change as a hoax or as insignificant or as Mother Nature just taking her course. No matter how true your point, if you talk at them, they’re not going to believe you.
As the only farmer in the U.S. Senate who’s spent a career bringing together people of all political persuasions, and as a Democrat who’s been re-elected twice in a red state, my advice is to start by listening. That way you can understand the values you share.
When I talk with those who don’t want to believe what’s causing climate change, I bring up the changes in agriculture my kids will have to deal with, if they choose to follow my footsteps. We talk about low market prices and the rising cost of growing food due to consolidation in agriculture. We talk about the fact that there’s damn little profit margin left for family farmers. My neighbors don’t pay much attention to scientific papers or news articles in national newspapers, but they do care very much about their livelihoods in agriculture, and the kids they hope will inherit our working lands.
No matter what my farmer-neighbors believe, we all understand the very real and weird changes of the past few decades. Politics aside, those of us who work the land know the weather is screwier than it used to be. We’ve been working around it for years. The plants are also telling us. The bugs are showing us.
Even the biggest skeptics can’t argue that something is terribly wrong with the earth compared to just a few decades ago. Whether you’re a Montana organic wheat farmer or a Louisiana shrimper or a California fruit grower, you know the extremes in climate have hurt agriculture. It’s the small farmers who are most in danger, and we need small farms to ensure diversity and health in our food supply.
Once you find agreement on that, you’ve got something in common. You’ve built trust, and now you can talk about what’s next. Maybe you ask about the bottom line. Climate change will hurt our paychecks. With unreliable weather and more pests, it already has. That gets anyone’s attention. Then you can bring up common sense like the importance of regulating pollution or incentivizing the production and transmission of renewable energy.
My parents lived by this rule: “You have two ears and one mouth. Use them accordingly.” Listen to the folks in your life who are still skeptics of climate change. Figure out what you have in common, and bring your conversation there.
If you enjoyed this essay, please share it with an undecided voter in your life, and please consider contributing to Montana Conservation Voters.
Jon Tester is a U.S. Senator representing Montana (Democrat), a farmer who raises organic wheat, barley, safflower, lentils, millet, alfalfa, and peas, and the author of GROUNDED: A Senator’s Lessons on Winning Back Rural America (Ecco). He and his wife Sharla operate the same farm near Big Sandy, Montana, homesteaded by Tester’s grandparents over a century ago.