Taxi driverPhoto: Stephan Geyer via FlickrDuring my travels to the Rothbury Music Festival, I ended up in a cab in Grand Rapids, Mich., with a very cranky driver who wanted to talk … about cap-and-trade … at midnight, after I’d had a long day of traveling.

He began with the standard, “Where to?” But then, skipping all manner of weather-related small talk, he said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “So what do you think about that whole cap-and-trade thing they’re debating?”

“Oh, well, it just passed in the House!” I said cheerfully.

“Yeah, I know. And I’m about to call up my representatives and ask them what the hell happened. They’re supposed to be representin’ me! And I sure as hell can’t pay for this cap-and-trade nonsense. I’m losing money as it is.”

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To this guy — living in a state that’s been hit especially hard by the tanking economy, where the unemployment rate is about 14 percent — cap-and-trade sounds like a bum deal. He drives a cab for a living, and he sees this new legislation as a threat to that living. Maybe he thinks he’ll have to buy a new, more fuel-efficient cab or pay for the “privilege” to pollute. Maybe he believes the debunked but persistent right-wing talking points claiming that cap-and-trade would cost every American household $3,128 a year. Maybe he doesn’t believe climate change is happening. Or maybe he doesn’t quite understand how all this will affect him and the prospect of change is frightening.

I don’t know because I didn’t ask. I’m ashamed to say I just sat there and listened to him complain without challenging his points, without suggesting that cap-and-trade could actually create jobs and help revitalize his state’s economy, without spouting some science on how we have to do something or else we’re all screwed.

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Maybe I’m a bad environmentalist. Maybe I was just tired. Or maybe we haven’t quite figured out how to talk to people like my cab driver. People who aren’t part of the big, bad, pollutey companies we like to villainize, but who are barely squeaking by in industries that will be affected by the bill. What do we say to them?

What would you have said?