Senator John KerryWhen John Kerry speaks, the kids listen up.Photo: Cliff1066 via Flickr Creative CommonsOn a conference call Tuesday night with young climate activists, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) served up several newsy tidbits, starting with his hint that sort-of climate news will come out of President Obama’s upcoming trip to China and that getting a bill through Congress will mean compromising with Republicans who want more nuclear energy.

Kerry’s comments came on a call organized by Green For All focusing on how young people can help up the ante in demanding a clean energy future. Kerry, Green For All CEO Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, and Hip Hop Caucus President Rev. Lennox Yearwood took turns speaking, with the conversation acutely attuned to the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act (cosponsored by Sen. Kerry), which is the subject of Senate committee hearings this week.

Coming off the climate and energy bill’s first day of Senate hearings, Kerry sounded encouraged by the “very strong showing by the administration” (four cabinet secretaries and the EPA chief testified). He said President Obama is “committed” to getting the bill out of committee before the Copenhagen climate talks in December.

At the same time, he owned up to the utter vulnerability of the bill, ‘fessing up to young people: “We’re gonna need your help.”

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free.

Ellis-Lamkins, meanwhile, praised two specific provisions of the House and Senate climate bills that are designed to spur green jobs among those who need it most — young people from low-income families and minority ethnicities. The first is the Green Construction Careers Demonstration Project, which creates a pathway to middle class green jobs for low-income citizens. The second is increased funding for the Green Jobs Act, an existing program that trains low-income workers in green job skill sets.

Residents of Indiana, New Mexico, and North Dakota received special attention for their fence-sitting or possibly obstructive senators. For example, Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) have signaled an interest in splitting off the climate change provisions of the bill from the clean energy portion, the thought of which gives Kerry the heebie-jeebies. “We won’t meet our responsibilities” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions if the climate change pollution reduction mechanisms are dropped, he stressed, sounding very stressed himself.

“Don’t be scared of this,” he warned. “Be scared of buying oil from the Middle East” and compromising national security. “Be scared of China, India, Germany, passing us by” in the clean technology revolution.

Kerry set the bill in context for the listeners: “Only two percent of American companies are covered by this [climate and energy bill],” but that small percentage of industries represents 75 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Throughout his “you-young-folks-can-do-it” speechifying, he really hammered the populist message:

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“This is about pollution, folks … We ought to fight about pollution in America again,” in the manner of the Clean Air Act, he said. “We’re talking about pollution from companies acting irresponsibly” and damaging the planet, and “we must hold them accountable.”

In response to one caller’s question, Kerry admitted that in order to secure the much-coveted 60 Senate yays, he and his allies were going to have to be open-minded: “We must include nuclear with proper … oversight, incentives of some kind for natural gas, but I don’t think this will ultimately hurt things because the marketplace decides what works best.” (Hint: He’s betting that’ll be solar and wind.)

Another questioner pointed out the recently lowered expectations for the international climate talks at Copenhagen and wondered how to mobilize support in America for a legally binding treaty.

Kerry said “the president is prepared to offer fixed reductions” of greenhouse gas emissions at Copenhagen, but that this process is a messy one. Kerry noted that Obama will be taking a “very important” trip to China soon, hinting at further climate negotiations with the Chinese and of possible announcements to follow, which he said he “hope[s] will set the stage for Copenhagen.”

Even so, Kerry was doubtful about setting the bar too high for December’s summit, saying, “Copenhagen won’t come up with a full treaty.” But he said he was somewhat optimistic that having a “firm agreement” in place might buy enough time for negotiators to “meet again in a matter of months” to finish up what is started in Copenhagen.

Determined to end the call on an upbeat note, Rev. Yearwood told Kerry: “You fight on the Hill, we’ll fight in the ‘hood.”