🔊 People power: “collective intelligence” to save the planet

In France, 150 people, from schoolkids to pensioners, have come up with plans to stop climate change; Alastair & Clarisse hear why the Citizens’ Convention is raising hopes. Plus our “unconventional” quiz…

Transcript podcast – June 26, 2020

A – Hello and welcome to WoW!, the positive podcast! Showing kids that there’s a lot more to the world news than bad news.

I’m Alastair. As a journalist, I’ve often written about things going wrong. But people also need to know too about what’s going right, to know that we can change the world for the better.

This week, I’ll be talking to Clarisse about an interesting experiment in people power in France that hopes to end arguments and start agreements over how to fight global warming. Kids get their say too!

I hope the podcast gives you some ideas– and maybe a bit of a boost. If you like it, do share it with a friend!


A – Hey Clarisse! What are you up to?

C – Hello Alastair! I’ve just been reading about how here in France we’ve got some really big new plans to stop global warming.

A – Oh yes?

C – There’s over a hundred propositions. For example, we’re going to cycle more, make cars go slower, insulate our houses and make it a serious crime to damage the environment – almost like a kind of murder!

A – Ah right, yes, I know what you’re talking about, Clarisse. You’re talking about the Citizens’ Convention on Climate.

C – Yes, that’s the name. But to be honest I’m not very clear what it is.

A – Well, it’s very new. The Citizens’ Convention on Climate was set up last year and it’s already finished its work. It just sent its ideas to the president. He’s promised to try and turn their ideas into law. So we’ll see what happens.

C – OK. So who are these people, the Citizens?

A – Well, Clarisse. You could have been one of them. You see, last year the French government ran a kind of computer lottery to pick 150 people who would together look like a snapshot of all the 67 million people who are citizens of France. But they didn’t ask you?

C – No, Alastair! They didn’t ask me…

A – That’s too bad, Clarisse. I’m sure you’d have been good at it. Anyway they got 150 people from all over France, men and women, rich and poor. You know they even had schoolkids like Nicolas. He’s only 17 but he got the call last summer to go to Paris for seven long weekends to give his ideas to the Convention. You can read more about what he says over on our website – wow dash news dot eu.

C – He’s 17? So he’s not old enough to vote?

A – That’s right, Clarisse. Nicolas will have to wait until he’s 18 before he can vote in an election. But the government realised that it’s really important to listen to what younger people think, especially on something like changing our lives to slow down global warming. It will affect everyone – and besides young people have good ideas, right?

C – You’re right, Alastair! I think often young people have much better ideas about the environment than older people, don’t you?

A – Well I think it’s fair to say that younger people tend to be more willing to accept big changes in the way we all live – people as old as me have got used to the way things are and that can make it harder to change. But I think what’s really interesting about the French Climate Convention – and by the way there’s a similar one in Britain which will present its proposals soon – is how it’s a way that can help us to reach the kind of agreements we need to change our lifestyles instead of going round in circles arguing with each other without acting fast enough to help the planet.

C – Hm. How does that work then, Alastair?

A – Well, actually it’s interesting to look at how the French Citizens’ Convention came about. A couple of years ago, Mr Macron, the French president, decided that a good way to try and cut down on how much we use cars was to put more taxes on fuel for vehicles – basically he put up the price of petrol, diesel, gasoline. So the French government and parliament agreed that and they passed a new law.

C – OK. So what was the problem?

A – The problem for Mr Macron was that even though he’d won elections and a majority of people in parliament agreed with him, there were millions of people in France who were really angry about having to pay more for petrol – especially people who lived in the countryside and didn’t have a lot of other ways to get to work or take their kids to school than to use a car. So they had huge protests. They put on those yellow fluorescent vests that people carry in their cars in case they have a breakdown. They called themselves the “yellow vests” – the gilets jaunes in French – and they blocked roads, made lots of trouble. And so it showed that this wasn’t a good way to get everyone agreeing on how to tackle climate change.

C – You mean, everyone was still arguing?

A – Exactly. So the Citizens Convention is a way to get 150 ordinary people with all sorts of opinions to sit around a table, to really listen to all the experts and – perhaps this is the most important thing – to listen to each other and try to figure out ways that we call do our bit to stop global warming without being unfair.

C – And has it worked?

A – Well, Nicolas the schoolboy we mentioned, he reckons they’ve been much quicker and more efficient than all the politicians who’ve been arguing about these things for years.  Most of the 149 ideas that they’ve sent to the president were supported by really big majorities of the Convention. And Nicolas says he and the other young people, some who were only 16, did get listened to and had an impact. But of course, we’ll still have to wait and see if most other people in France agree.

C – And fighting climate change can’t just be done in France, can it?

A – Absolutely Clarisse. It’s a problem for everyone in the world and we’ll all have to make some changes. So yes, other countries will have to find their own ways to cut carbon emissions. Some of them are looking at the French Convention as something they might copy to try and overcome arguments and find agreement.

C – Hm, that’ll be interesting. And are you doing your part, Alastair?

A – Oh, well, we all have to, even old folk like me! Yes, I get around a lot more by bike than I used to. And I’m eating a lot less meat and a lot more vegetables. In fact, I’ve got a salad to prepare shortly…

C – Hm. Me too! You’re making me hungry!

A – Ok, Clarisse, I’ll let you get back to your kitchen! See you next time!

C – Bye Alastair!

A – Now, you folks out there. Are you up for a quickfire quiz? Yes? Ready? Ok here goes, let’s try and get three out of three.

  • When French people protested against President Macron putting up petrol prices, what did they wear? Was it red hats? White gloves? Or yellow vests? Hm? These people called themselves after what they were wearing… Can you remember?

Well done if you said ‘yellow vests’!

  • Now, second question, how many people were picked by lottery to take part in the French Citizens’ Convention on Climate? Was it 150? 650? Or 1,500?

Take your time. No, don’t take your time. Three, two, one – it was 150 citizens, aged from 16 to 80.

  • And here we go, final question, can you get full marks? One of the proposals to fight global warming is to put in more insulation to stop wasting heat – from what? Are the French going to put more insulation, more layers to stop warm escaping from cars? Is it from houses? Is it from aeroplanes? Hm. What do you think we should be wrapping up better?

Yup, you got it. Yes, it’s houses. The idea is for a huge effort to put in better roofs and windows and doors to stop us having to burn gas to heat our homes just to let the warm air get out and warm up the birds. Sounds like a a great idea! So, how did you do? Feel OK with your score? That’s great. I hope it was fun. It was for me.

A – And that’s it from me, this week. I hope you’ve found it interesting to hear about the citizens convention and how people found agreements by listening to each other. If you enjoyed it, do share this podcast with a friend. I’m Alastair, and I’ll be back with Clarisse next time. Until then, have a good listen to those close to you – and stay positive!

Alastair editor of WoW!





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