AILSA CHANG, HOST:
What would you ask a presidential candidate over coffee? Well, we've been bringing undecided voters and candidates together to find out. Morning Edition's Noel King met up this weekend with Andrew Yang. He's the entrepreneur running for president, and they met at a New York City dim sum restaurant called Baodega.
ANDREW YANG: Well, you know, I've only been here once but enjoyed the food when I was here. And so I need to bring my wife. I actually came here without her.
YANG: Sort of a problem because my wife's a huge foodie.
NOEL KING, BYLINE: You owe her a trip.
YANG: (Laughter) Yes, I do owe her a trip.
KING: Yang has made waves with his universal basic income plan to give every adult $1,000 a month. That intrigued the other people at the table, undecided voters Hetal Jani and John Zeitler. They also wanted to know about Yang's environmental policies.
JOHN ZEITLER: How do you challenge Americans to consume less energy? And more specifically, you know, from what I've read, it's the folks at the top of the economic ladder that actually burn the most fuel.
YANG: Well, you probably saw that Elon Musk endorsed me. So I think we need to move to electric cars. We need to try and lower people's carbon footprint to just do the things they do in everyday life.
KING: Hetal, I want to allow you to get a question in here.
HETAL JANI: How are you going to - those who don't believe in climate change - 'cause there's a lot of them...
JANI: ...How are you going to reach out to those people?
YANG: You probably know I have a math hat, and so, you know, I should probably wear a science hat someplace (laughter). But I think there's a growing consensus around the urgency of climate change, certainly in the Democratic Party. The folks who don't believe in climate change - I think many of them have their heads down, in part because we're in a country where 78% of us are living paycheck to paycheck and almost half can't afford an unexpected $400 bill. So if I come to you and say, hey, we need to worry about climate change, you have your head down, and you're like, I can't even pay next month's rent.
So a lot of it is getting Americans' heads up. Studies have shown that if you can't pay your bills, it has the functional impact of decreasing your IQ by 13 points or one standard deviation, almost. So if you feel like there are a lot of Americans who seem more insular and negative and pessimistic and less future-oriented, that's probably factually accurate because so many of us are just so stressed out about meeting next month's rent and living paycheck to paycheck.
KING: One part of your policy proposal is simply moving people to higher ground. Hetal, you work with a lot of low-income people who do not have the luxury of saying, I am going to pack up my apartment, and I'm simply going to move inland, upstate, to the mountains.
JANI: Yeah, I mean, that's really the question. But yeah, I see that you're placing a lot of importance on climate change, and that's great. But I still don't see the plan.
YANG: So the plan is a five-part plan. So one aspect of it is move people to higher ground and then has these two major components. So when there's a natural disaster, who suffers? - poor people, people of color, people who don't have the resources to protect themselves. First, put a thousand dollars a month in everyone's hands. It makes us more able to protect ourselves. But then we need to invest tens, hundreds of billions of dollars in making our communities more resilient. There is a lot of value, if you can, in some cases, elevate certain structures or elevate levees or just start preparing for higher sea levels.
So that's what move people to higher ground is. It's not literal. It's not like everyone is going to go to the mountain.
JANI: So when you say you move them to higher ground, we move them to higher ground, who's we? And are you expecting them to tap into their freedom dividend to also prepare themselves, or is there money in your plan for this?
YANG: There's a lot of additional - so freedom dividend's, again, a foundation, and then we have literally hundreds of billions of dollars that we need to funnel to communities. It's not, like, an every-person-for-themselves sort of situation. It's a both and. I just want to solve the problem but just certainly wouldn't leave people on their own.
CHANG: That was NPR's Noel King speaking with presidential hopeful Andrew Yang and two voters for our series Off Script, conversations with candidates. You can see more and watch a video of the whole thing at npr.org/offscript.
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