Conversations about triggering topics like the climate crisis can be difficult. The problem with debating the reality of the climate crisis and its human-made cause is that it’s a fact, based on full consensus in the scientific community. Debating whether the climate crisis is real is like debating whether gravity is real. Yet, some of our closest friends and relatives continue to deny the importance of the climate crisis. Here’s how to talk to them.
How to have a good conversation
First things first, it helps to refresh ourselves on the ingredients to a good-natured conversation. You should remember that these are your peers and family members, not your enemies. If you sense the nature of the conversation sway towards hostility, try to bring it back to a place of respect.
Harvey Deutschendorf, an emotional intelligence expert, makes the following recommendations for good conversations:
- Engage the other person. Make it about them.
- Stay in the moment by listening actively.
- Don’t be afraid to talk about the deep stuff.
- Don’t assume you already know. Ask open-ended questions.
- Don’t pressure the other person to respond. Make it relaxing.
The climate crisis is not an opinion, it’s a fact
Next, as you talk to a climate denier, remember there are some undisputed facts. Gently remind them of these facts to keep the conversation factual and productive. Here are a few factual talking points:
- The global atmospheric temperatures have risen this century more than ever.
A helpful site for pointing to the evidence of climate change is NASA’s global climate change site. There’ll you’ll find a handy map that shows how the global levels of carbon dioxide remained below 300 parts per million back as far as 800,000 years until 1950, when that number started to rise. This year, we just crossed the CO2 threshold of 415 ppm.
- The cause of the rising temperatures is greenhouse gases from human sources.
Scientists know that certain greenhouse gases warm the planet.
These include carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide among several others. Carbon dioxide is released when we burn natural gas, oil, and coal for our heating, electricity and transportation energy. Carbon dioxide alone is responsible for three quarters of the warming impact in the atmosphere.
- The impacts of global warming put humans at risk of floods, droughts, intense storms, and water level rise on the coasts among many other impacts.
These are just a few of the negative impacts of climate change agreed upon by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In fact, we can see many of these issues more and more in news reports.
We can cause the temperature to go down by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The only way to stop the threats caused by the climate crisis is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and do things that remove carbon from the atmosphere. Trees and forests are a great ally for pulling the stores of carbon in the atmosphere back into the soil, while switching to renewable forms of energy is critical.
What to say when facts don’t convince people
Sometimes even the facts won’t convince people, because the climate crisis, like many political issues has become an emotionally-charged, divisive political issue. Wouldn’t it be great if we could just talk on a more personal level?
Well you can, but it means trying hard to understand the values of your climate denying friend or relative. Here’s a chance to use your empathy because they probably have a different worldview than you. Consider using the following talking points to access their interests.
The other economic issue is that the climate crisis devastates many other industries like insurance and farming. These things are not worth sacrificing for fossil fuel.
Personal, local concerns.
Maybe you’re worried about the environment, but maybe they’re worried about their job. Try to help them see how the long term impacts of the climate crisis could impact all of their family members in the future. Ask them how they feel about the effects they see around them from the fires in the west to the floods in the midwest. It’s scary. Tap into their emotions.
Reference the changing tide.
Did you know that eight percent of people who denied climate change for a long time have changed their views? Try referencing this trend, especially if you know specific examples, to show how people’s minds change when they’re given enough reliable information.
Don’t worry about winning the “debate”
Remember that a climate change conversation is not a debate. It’s a chance for you to learn about someone’s views and to help them understand your real world concerns about the future. Guard your relationship and don’t be offended by stubbornly held views. Be patient because history is on your side. You’ll be surprised how quickly people change their minds, when something becomes the “norm.”