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How to Talk to a Climate Change Denier

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I love the winter season. The cool crisp air, the misty mornings, my warm bed. The problem is that winter is becoming a thing of the past, as our planet faces neverending summers. As I write this post, the Antarctic is 65º F (18.33º C). This is the hottest temperature ever recorded. As a mother, it’s tough to accept what my kids will face. At this point we need ALL HANDS ON DECK. We have less than 10 years to slow down the cataclysmic effects of climate change. So how do we talk to climate change deniers and win them over?

Despite all of the evidence, there are people who don’t believe human activity (burning of fossil fuels, which creates excessive greenhouse gas) causes of climate change. They’re at our dinner tables, at work, at school, and on Facebook. They’re our friends, family, acquaintances, pastors, coworkers, or teachers. They may share our concerns about extreme weather events, but they don’t accept the science of climate change.

We Need All Hands on Deck.

They come up with the strangest reasons why climate change isn’t happening or it’s a hoax. Some extremists believe it’s a plot by the Illuminati to depopulate the earth. A close relative of mine believes that the governments of the world are secretly geo-engineering extreme weather events to lower the population. Here are a few of the statements I’ve heard.

  1. The weather changes all the time. There’s no way to predict if the earth will continue to warm.”
  2. “Human history is a few thousand years, the world is billions of years old, we can’t possibly know the weather patterns from thousands of years ago.”
  3. “The scientists claimed the earth was cooling in the 1970s, now they say it’s warming.”
  4. “The earth is in a natural cycle of warming. Humans have no control over it and we can’t do anything about it.”
  5. The sun is getting warmer and producing more heat, thereby heating the earth more.”
  6. The magnetic poles are changing, which increases the heat.”
  7. Only God can change the climate. The end times are near.”

 

RELATED CONTENT: 13 Things We Can Do Today About Climate Change.

Yes, these are REAL responses I’ve personally received when discussing the realities of climate change. There’s a reason why these statements exist. Similar to the tobacco industry in the mid-20th century, the oil and gas industry came up with plan to seed doubt about the causes of climate change and they were very successful.

We are all products of our environment and the communities we live in. I’m not better than anyone else. I just woke up from ‘The Matrix’ a little earlier. We’re dealing with a misinformation campaign on a massive scale, such as forming “scientific” advisory committees, writing papers, utilizing conservative media to deliver talking points, and buying off lawmakers.

How to Talk to a Climate Change Denier

(and win them over)

1. Don’t Insult Them

…because they don’t believe the causes of climate change.

dont insult climate change denierIf you want to convince someone of your point, don’t insult their intelligence, talk down to them, or call them names. Insulting someone will immediately put them on the defensive (and rightfully so). Psychologists have determined that our brains interpret humiliation as physical pain. This is a profound point. If we are publicly called out and told “YOU’RE WRONG” our brains react as though we are in physical pain. From an evolutionary perspective, humans along with other species instinctively avoid pain.

Humans are hard-wired to double down on our own point or run away even if we’re wrong because admitting that we are wrong hurts. You can apply this to many other things, like politics, medical decisions, and conspiracy theories.

If We Are Called Out Publicly Our Brains React as Though We Are in Physical Pain.

That doesn’t mean we can’t speak truth to misconception. We can and we should. We can speak in an assertive, tactful manner that doesn’t denigrate or humiliate, yet shows our authority to speak on this subject.

RELATED CONTENT: See how to Lower Your Household Emissions Instantly

2. Stick to the Facts

Present Climate Change Data.

facts about climate changeLearn the basics of the causes of climate change, climate change data, and greenhouse gas emissions. Here are the facts about climate change from NASA, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and the scientific community:

  • Skeptics are correct with regard to human history, but they are not correct with regard to measurement. Central Greenland ice-core records provide paleoclimatic temperatures dating back hundreds of thousands of years.
  • Scientists have evaluated all-natural forcings and factors capable of driving the Earth’s climate to change, including orbital (Milankovitch) and solar forcings, and it is only when the anthropogenic forcing is included that the observed modern warming can be explained.”
  • “Scientists have also quantified the warming caused by human activities since preindustrial times and compared that to natural temperature forcings.”
  • The Earth’s climate only changes in response to warming or cooling forcings. No known natural forcing fits the fingerprints of observed warming except anthropogenic greenhouse gases.”
  • Changes in the sun’s output falling on the Earth from 1750-2011 are about 0.05 Watts/meter squared. By comparison, human activities from 1750-2011 warm the Earth by about 2.83 Watts/meter squared (AR5, WG1, Chapter 8, section 8.3.2, p. 676).”
  • “What this means is that the warming driven by the GHGs (greenhouse gasses) coming from the human burning of fossil fuels since 1750 is over 50 times greater than the slight extra warming coming from the Sun itself over that same time interval. Models use the physics of our world with data from empirical measurements and scientific observations serving as initial starting parameters.”
  • CLIMATE CHANGE IS A FACT, BASED ON DATA AND EQUATIONS. It’s science (not politics). The human-causation of the current observed warming over the past half-century is well-documented and well-established and is uncontroversial in a scientific sense.”
  • “In comparison, there has never been a period in the last 2,000 years when temperature changes have been remotely as fast and extensive as in recent decades. The difference between the two is stark. By the mid-20th Century, global temperatures had exceeded those of the Medieval Warm Period and global temperatures have significantly warmed even more, since.”
  • The effects of global warming on the timescale of human lifetimes are irreversible, are happening now and will continue to worsen in decades to come: ‘The removal of human-emitted CO2 from the atmosphere by natural processes will take a few hundred thousand years (high confidence). Depending on the RCP scenario considered, about 15 to 40% of emitted CO2 will remain in the atmosphere longer than 1,000 years. This very long time required by sinks to remove anthropogenic CO2 makes climate change caused by elevated CO2 irreversible on human time scale. {Box 6.1}’”
  • But it IS stoppable. Recent public discussions of ’12 years’ (now 10 years) point to having a limited window before some of the worst effects of global warming and climate change become locked-in. In reality, the effects are a continuum and many things like ice sheet mass losses and subsequent sea-level rise will still occur for centuries and millennia to come, due to the human burning of fossil fuels to date. But just as when you’re in a well that the stoppage of digging makes the well stop getting deeper, so too is it true that time yet remains to make a difference, for those generations yet to come.”

 

RELATED CONTENT: Learn how to conduct a Household Environmental Audit.

3. Make it Personal

Connect the realities of climate change to their daily lives.

get personal about climate changeStop posting pictures of polar bears. It’s sad, but the unfortunate truth is that discussing the plight of the most climate-vulnerable animals, like polar bears, does not have the effect we intend it to. So what does have an effect?

The Australian wildfires were horrific. The sight of wildfires destroying an entire continent resonated with people because it was PERSONAL. Seeing people running toward the beach for sanctuary with red skies in the background was PERSONAL. Watching kind souls rescue koalas from burning alive was PERSONAL. People lost their homes and their lives. One billion animals were lost. That figure is mind-boggling. I still can’t fathom it.

People Losing Their Homes is Personal.

In the United States, midwesterners are experiencing historic floods, 20-year rains are happening every year, some areas are in severe drought, the southeast is getting hurricanes no one has ever seen before. This is real and it’s happening right now.

Lastly, the elephant in the room is PHYTOPLANKTON. Phytoplankton produce about 60% of the planet’s oxygen. There’s already some indication that warming oceans are killing phytoplankton. What happens when 60% of our oxygen goes? It won’t be sea-level rise that kills us. It will be oxygen deprivation. THAT’S PERSONAL.

4. Accept Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is real y’all and we all have it.

cognitive dissonance climate changeSo what is cognitive dissonance? It’s a psychological theory first investigated by Leon Festinger. Festinger discovered that people are prone to have “conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviors” to reduce their own discomfort. In simple terms, we know something intellectually, but we reduce the importance of that belief to relieve our psyche. We find ways to justify behaviors, instead of acknowledging it.

The Scientific Community Needs to Communicate More Than Just Science. 

We all do it, to various degrees. We don’t exercise when we know we should, we smoke, we lie, we buy $5 shirts made in sweatshops, we buy meat from animals kept and slaughtered cruelly, we buy SUVs despite the environmental cost.

Our own death is the ultimate cognitive dissonance. We all know that we’re going to die, but we don’t want to acknowledge it. YES, I JUST WENT THERE. It’s uncomfortable right?

So what does cognitive dissonance and climate change have in common? We know that 90%+ of scientists agree that climate change is happening and the causes of climate change are from human activity. The remaining scientists who dispute climate change typically work for the oil and gas industry. Yet, depending on one’s belief system they will doubt this consensus.

A 2012 study suggested that the scientific community needs to communicate more than “scientific evidence.” “It also has to create a climate of deliberations in which no group perceives that accepting any piece of evidence is akin to betrayal of their cultural group.”

5. Find What You Agree On

Even if someone cannot be convinced about the causes of climate change, they typically do agree on something.

find what you agree on climate change

  • Our current culture is TOO disposable. Remind people of how our grandparents lived (minus the racism and sexism of course). My grandmother cleaned up messes with cloth towels, put bread in the freezer, and mended her clothes. Most people can relate to this and agree that reusables are better than disposables.
  • People have an idealized view of what life used to be like in the mid-20th century. Before the United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) was created, pollution was legal. You can see these vintage photos of what the United States looked like before pollution was regulated. It’s important to remind people that the good ole’ days weren’t necessarily good.
  • EVERYONE wants clean water, clean air, and good food to eat. THIS IS COMMON GROUND.
  • Remind people of what their children and grandchildren will face when they’re gone. We all want our children to have a better life than we did.
  • Appeal to their religious or intellectual beliefs. As a Christian, I believe God has charged us to be good stewards of his creation. This is a value that people from various backgrounds share.

 

RELATED CONTENT: Learn How To Go Zero Waste When You’re Broke.

6. Discuss What They Can Do as Individuals for Climate Change Mitigation

individual actions climate change

When someone talks about systemic change (change on governmental or corporate levels) people’s eyes glaze over. In public administration, climate change is what’s known as a “wicked problem.” Theorists Horst Rittel and Melvin M. Webber first used the term “wicked problem” to refer to problems that were unsolvable, hard to define, unique, lack criteria. The list goes on. Thnk world peace, hunger, poverty, and now…climate change.

People want to know WHAT THEY CAN DO as individuals to help. We can control our behavior as individuals easier than we can solve “wicked problems.” Ultimately the only way we will slow down climate change will be at the governmental level through voting for climate-friendly candidates, running for offices ourselves, and supporting policies for renewable energy.

However, getting people to acknowledge their part in the climate crisis is the first step to systemic change. Listed below are 16 things we as individuals can do to mitigate climate change.

  • The biggest thing people can do is VOTE. Vote for candidates who will fight for environmental protections (regardless of affiliation). Did you know that many environmentalists don’t vote? If you are privileged enough to live in a democracy please VOTE and donate to a politician who will fight against climate change.
  • CONSUME LESS. “72% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from household decisions, including mobility (especially using cars and planes), diet (especially meat and dairy consumption), and housing (heating and cooling, and electricity consumption).” –Guardian 06/29/2019
    • REFUSE, REDUCE, REUSE, REPAIR, REPURPOSE, ROT, and RECYCLE. The first mantra of zero waste is to refuse. Is there something you have been purchasing that can be purchased in sustainable packaging, can you make it yourself, or go without it? CARDBOARD and ALUMINUM are typically better than plastic.
  • EAT LESS BEFF & DAIRY. “Meat and dairy with other agricultural practices, such as fertilizer, and land-use changes, such as deforestation and soil disruption”…generate more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire European Union. –Forbes 04/04/2019
  • FLY LESS. “A one-way flight across the Atlantic from New York City to London emits one ton of carbon dioxide per passenger. Aviation emits about 860 million metric tons of carbon dioxide every year, or about 2 percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions.” –Vox 09/27/2019
  • PLANT A GARDEN. During World War II they had victory gardens. Throughout history people have had potager (kitchen) gardens on small patches of dirt, in a pot on their window sill, or on their porch. Growing your own food (however small) will lower your disposable plastic waste.
  • LISTEN TO INDIGENOUS VOICES. Indigenous people were the first environmentalists. All over the planet they are fighting against the fossil fuel industry. From the Amazon to the Australian outback to Standing Rock to Hawaii. Support indigenous voices on social media and donate (no amount is too small) to help their cause (which is your cause too). Visit Indigenous Environmental Network.
  • WATCH OUT FOR GREENWASHING AND SAVE YOUR MONEY. Biodegradable products are problematic. There is a distinct difference between biodegradable and compostable. Compostable means an organic product can be broken down in the environment when exposed to certain factors and oxygen flow.
  • DRIVE LESS. “A typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.” Combine errands to make car trips more efficient. Remove excess weight from your car and use cruise control. –US EPA
  • MANAGE YOUR FOOD WASTE. If food waste was a country it would be the 3rd largest greenhouse gas emitter on the planet. One-third of all food produced in the world for human consumption never reaches the consumer’s table. Learn how to manage your leftovers properly with some tips from the U.S. EPA. Here is a food waste tool kit to help lower your food waste in your home and community. If you have space to compost consider learning about composting.
    • Compost food scraps. Organic material in landfills creates methane, which is a greenhouse gas. If you don’t have access to composting, plan out your meals by inventorying your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer.
  • SAY NO TO FAST FASHION. “The apparel and footwear industries together account for more than 8% of global climate impact, greater than all international airline flights and maritime shipping trips combined.” Buy secondhand clothing or from ethical/fair trade manufacturers. –CBS News 04/19/2019
  • JOIN A BUY NOTHING OR GIVE AND TAKE FACEBOOK GROUP. A buy nothing group is a hyper-local group focused exclusively on the barter economy. Members give secondhand items away or receive them. ⁣The Buy Nothing Project has local chapters all over the world. Visit buynothingproject.org.
  • ADOPT ENERGY EFFICIENCY MEASURES. Energy efficiency is the cheapest and easiest way to lower emissions because saving energy is more efficient than making new energy. Change your 5 most used light bulbs with ENERGY STAR models. Learn all about adopting energy efficiency measures here.
  • DIVEST YOUR FUNDS FROM OIL & GAS COMPANIES. This may be a tough sell to a climate change denier, but give it a go anyway! Oil and gas companies are the biggest polluters in the world. Many are investor-owned. These corporations have known about climate change for decades. Yet they have funded and promoted climate change denialism. Go to gofossilfree.org to learn how to divest your funds.
  • LOWER DISPOSABLE PLASTIC USAGE. Recycling isn’t on this list for a reason. Recycling is a failed concept that gives consumers a false sense of security. Most disposable plastic thrown in the recycling bin is never recycled. Instead of recycling, lower your disposable plastic usage. “Plastic contributes to greenhouse gas emissions at every stage of its lifecycle.” –Guardian 05/15/2019
  • GO ZERO WASTE. Don’t let the title fool you, there is no such thing as zero waste. Even the most ardent zero wasters produce waste. Zero waste is about conscious consumption and lowering your individual waste stream. It is an old concept and the way people lived for centuries before consumerism exploded in the mid-20th century.

 

7. Discuss the Positives

Renewable energy can bring jobs and economic prosperity.

positive actions fight climate change

Depending on someone’s circumstance, they may have different motivations and ways of helping the cause. Finding what motivates people is key. I would highly recommend the books ‘Switch‘ and ‘Microtrends.’ ‘Switch’ explains how we can make dramatic changes to our communities with little to no resources or authority, by “directing the Rider, motivating the Elephant, and shaping the Path.”

Direct the Rider – The Rider is our RATIONAL SIDE.
Motivate the Elephant – The Elephant is our EMOTIONAL SIDE.
Shape the Path – BUILD A PATH TO SUCCESS.

We need to have a vision of the future to promote it to others. What do people want? A peaceful life, with prosperity, and safety. If we can have renewable energy for the same price as fossil fuels isn’t that a great idea? Windmills, solar panels, carbon sequestration, and biomass are the future. Clean energy needs workers. Clean energy can bring prosperity to areas hit hard by plant closures.

It’s hard to think about prosperity when basic needs aren’t being met. Rent is too high, food is expensive, and they don’t have healthcare or are underinsured. Supporting policies that benefit working people such as access to affordable healthcare, parental leave, and livable wages will help people envision a better future for their lives and their children. It’s hard to focus on climate change when you’re behind on your bills and living hand to mouth.


I hope you’ve enjoyed the 7 Ways to Talk to a Climate Change Denier. If you have any ideas or suggestions, please share with me in the comments or on Instagram

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