Ah, Thanksgiving. A time for feasts, family and a feigned headache every time politics is raised at the table by your climate change-denying, conspiracy-touting relatives.
“What did you say, Uncle Charlie? Climate change is an elaborate gimmick created by the UN in a bid for world domination? Oh, look! The game’s started. Let’s continue this chat … later.”
One in 3 Americans still don’t believe that humans are the primary driver of climate change, and more than half don’t believe that global warming will pose a serious threat to them in their lifetime, according to a 2016 Gallup poll. Engaging with climate deniers — even (or maybe especially) the ones you love the most — can be a frustrating and challenging exercise, and some say it’s not even worth trying given how entrenched these views often are.
But this year, I strongly urge you to consider making an attempt. With a president-elect who believes climate change is “bullshit,” record-breaking hot years becoming the norm, and the grim 2 degrees climate milestone looming ever closer, it’s never been more critical to learn how to have constructive conversations with climate change deniers.
So, how exactly are you going to broach the topic over a wedge of pumpkin pie?
Well, you could try to win them over with facts. Tell them that 97 percent of scientists agree that humans are causing climate change; or that despite what Donald Trump says, a “really cold” winter is not proof that global warming is a “hoax.” There also has been no “pause” in global warming since the 1990s, and yes, the climate has indeed changed before but this current bout of warming is not part of a “natural cycle.” (If you want to beef up your knowledge arsenal, Grist has an excellent list of responses to the most common arguments against climate change. Skeptical Science tackles some too.)
But chances are, you’ve already tried dazzling skeptics with facts and figures in the past, and it hasn’t worked. Political scientists have found that facts are typically insufficient to change minds and deeply held beliefs.
So this year, perhaps you should resolve to attempt this three-pronged strategy:
1) Make it personal
“Most people do not give a shit about climate change,” said HuffPost environmental reporter Kate Sheppard in 2013. To get them to care about the issue, she said, you need to “figure out a way to connect it to their own experience and their own lives.”
2) Appeal to their humanity
Are your relatives religious? Perhaps point them to the evangelical environmental movement that champions the concept of “creation care” ― the idea that humans are tasked by God to protect and conserve the Earth and all living things.
Or remind them of Pope Francis’ stirring encyclical on climate change. “Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day,” the religious leader said last year. “If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us.”
As Pope Francis also pointed out, climate change will affect vulnerable members of society most of all. The poor, the elderly, the sick and children will be disproportionately hard hit by global warming’s effects.
Hundreds of thousands of lives are at risk from climate change in the next 30 years.
3) Employ some cost-benefit analysis
According to some research, emphasizing how fighting climate change can benefit society at large could be the best way to engage deniers.
A 2015 study found that focusing on shared benefits of climate change mitigation was effective in spurring people ― including skeptics ― to take action.
One example you could cite to your relatives is the benefits of renewable energy. Fossil fuels are fast losing their cost advantage over renewables, and sustainable energy as an industry is booming.
According to a 2015 study, a shift toward renewables would add a million jobs in the U.S. by 2030, and 2 million jobs by 2050. GDP would also grow by $290 billion.
All right, Uncle Charlie. Try arguing with that.