How To Talk To Your Climate Change-Denying Relatives This Thanksgiving (Yes, You Can!)

Constructive dialogue is more important today than perhaps ever before.
It's that time again.
It's that time again.
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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.”

i. Climate change is exacerbating extreme weather events
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Tell your relatives about Alabama’s “worst drought in memory” that’s devastated agriculture and dried up rivers this year. Or how climate change made Louisiana’s deadly floods in 2015 at least 40 percent more likely. Destructive hurricanes and storms are projected to increase as temperatures rise, and wildfires are going to be bigger and badder than ever. Since the 1980s, climate change has at least doubled the area affected by forest fires in the Western U.S.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events. And no corner of the country is safe from these disasters. All 50 states, for instance, have experienced some sort of flood in the past five years.
ii. Climate change is expensive
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Extreme weather events cost American taxpayers billions of dollars every year.

Between 2005 and 2015, the Federal Emergency Management Agency provided more than $67 billion in response to major weather-related disaster events, according to a recent report by the Center for American Progress. And this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the total economic losses borne by communities.

In the 10 months after Hurricane Katrina, for instance, 95,000 jobs and almost $3 billion in wages were lost in New Orleans, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Tens of thousands of people in New York and New Jersey lost their jobs in the wake of 2012's Hurricane Sandy.

This year, the U.S. has already suffered 12 extreme weather-related disasters with losses exceeding $1 billion, said the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association.
iii. Climate change is killing animals
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Sure, Uncle Charlie might know all about polar bears and melting ice, but did he know that global warming is directly impacting the populations of several other iconic species too?

Puffins are dropping dead en masse, tens of thousands of reindeer have starved to death, the American pika* is being driven to extinction and wolverines’ habitats are melting fast, just to name a few.

*Pro tip: Bring along a photo of a pika to bolster your case. Who could deny that face?!
iv. Climate change could take away your wine
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Can’t live without wine, coffee, chocolate, oysters, maple syrup or cherries?

Climate change is threatening some of our favorite foods.

Warming temperatures are also projected to impact many aspects of food production, including growing, processing, storage and transportation. Scarcity and higher food prices can be expected.

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.”

Pope Francis has warned that climate change "is a global problem with grave implications."
Pope Francis has warned that climate change "is a global problem with grave implications."
Romeo Ranoco / Reuters

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.

Children wash their hands in a partially dried-out natural pond at Badarganj village, in the western Indian state of Gujarat in August 2012.
Children wash their hands in a partially dried-out natural pond at Badarganj village, in the western Indian state of Gujarat in August 2012.
Ahmad Masood/Reuters

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.

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