How to Talk to Your Parents About Climate Change

Maybe it will turn out that human intelligence won't be favored by selection, and we'll soon grow ourselves into oblivion. But no matter what our eventual fate, I think it would do our souls good to at least try to slow down our self-destruction. After all, just because a penchant for murder and Kardashians seem to be inherent human flaws doesn't mean we shouldn't do our best to minimize them.

I don't expect public opinion on climate change will be swayed by columnists and pundits preaching to their choirs. Those who want to ignore the vast scientific evidence on the subject have likely already skipped to the comment section below to try to convince you that since I'm not shouting these things naked from a wooden hut in the middle of a bog, I'm a hypocrite and deserve to be ignored.

For those still reading, I have a suggestion. Most of us don't have millions of dollars to go toe-to-toe with the disinformation campaign being waged by the oil and gas industry. But most of us do have living parents. So let's talk to them about climate change. Because if we can't convince the people who love us more than anything in the world to take action on climate, who can we convince?

It might be a hard conversation. They may be resistant, even hostile. But remember how many perspectiveless, entitled fits of angst they endured from you through your adolescence. You owe them some patience.

If you do accept this challenge, here are a few suggestions:

1) Speak from a place of love and compassion, not anger or self-righteousness. (side note on self-righteousness: if you've ever used the arrogant, poisonous term "sheeple," please eliminate it from your vocabulary, you're making everything worse)

2) Make it clear that the topic of climate change is inseparable from the well-being of their children and grandchildren.

3) Share a couple of informative articles on the topic. Bill McKibben's landmark article in Rolling Stone, while harrowing, is concise and very readable. This NASA primer is also very good. There's no need to overwhelm them with data. If they want more information you can point them towards it. The most important thing for them to understand is that on our current path we may no longer have a climate that allows for stable, secure societies within the lifetimes of today's children.

4) Once these distressing facts are laid out, make clear that you aren't blaming them for this. Your parents likely made all of their decisions with a strong sense of morality and social responsibility, and could only make those decisions based on the information they had at the time. But now that you have provided this new information, talk about how it obligates them, and all of us, to behave in new ways.

5) Encourage them to buy environmentally-friendly goods and services as much as possible. Talk to them about divestment from fossil fuels. But given the urgency and enormity of the problem, also make clear that this will not be enough. This is a challenge that requires us all to act as citizens, not just as consumers.

6) Now comes the hardest part. If your parents want to align their actions with their concern for their children's and grandchildren's futures, they may need to change the way they vote (!!!). Any politicians (even good-looking ones) not advocating for drastic reductions in carbon emissions have, at best, not accepted the facts about climate change. At worst, they are knowingly and cynically sacrificing the future for their own wealth and power.

There's a million ways your parents may rationalize doing nothing, but I won't waste time anticipating and countering those rationalizations because in the end the choice is simple: do they want to make the world a better place to live, or a worse place?

Remind them again that climate change and children are inseparable, and ask them to please care for each with equal passion. And give them a hug, because they'd probably like that!