We’ve all been there… When you mention the dire state of the planet and within the blink of an eye you’re arguing with a climate change denier about whether the ecological crisis is real or a hoax. I wish you could hear my sigh.
It can be incredibly hard to keep your cool when someone is overlooking science, but these intense conversations often push people even further away. It can be frustrating, exhausting and make you want to bang your head against the wall, but in order to keep these discussions productive, kind, and as effective as possible, here are a few things to remember:
Don’t talk about the climate
No seriously… A climate change denier isn’t going to listen to you ramble about the 2-degree temperature increase and rising sea levels in the next 30 years. It needs to be about things that we’re already very clearly observing; people suffering, extreme weather patterns… Things that are literally undeniable and impossible to dispute.
It’s hard to argue about extreme hurricanes, flooding, droughts and forest fires when they’re clearly happening in front of our eyes. Deniers are far more likely to listen and search for solutions to events like this when “climate change” isn’t thrown into the mix. But we all know, solutions to such disasters are actually solutions to climate change too. Wording is very important, so choose your language and context wisely!
AKA. Be sneaky.
Keep the discussion personal
Connect the threat to what will happen to the individual’s life. If they’ve never been to some of the areas on the front line of climate change, or if they’re hardly a nature lover for that matter, they aren’t necessarily going to care about species going extinct every day or glaciers constantly receding… People are going to connect to what they personally care about and what will happen to them directly.
“No one will protect what they don’t care about, and no one will care about what they have never experienced” – Sir David Attenborough
Keep it personal, connect with the individual, and talk about the impact it’s going to have on their lives specifically. Find the pain points and focus on that instead… The more personal, the better.
Let them know that you care about them
One of the biggest issues when talking to a climate change denier is that they often feel attacked and instantly retract or get defensive. Even if you think it’s ridiculous, be kind and let them know that you actually care about them. Tell them that you are doing this work because you care about their future and want them, their family and their future generations to live a long and thriving life.
People are more likely to listen to you when it’s coming from a place of kindness and love (even if you don’t necessarily mean it haha).
It’s not an opinion, it’s a matter of science
Rambling off scientific facts to a climate denier isn’t always productive if you don’t have the facts to back them up… They will often have a quickfire rebuttal about how it’s a hoax or that the “climate has always been changing”, “we’ve been through it before” etc etc. The best thing you can do is keep it short and sweet.
“This is not my opinion, I’m just listening to the science”.
Remove your ego
In the heat of an argument, it’s often easy to disagree even when it’s not 100% needed. You feel the pressure to win and push them to see your point of view, but people are more likely to listen when you remove your ego and acknowledge when (and if) they’re right. Remember… It’s a discussion, not a lecture.
For example, if someone starts calling you a hypocrite, AGREE WITH THEM. As soon as you mention anything about climate change, the first thing people lean to is that activists are hypocrites. It’s especially common if you’re under 30 and you’re discussing with someone that’s fairly older than you…
“You lot use more emissions than I did at your age. We used to walk to school, didn’t have mobile phones and didn’t fly for holidays. Now you all drive cars, turn on your heaters and jet set to the other side of the planet”
But let’s face it, they’re right. We are hypocrites living in a system that makes it impossible to be anything but. When this happens, tell them that it’s for this very reason that you do the things you do; you know you are a hypocrite, but you realise that it’s impossible not to be in this modern and industrialised system.
The aim of climate activism is to change that so that being kind to the planet doesn’t require so much sacrifice and so that it’s easier for us ALL. The blame shouldn’t be on the individuals when the system is what’s causing the damage… There are no perfect environmentalists, so we need all hypocrites on deck.
Remove your ego, always.
Understand to be understood
LISTEN. What is it about this person that makes them a climate change denier? What do they care deeply about? What are their priorities? Why might they be against the movement?
Instead of just throwing facts in their face, truly listen to their story and try to see things from their point of view. Not only will you be able to make the discussion more personal and discuss how climate change will affect them individually, but you’ll also have a more productive and kind conversation.
Find common ground. Once you understand them, they are far more likely to understand you.
For example, if someone is arguing with you about how important the coal industry is for the millions of jobs that are at stake, reassure them that you aren’t against them. You don’t want people to be jobless, you just want there to be another industry that boosts the economy and people’s livelihoods, but one that also isn’t destroying the planet along the way.
Remind them that this is a holistic issue, and although we care about the environment and the Earth we stand on, we don’t instantly give zero attention to the economy or social sustainability… We are trying to find a way to make all aspects thrive, but right now it’s very out of balance.
Instead of getting frustrated at other people’s priorities, show genuine empathy for their situation (especially if it’s understandable) and reassure them that you know why other factors are important and that you are working with them, not against them.
Remember, it’s not always about trying to convince someone that you’re “right” in the present moment… It’s also about building a connection that makes them more inclined to learn from you in the future. This is an important one.
“Even if we’re all wrong, where is the negative in wanting to make the world a better place?”
Even if it is a hoax, even if we’re all “wrong”, where is the negative in wanting to make the world a happier, healthier, balanced, and more lively place? That’s right, there isn’t one.
Regardless of climate change and whether or not someone “believes” it, wanting to live on a healthier planet can’t possibly be seen as a negative. Don’t let it get to you, just make your points kind, clear and straight to the point.
If they still think you’re crazy, remember that it’s just a reflection of themselves 😉