How to have the climate change talk with a climate change denier

We see and hear the signs of global warming daily. Hotter summers, wildfires burning out of control, polar ice caps melting at alarming rates. Climate change is a real problem that is impacting our environment in serious ways. When scientists everywhere have determined that the cause of our current climate predicament is man-made, it’s only frustrating when you come across a climate change denier. Before you give up on the conversation altogether, give our tips for having a talk with a climate change denier a chance. 

ARTWORK  CAMO  @camopantsdrawn
TEXT BRIANA DODSON @bri_dodson

There are two types of people in this world, people who believe in making our planet a better, healthier place to live, and people who deny climate change exists. Thinking about our existential doom can be a bit of a downer, we know, but accepting that fate because we don’t want to acknowledge the science in front of our faces, is another thing entirely. 

For so many of us trying to make the world better to be able to continue to call this beautiful place our home, it can be pretty frustrating to hear those around us belittle, mock, and downright ignore all of the data out there showcasing just how dire our situation is. 

For those who just don’t seem to get it—and there are lots—here are a few approaches you can take when approaching the climate change conversation along with a verbal arsenal of arguments you’ll undoubtedly hear, and how to respond. 

Ease into the conversation

It all starts with how you approach the topic. Instead of getting on a soapbox, ease into it by bringing up current weather events. Yes, I’m actually encouraging you to talk about the weather. 

Let’s take hurricanes as an example. In the last few years as global temperatures have risen, so has the intensity of hurricanes. In August 2020, Hurricane Laura gained immense strength over the 90-degree waters of the Gulf of Mexico, causing catastrophic structural damage and chemical fires. 

That’s because an increase in water temperature causes hurricanes to gain speed and higher winds. These storms also result in higher sea levels. According to EarthJustice, global sea levels have risen eight inches. When you bring up examples like this, gauge their reaction. How do they respond? 

Tailor your argument to the person

It can seem impossible to try to have a conversation with someone who doesn’t see your point of view, especially when the facts are in front of our faces, but understanding the source of the denial is critical. 

There are many reasons people have for resisting what’s happening in the world, including mistrust of climate scientists, the idea that climate agendas aren’t serving them, or that it’s simply not economically beneficial to have climate policies in place. 

Sometimes the argument that got us to believe in climate change won’t work on someone else. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is assuming that others will respond in the ways we did. When you understand the why, you’ll have a better idea of what information you can build into your arsenal to use later. 

Be respectful

You probably laughed at this one, and I get it. It can be pretty damn hard to respect someone who clearly has no respect for the planet, or you, for that matter. 

Giving respect without receiving any in return can be infuriating at times, but treating the conversation as an open dialogue eases any tension and lets the other person know you also have respect for them. 

This can do wonders when it comes to being heard in a conversation. Without mutual respect, whoever you’re talking to will immediately write off whatever you have to say before you open your mouth. 

If you are facing someone who is blatantly disrespectful to you, don’t return the favor. Exit the conversation completely. There’s no winning with that type of person anyway. 

“You probably laughed at this one, and I get it. It can be pretty damn hard to respect someone who clearly has no respect for the planet, or you, for that matter.”

Play off of emotions and be curious 

I bet if you’ve already tried to have “the talk,” it’s already ended in a heated argument. That’s because our beliefs about anything at all—climate change, reproductive rights, trophy hunting—are rooted in pure emotion. 

It can be easy to lead with our own emotions (our planet is literally dying!), but doing so might deter any real conversation from actually happening. Attacking someone for how they feel will only put them on the defensive. When people argue about topics that they’re passionate about, they’re less concerned with getting the truth and more concerned with their emotional well-being.

Even though some people may be skeptical or in denial, it doesn’t mean their minds are completely closed. When you’re inevitably met with resistance, be curious. Ask honestly why they feel or think the way they do. Then hit ‘em with the facts. 

Connect to values 

The truth is, you aren’t getting through to anyone if you can’t connect to them on an emotional level. Without doing this, you’re left with someone who ignores and belittles absolutely everything you say. 

Whether we like it or not, having a bunch of hostile conversations and pissing people off isn’t going to save our planet any faster. It’s having mutual respect and understanding for the person and knowing which facts to share based on those findings that can actually open and expand someone’s mind. 

Resistance is typically a result of values, so we have a better chance of being understood and heard when we connect with those values instead of their position. 

Try engaging with values and give environmental examples of how they can be connected. For example, business owners may be concerned about the well-being of their business if there are more environmental policies in place, but sharing facts about how businesses have increased profit by moving to an eco-friendly model, can ease tension and tap into an example that matters to them. 

Share your feelings 

This one is pure gold. If you’re engaging with someone who genuinely cares about you, the hope is that they care about your feelings, too, right? Most of us jump into debate mode when discussing issues we’re passionate about. We feel like we need to always present our best evidence. Instead, try sharing your worries about climate change and why you feel that way. 

Feelings are something that others can’t deny, and people will likely be more open to listening if they also understand your feelings on different subject matters. 

Now that we’ve tackled the correct ways to approach and handle the climate change conversation, it’s time to move on to the climate change argument. At the end of the day, while an argument is the last thing we want to have happen, they’re sometimes inevitable. 

If faced with a climate change denier, here’s a verbal arsenal of arguments you’ll undoubtedly hear and how to respond. 

“According to NOAA’s 2020 Global Climate Report, land and ocean temperature combined has increased at an average rate of 0.13 degrees Fahrenheit. At the current rate we burn fossil fuels and clear forests, we add 11 billion metric tons of carbon to the atmosphere each year.”

Argument 1: Climate change is natural. It’s a normal part of the weather patterns.

Sure, for as long as Earth has been around, global warming, and cooling, has been a common occurrence due to fluctuations in greenhouse gases. The worrisome part is that CO2 levels are rapidly increasing because they can lead to really harmful environmental outcomes, such as mass extinction of animals and species. 

Since we’re emitting greenhouse gases at such a high rate, higher than ever, actually, these impacts are a very real threat. 

As our global temperatures continue to increase, we will see more development of extreme weather, including increased rainfall, droughts (which are more fuel for wildfires), and extreme cold. 

Argument 2: It’s so cold outside. How can there actually be global warming?

Yes, it does still get cold, there’s no denying that. However, this claim is pretty laughable because there is a difference between “climate” and “weather.” Weather does change each and every day. That’s why we have a weather report that we can view weekly or daily. 

Climate, on the other hand, reflects an overall trend. Indisputably, our climate trend is a warming one. According to NOAA’s 2020 Global Climate Report, land and ocean temperature combined has increased at an average rate of 0.13 degrees Fahrenheit. At the current rate we burn fossil fuels and clear forests, we add 11 billion metric tons of carbon to the atmosphere each year. 

A recent study actually showcases that an increase in global warming can actually present extreme weather patterns in some areas, including the Arctic. This even means extreme cold. Scientists discovered that heating in this region ultimately disturbed the circular pattern of winds known as the polar vortex, resulting in colder temperatures.

Argument 3:  Most scientists have yet to come to an agreement that climate change is actually a real thing.

No. If you’ve done any reading or followed any reputable scientific organizations, then you’ll note that they’ve all recognized global warming as a human-caused issue. Give any of the most popular ones a search—NOAA, NASA, the National Science Foundation—and you’ll see climate reports and fact sheets about climate change and its impact on the environment. 

Ever heard of the Consensus Project? In 2016, a paper summarized the results of several independent studies on peer-reviewed research that was related to climate and the impact of increasing temperatures. 

The determination? A 97 percent consensus from scientists that human activity is causing climate change. Every year, there are more and more papers and research coming out that further prove that scientists are all on the same side here.

Wait, that’s not 100 percent, you may say. If you want to spend your time searching for that 3 percent…be our guest. 

“While we absolutely don’t want to waste any more time addressing these issues, it’s not too late. Thinking like this is not helpful, or positive. We need more people to hold our government, businesses, and our counterparts accountable to begin enacting the necessary changes we need to make.”

Argument 3:  Animals and plants won’t be affected, they’ll just adapt. 

This one would be funny if it weren’t so untrue. Unfortunately, the rapid rate of Earth’s changing temperatures gives plant and animal species very little time to adapt. As we mentioned in an earlier argument above, humans’ increased greenhouse gas emissions cause real concern for our plant and animal friends. 

According to the Global Tree Assessment, one in three of the world’s trees face extinction, including well-known species like Magnolias, Oaks, and Maples. Another alarming fact is that over 400 species have fewer than 50 individuals remaining in the wild and a whopping 142 tree species are already extinct.

Animals aren’t out of the crossfire here either. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, there are at least 10,967 species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. This is also because most animals rely on plant life for survival. Thousands of species call forests home. If that isn’t enough to convince you, studies also say that by 2100, an estimated 50% of all the world’s species could go extinct

Argument 5: Even if it is real—it’s too late to change anything.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. While we absolutely don’t want to waste any more time addressing these issues, it’s not too late. Thinking like this is not helpful, or positive. We need more people to hold our government, businesses, and our counterparts accountable to begin enacting the necessary changes we need to make. 

This includes using these arguments with those who don’t see climate change as one of the biggest obstacles humanity faces. The Paris Agreement states that we need to keep warming within the 1.5C target—and there are many actions we can all take, together, to do that. 

Having a verbal arsenal like this in your back pocket can be a nice way to breach conversations with climate change deniers, saving you a lot of time and a ton of headaches. Luckily, the typical rules of arguing don’t apply here. In fact, we’re encouraging quite the opposite. Knock them down a few levels and bring them up to speed. As the saying goes, if you have nothing nice to say, use facts instead.