How to talk with climate skeptics and deniers

Hello everybody! If you consider yourself an environmentalist, you have probably had to sit through some pretty uninspiring conversations. We run into people we disagree with all the time, and actually, I think it is in conversations with those people that we learn a great deal about ourselves and how to communicate. However, those conversations can be draining and leave you feeling really uncomfortable, so I have gathered a list of strategies and tips on how to get the most out of those interactions. You shouldn’t always avoid them, but this is how you avoid burning out.

What is your goal – when engaging in a conversation with a climate skeptic or denier, make sure you have a specific goal in mind, so the conversation doesn’t spiral completely. What do you want them to do, how do you want them to change, or what do you want them to understand? Keep it simple, and on topic.

Talk about shared values – this conversation can get divisive really flipping fast, it becomes an in-group/out-group dynamic pretty quickly. But it is important to note that your goal is probably the same, overall: caring for your loved ones, worrying about the future, and supporting the local community, the question is just how you do it, and what perspective you have. Framing the debate around something that you agree on means that you’re on the same team, and as such, you are much more likely to reach common ground.

Reciting facts and statistics aren’t always helpful – or sure it is helpful, but just reciting facts isn’t necessarily what will make people believe in climate change, so a more holistic, or empathic approach might be more effective. It is for sure tempting to fight misinformation with facts, but chances are it will backfire and create a more defensive tone in the conversation – which is very hard to come back from.  

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Validate their perspective – you don’t have to agree with their point of view to affirm their worldview, if you want to communicate with someone, especially someone with whom you disagree, meeting them in their own field is an effective tool. Speak their language and validate where they are coming from.

Make it personal and down to earth – if you don’t believe in climate change, statistics aren’t going to mean shit to you. So instead make personal examples from the local community, draw in experiences or changes that they can see happening first-hand

Share your flaws, and be humble – there is nothing worse than speaking to someone who speaks down to you, and clearly thinks themselves above you, any human being will feel uncomfortable in that conversation, and as such not listen to what you’re saying, so include your personal experiences in your communication, talk about mistakes you have made, or challenges your lifestyle has posed, and first and foremost, be humble.

Accept that changing your mind takes time – sometimes you are not going to convince someone who is skeptical about climate change after a single conversation, actually, that is very unlikely. But you can plant a seed, and give them a positive experience talking with someone with an opposing view. You have to appreciate the small victories, the compromises, and reaching some sort of common ground. Sometimes it will take years for that seed to turn into a tree, and that’s okay. Giving this person a positive experience talking to you will most likely make them more positively charged for the next conversation.

Pick your battles – don’t just pick a fight to pick a fight that is a sure one-way ticket to burn-out city. Remember that it isn’t your sole responsibility to convince everyone, it is important to recognize when a conversation won’t lead anywhere, instead use your energy on more productive things, like supporting local green initiatives, showing up for protests, and saving your energy for conversation that is inspiring and educational. Sometimes, we have to just let people be, especially if there is no getting through, and then leave it. Your energy isn’t necessarily best spent trying to combat solidified misinformation.

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