How to Talk About Climate Change With Your Family (Without Ruining Everyone's Day)


By Bethany Ivie

October 30, 2018

How to Talk About Climate Change With Your Family (Without Ruining Everyone's Day)

The holidays are right around the corner and you know what that means: it's time to sharpen up your civil conversation skills. Soon, you'll be spending time with people that you don't agree with but are legally forced to love. And, since 2018 was a political and ideological minefield, there is no shortage of controversial and disturbing opinions that could potentially rocket out of the mouth of your Memaw as she passes you the mashed potatoes.

One of the many hot (no pun intended) topics that could pop up over Thanksgiving dinner is that of climate change. But, never fear! It doesn’t have to get nasty. Here are a few tips on engaging in a conversation with the family climate change skeptic without screaming "YOU'RE KILLING THE SEA TURTLES" across the dining table. The Nature Conservancy's article Can We Talk Climate? outlines a magnificent plan that is sure to help you navigate the upcoming pitfalls. 

The first step in having a civil conversation about climate change? Starting the conversation.

Talk About It

Climate change is an important thing to talk about yet research shows that many of us don't. In fact, according to a recent survey by the Yale Project for Climate Communication, 65 percent of Americans say they never or rarely discuss climate change with their friends or family. Why is that? According to The Nature Conservancy, the answer is "we don't feel like we can."

But ... we should and you can! You don't have to be a climate scientist to talk about the effects of climate change or to know that they are harmful. Having a firm grasp on your own opinions on the subject can do wonders to ease the tension of a conversation and prevent you from becoming unnecessarily defensive.

Here are a few resources that answer many of the most frequently asked questions about and most frequent arguments against climate change: 

Don't assume that you have all the answers. There's always something to be learned by listening!

Put on Your Listening Ears

If you find yourself in a heated debate about climate change remember: it's important to listen. Don't make it your goal to be heard, or to force your Aunt Mildred to see where you're coming from, go out of your way to understand her point of view. Instead of meeting her snide "Is that snow? So much for that 'global warming' everyone's talking about" with frustration or sarcasm, ask her why she feels the way she does and listen to her answer. As the Nature Conservancy points out, your goal should be connection and conversation, not verbal conquest. 

You see this right here? This is an unproductive conversation that is certainly putting a damper on family Christmas.

Don't Yell

As the Nature Conservancy puts it, "there's never a need to be rude or unpleasant when discussing climate change" and, as the internet's Wil Wheaton puts it "don't be a d*ck." Both statements are true and apply here. Instead of attempting to bully your mom's second cousin Dale into believing the same thing that you do or attacking them for their contrary views,  find out what they think regarding climate change and start there.

It's also important to not assume that you know the motives of the person you're talking to. Any anger or hostility they're showing in regards to climate change may not be coming from confidence. In fact, research shows that only 15 percent of Americans know that there is overwhelming scientific evidence that climate change is real. Don't assume that the person you're talking to is ignoring facts, but rather take a minute to gently point out the things that they may not have heard. Ask them why  they believe the things that they do - you might be surprised by their answers. 

You don't have to use fear tactics to get your point across. Climate change is scary enough! Focus on the positive.

Stay Positive

More research shows that people naturally avoid subjects that they find overwhelming (and climate change is extremely overwhelming). The Washington Post's article How to Persuade People That Climate Change Is Real points out that "many people incorrectly believe that their social circles are unconcerned about climate change -- which leads them to feel like there is nothing they can do as individuals."

Tell people that there are things that THEY can do to help mitigate the effects of climate change. Have a few easy suggestions ready to go. 

Here are a few resources to get you started: