Everyone has a friend or family member–or maybe several–who either doesn’t believe climate change is happening or doesn’t believe humans are causing it or doesn’t believe the effects of climate change are anything to be concerned about. Science doesn’t care if people believe in it or not, but to change the minds, hearts and actions of others it’s necessary to engage in productive conversations that unite instead of creating even larger divides between those who are concerned about global warming and those who are not. A few adjustments in the way “believers” approach the topic may help bridge the gap.
Avoid Labels: The term “denier” has become particularly pejorative. While originally not a negative word, in the context of global warming, it’s now synonymous with being ignorant, uneducated or downright stupid. And who wants to have a meaningful conversation after they’ve just been called stupid? A gentler term, if you need one, might be climate change skeptic. A skeptic questions information, but is still capable of assimilating new knowledge and changing his or her mind.
Teach, Don’t Preach: No one knows exactly what the future holds. Even if you are extremely well educated on the latest global warming statistics and the potential consequences of those statistics, insisting that humanity is doomed to an apocalyptic future complete with boiling oceans and ever-expanding deserts is not going to bring non-believers to your side. In fact, it will probably have the opposite effect. Use your knowledge to motivate people who want to hear it—most likely others who are already concerned about climate change.
Accentuate the Positive: Yes, sea levels are still rising and 2015 was the hottest year on record, but focusing on facts that deniers (there’s that bad word) are just going to, well, deny, only creates a wider gulf. If your goal is to encourage more discussion with climate change skeptics, talk more about how solar technology is providing thousands of jobs or how great it was that 195 countries reached an agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions. As the old saying goes, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
Follow the Money: Unfortunately, not everyone is motivated to protect their own health, the health of future generations or the health of planet Earth. When that’s the case, flashing a different kind of “green” might jumpstart a fruitful exchange. Billions of dollars are waiting to be made as countries transition from fossil fuels to green technologies. Focus on how efforts to slow climate change will not only provide jobs but also investment opportunities, and just watch how quickly Uncle Scrooge gets interested in the conversation.
In the end, it doesn’t matter if people believe in global warming, what matters is their support for climate change policies. And only when more people support green policies will law makers follow suit. So the next time you’re hanging out with that friend or relative, take a deep breath and remember that without finesse your facts are meaningless. A little humility and a lot of positivity just may get someone to change their stance on policy making and that can make all the difference.