Thursday, November 9, 2017

How to Talk to a Climate Change Denier

Talking to people who deny man-made climate change can be a challenge, but it's necessary. Many people are simply confused by all the rhetoric (something that is intentionally exploited by lobbyists) and are willing to learn under the proper conditions of discussion. Others, of course, have no intention of learning and are, in fact, intent on misinforming. These latter can be ignored for now. Let's focus on how to talk to your relatives, friends, and folks you meet about man-made climate change.

To be honest, there is no right way. Some people will not listen to anything that disrupts their self-selected group talking points. But for others who are willing to have an honest discussion, there are techniques for reaching them.

George Marshall is a climate science communicator and co-founder of COIN, since renamed Climate Outreach (find out more at In the following video he presents six strategies for talking to people.

The video is worth watching in full. The six strategies are:

  • Common Ground
  • Respect
  • Hold Your Views
  • Personal Journey
  • Fits Worldview
  • Offer Rewards

Watching the video is necessary to understand each of the six points, but let's parse out a few of them to give you a flavor.

I think Common Ground and Fits Worldview could be the most important, and they are related. Marshall notes that rather than present information from your own point of view, especially if that conflicts with the point of view of the person you're talking to, you should find common ground between the two of you. Find what you do agree on, for example, the welfare of your children, long-term economic stability, or mutual religious beliefs in stewardship. From that common ground you can have a meaningful and respectful discussion that reflects the worldview of the person you are talking to.

Relating your own personal journey to acknowledging the science of man-made climate change can also be helpful according to Marshall. Skeptics will see that you aren't just part of some tree-hugger cult or "liberal" political hack, but someone who has thought deeply and gained knowledge on the subject and, over time, come to understand that man-made climate change is happening and is already having significant effects. Understanding that your journey helped you see the science and its effects on your day-to-day life can lead them to undertake their own personal journey of discovery.

There is much more in the video, so please take the time to watch it. Google "how to talk to climate change denier" and you'll find several other videos offering suggestions on how to reach those who deny climate change (or as Marshall puts it, "climate dissenters").

There are some caveats. Marshall's strategies are focused on in-person conversations, which are likely to be people you know or have recently met. That is different than online "discussions" on Facebook, blogs, and various chat rooms where you may be "talking" to people you've never met and don't even know if they are real or bots or trolls or planted lobbyists working under fake names. Many of these people are intent on disrupting honest conversation. This point is important - rather than waste time arguing with fake Facebook profiles, go out and talk to real people. Talk to your family, your friends, your colleagues, and even people you've just met. Marshall's strategies, e.g., being respectful, only work in the real world, not online.

One last caveat. Don't confuse George Marshall the climate science communicator in the video with the George C. Marshall Institute, which is an infamous lobbying group behind much of the science denial misinformation industry. Do a little research to determine the sources of your information. Check out other posts on this page for more strategies for communicating the science and dealing with climate denialism.