Three Simple Ways to Talk to a Skeptic About Climate Change

02/06/2017 03:06 pm ET Updated Feb 07, 2018

How can you change the mindset of people around you about climate change? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Ava Mohsenin, student at McGill University, on Quora:

How can you change the mindset of people around you about climate change? Be open to changing your own points of view, see where your own biases manifest, and try to welcome the skepticism and criticism from others. Effective communication, especially persuasive communication starts with yourself! A few other notes:

It's really easy to compartmentalize and discount information that doesn't fit into our worldview, our dominating personal ideologies, or information that encourages behavioral changes that we don't want to do. As such, it's often extremely difficult to change the mindset of people around me (even in my immediate family, at times) about climate change. This is reflected at large in society, where our science is far outpacing our social and political responses to what that science tells us.

  1. One of the keys to changing this is to find common ground. Often the urgency and severity of the climate crisis pushes me to be short with individuals, or to criticize their behavior, or their ways of thinking - that will get me nowhere closer to finding a solution or having another mind at work on these big problems. Humbleness will get me way farther. If I can connect with another individual and we're on the same page about longer term or broader goals that we share, then the debate about which method to get there is healthy, and welcomed, instead of demonizing my friends and family for XYZ that contributes to climate change. And the wonderful/terrible part about the climate crisis is that can be the basis of a powerful narrative the weaves together seemingly disparate issues - race issues and women's issues and poverty issues and economic issues. In other words, there is always common ground to connect on.
    1. Even if I'm talking to a climate change skeptic, who doesn't want to accept data or statistics, I can still say well, we can agree that it would be cool to see fewer people in poverty in the next couple decades, or at least see economic inequality shrink. And if that's the starting point, there are solutions that cater to those concerns and solve issues about climate change (such as Germany's national feed-in tariff program to increase renewables, that allows anyone who wants to get into renewable power generation able to do so in a way that is simple, stable, and profitable. As a result, roughly half of Germany's renewable energy facilities are in the hands of farmers, citizen groups, and smaller energy cooperatives - meaning local communities are benefiting and in charge). Or if the starting point is - I want to live in a country with less money in politics - we can talk about how in 2013, the oil and gas industry spent just under $400,000 a day lobbying Congress and government officials. Or how the industry spent a record $73 million in federal campaign and political donations during the 2012 election cycle. Even if the starting point is - well I don't care about the climate and don't believe it'll cause the monstrous suffering describe -  the common ground could be, well if you're a firefighter or a nurse, or even public transit riders (any public sector worker), it would be nice to not see fares increase for the metro, or more frequent natural disasters leading to busier hospitals, or your department strapped for resources. There is always common ground!
  2. Another way to change the mindset of people around you about climate change is by lowering the transaction costs of choosing the more socially optimal and environmentally friendly option. I think people shrug off little things like using a reusable water bottle, or bringing reusable grocery bags to the store, or throwing out cigarettes in the trash, or getting the correct information about what products are best to avoid at the supermarket - but it matters! Small acts form habits, and those habits make changing the mindset about climate change relatable, easier, it "makes sense". You could gift close friends a nice water bottle, or share information about sustainability so they don't have to start from scratch. Lowering these "transaction costs" makes it seem so much easier to make the environmentally sensible choice.
  3. Lastly, I think to change the mindset about climate change with those around you, you have to lead by example. People who aren't even exposed to what the solutions look like in practice won't be able to wrap their heads around the severity and urgency of climate change - nor would they know how to do anything about it. Show how you can reduce your meat and still get enough protein. Show how to utilize the public transportation methods effectively. Form the habits you advocate for and stick to them. Educate yourself and share that about the different angles and approaches to solving the climate crisis. There are a lot of solutions already out there! Embody the types of connections to community and to the planet that are required to have an appreciate for it, and thus feel the need to protect it.
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