The Having of Holiday Climate Change Chats
Tyler K. Perry
With the holidays right around the corner, many families will soon gather around the dinner table and spend quality time with one another, laughing, sharing memories, and in many cases debating current events. My family can argue over just about anything, whether it be about whose fault it was for leaving my adolescent father in the grocery store parking lot 30 years ago, to how this country should be run and by whom. We are a small close knit family, that helps one another out when needed, and we all love each other very much. However, whenever the whole family is together, somehow, some way, a controversial topic rears its ugly head and soon a heated debate is ignited. Once that first spark flies, not even my mother’s famous homemade creamed onions can contain this clash of opinions. Maybe it’s my grandmother’s stubbornness, or my Aunt’s short fuse, but “teams” are formed and a formidable argument ensues. Most of the time it is usually over by the time pumpkin pie is served, and the consensus is always the same, agree to disagree.
As a child these arguments caused sadness and frustration that my family would rather argue at the dinner table about concepts that I did not understand, instead of laughing and recounting fond memories together like the families in all the Christmas movies. However, now that I am older and I have opinions of my own, I feel myself becoming tempted to join in the debates, especially those revolving around science and the environment. As a senior in the Environmental and Forestry Biology Department at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, I consider myself well versed in a number of scientific and environmental topics and controversies. I would like to share my knowledge and opinions with my family, without getting into a heated argument over dinner and letting my mashed potatoes go cold. When everyone is yelling, no one is listening.
Hurricane Sandy tore through the Northeastern coast in a terrifying display of Mother Nature’s force. It is therefore a feasible prediction that Sandy, and the ever growing talk of climate change may be a dinner table topic this holiday season. Climate change is a real issue that is affecting our everyday lives and is not going away anytime soon. However there are those out there that dispute the science and still believe that climate change is just a myth. If those naysayers happen to be sitting around your dinner table this holiday season, I have outlined steps to take that will help you get your point regarding climate change (or any other environmental topic) across respectfully and effectively. At the end of the post are some resources for going further.
The first thing that you need to do, is to make sure your audience knows that you respect their opinion and are willing to listen to what they have to say. The conversation is going to go smoothly when both parties know there is mutual respect.
The biggest problem with the public opinion of climate change is separating fact from fiction. Setting the record straight on some of the myths out there is number one. According to the “Debunking Handbook” that was referenced in the holiday post last year, it’s better to disprove a myth with three to four facts, rather than ten or twelve. It’s important to not bombard your family with high level scientific facts, when you just spit facts at a person that is not familiar with science, your argument will not be effective. Your goal is to avoid an overly complicated alternative explanation; otherwise people will prefer to believe an easy to understand myth. For example, many people believe that climate and weather is the same thing. The best way to explain the difference is that weather tells you the conditions outside right now, and climate tells you what the conditions will be outside for the whole year.
Even after you present your choice of facts to your family, if your dinner table is still not completely convinced that climate change is real, all hope is not lost. Even with facts such as 2012 having a 99.99999999% chance of being the hottest year on record for the continental United States, making seven out of the top ten hottest years on record, happening in the last 15 years (More info at Climate Central and NOAA) they still aren’t swayed; tell them that it doesn’t matter. Yes, you heard me correctly, the things we as humans need to do to stop climate change, are good practices in general. We have a responsibility as people on this earth to take care of her. Why should people wait for more and more record breaking years, horrible floods and super storms until they are undoubtedly convinced that climate change is real? We all should work to reduce our carbon footprint. Carpooling to the next family event to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the air, is just a good idea in general. And remind your naysayers that many practices that reduce greenhouse gasses will also save some of the green in their wallet. Rather than grumbling about the price of gas, see it as an incentive to monitor your energy use, amend your daily driving habits and reap the budgetary benefits.
All in all it while it’s important to try and convince your family the importance of good environmental practices, it is imperative that you enjoy the time that you have during the holidays to appreciate and spend time with those that are important to you. So if you feel like your stewardship lesson is taking a turn for the worse, steer it in the direction of sports teams, fine wine or if all else fails ask that fateful question of who left dad in the parking lot when he was ten.
Tyler Perry is a senior at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry and an intern at the Paleontological Research Institution.
Resources for Going Further
There are many great resources for deepening understandings. Here are two that include specific attention to how to talk to climate change contrarians:
- Earth: The Operators' Manual -- a PBS series with an accompanying website.
- The Debunking Handbook -- this short publications offers valuable insights into how to avoid your advocacy backfiring. You may be familiar with the feeling more entrenched in your beliefs after a debate. Chances are fairly good that the person you debated also feels his or her beliefs more strongly.
- Climate Access's Tip Sheet: Lessons Learned in 2012. This one page document organizes takeaway lessons into three key themes: 1) communications, 2) skeptics, and 3) impacts
- Our 2011 holiday talking points post, Climate Change Talking Points for Holiday Gatherings This post suggests focusing on four key ideas; that climate change is: 1) real; 2) human caused; 3) serious, and; 4) solvable.
- Our 2010 holiday talking points post, A tree in the living room as an opportunity to teach about carbon.
What suggestions do you have? Please use the comments for sharing ideas.