How to talk to people who deny climate change

Got one of those crazy family members who thinks that Rush Limbaugh is an expert on, well, everything, and who firmly believes that climate change is a conspiracy designed to undermine the capitalist economy? Yep, we know the type, and we fully understand that you may already be dreading family time at the holidays. This uncle or cousin or in-law isn’t going to let facts get in the way, so showing him how even scientists once skeptical about global warming are coming around in a big way probably won’t change any minds. And this relative certainly isn’t going to hold back for the sake of a peaceful gathering.

Simran Sethi, the “environmental messenger,” certainly know the type: She lives in Kansas, after all (says the guy from Missouri). She understands the temptation to sigh, roll your eyes and just assume that the person in question will never “get it.” But as frustrating as it can be to try and argue the facts, she also thinks those deniers are worth engaging — and that it’s even worth trying to figure out what you can learn from him. That’s right: Crazy brother-in-law may have some things to teach you, and may even have some lifestyle practices greener than your own.

In her recent TEDxCibeles talk, Simran discussed how we can engage these people with whom we disagree. It’s a little bit communications theory, a little bit neuroscience and a whole lot of good storytelling. It’s a little uncomfortable at points, as these kinds of discussions inevitably involve reflection on our own prejudices and shortcomings. It’s definitely worth the 26 minutes.

Got your own tactics for finding common ground in these situations? Share them with us.


Photo credit: Screen capture from “Why and how do we engage? Simran Sethi at TEDxCibeles”