Talking to Deniers

How To Talk To A Climate Change Denier


Conversational Tips For Those Unfortunate Souls Found Within Earshot Of Those Individuals Who Deny The Overwhelming Scientific Consensus That Human Activities Are Responsible For Catastrophic Climate Change

Question: Steve, my uncle’s knuckles do not actually drag on the ground but he is convinced that climate change is, a) not happening and b) if it is happening its not our fault and c) if it is happening and if it is our fault there’s nothing we can do about it anyway. How can I talk to him about climate change during family get togethers without causing indigestion or worse?

Kerfluffled in Kentucky

Dear Kerfluffled,

In a word , “Don’t”

Thanks for writing and can we use Uncle’s Knuckles as a band name? Have a great day.

OK, so even Hemingway cannot be that succinct. The reasoning behind this suggestion is a bit deeper than one word but the result will no doubt hold.

I speak with some authority on this subject for two reasons. One, I’ve been studying the Inputs and Effects of the “Anthropocene” for over twenty five years and, Two, I often find myself in close proximity to so called Deniers.

Most of the Deniers I’ve come across tend to arrive at their conclusions as a result of closely held feelings of either fear or faith.

If fear is the driving emotion in ones decision making the quality of these decisions is going to be of an extremely low quality. The source of the fear does not matter. It could be fear of change, fear of people of different backgrounds, fear of economic marginalization………don’t matter why.

So Don’t!

Someone very near and dear to me came to his Denier conclusion as a result of a deeply held faith and a literal interpretation of the Bible, particularly a very specific interpretation of the word “Dominion”.

Clearly I’m no Biblical scholar but I do know that someone translated that word from the original Arabic (or whatever tongue it was originally written in) and something is certainly lost in every attempt in translate.

It really doesn’t matter what the word means in the context of this counsel. If someone arrives at a point of view as a result of faith no sum of reasoning and evidence is going to change that persons mind because faith is, by nature, a place insulated to the effects of reason.

So Don’t!

At least not on Climate Change.

That doesn’t mean there is nothing to be done. You can still engage a Denier on a few other points.

Pollution. OK, so say we cede the point of Human Induced Climate Change (HIIC) as a result of burning fossil fuels. Burning stuff is still not a good idea.

Burning anything releases nasty stuff into the air we all breathe.

Drilling for oil very always pollutes surface water. Certainly hydro-fracking does even if it doesn’t pollute the ground water (a dubious conclusion, at best).

So polluting the air and the water is never a good idea.

Jobs. Talk jobs to the Denier. Renewable Energy is responsible for good paying non-exportable job growth. Using our time and financial resources to support local jobs is always better than sending money overseas to unstable governments or to countries with bad intentions for the US.

Security. Talk security to the Denier. Distributed Renewable Energy is safe from attack and will not cause Fukushima type disasters. Ask the Denier how many Fukushimas the world can endure before the system falls apart. What if a bad actor managed to destroy a centralized power plant? Worse, imagine that plant is a nuke!!!

Upon reflection, use that last line with some discretion as some Deniers think Fukushima makes for improved fishing.

Economics. Talk economics to the Denier. Ask a Denier how much sense it makes for a company to lose 70% of its product before it reaches the consumer. Most of the power produced in a centralized power plant is lost in either conversion or transmission. Note that this outrageous inefficiency applies to centralized renewable sources as well as centralized fossil fuel power plants.

Further the economics conversation by mentioning free markets. In a truly free market that actually accounts for all the “externalities” not priced by our present system the cost of Renewable Energy would eat the Fossil’s lunch. Deniers like references to lunch and the implicit unfairness of eating others sandwiches.

And a final conversational strategy is to mention Technology. Technological change is ruthless and unstoppable. Technological change is like rain; when it falls it falls on rich and poor, dumb and smart, black and white, fat and skinny alike. Insert a Tesla reference here.

Change is coming and it will leave flat-footer Deniers unprepared for the new reality. As Amory Lovins has pointed out, burning fossil fuels in centralized power plants is the epitome of Victorian Technology, “Its time has come and gone”.

So don’t engage a Denier in conversation regarding HICC. Move the conversation to all these other issues. Do this not because you believe that HIIC is not happening but because we need to get more peeps on board for the tremendous amount of work that has to be done.

Steve Farrell