What to say if climate change comes up over the holidays
I don’t know about your holiday gathering, but at mine, mentioning my concern for our warming planet is a recipe for conflict. So, climate change is a topic I typically stay away from — along with politics.
But is that the best approach? I’m not so sure.
No one has ever solved a problem without talking about it. And research shows that when someone you know installs solar panels, for example, you become more likely to consider solar energy as well. So, does that mean I am missing a vital opportunity to influence those closest to me?
Renowned climate scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, author of Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World, says “yes.”
In fact, she says that the most important thing you can do to fight climate change is to talk about it — and start from the heart. Talk about why it matters to you. Because understanding how the people and things we care about are at risk (and the many benefits that come from transitioning away from a polluting economy) are what will ultimately make more people care about our changing climate.
But how do you do that without making your holiday dinner awkward? These tips can help.
1. Focus on solutions
Most people are worried about climate change. They just don’t know what they can do about it. Since food is often a topic over the holidays, you might mention the value of composting your food waste.
“Food is a great topic because wasting less food is one of the most effective things individuals can do to fight climate change,” says Fiona Lo, a climate scientist at Environmental Defense Fund.
Why is reducing food waste so effective? Because when your leftovers rot in landfills, they produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas that has 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it reaches the atmosphere, Lo says. That makes keeping methane out of the atmosphere a powerful way to help slow global warming.
2. If you disagree, don’t attack. Ask questions
“When asked gently to explain our own positions, we are more likely to see the holes in them,” says EDF’s Rainer Romero-Canyas, a social behavioral scientist. “But if you antagonize someone, most people will just double-down on their ideas.”
For example, if someone says that the Earth is flat, you might ask them where they learned that or why they believe that. If you start by hearing someone out and asking for evidence, you can then counter false information more easily, Romero-Canyas says.
If the conversation doesn’t go well, remember that it can be hard for people to accept that they may be wrong. Instead of belaboring the topic, consider sharing a link to correct information that they can look at later, and move on.
3. Find opportunities for connection
“Facts, numbers and details have less impact than we think they do,” Romero-Canyas says. So instead of trying to prove a point by citing statistics, he advises talking instead about why you care. For example, if your child has asthma and struggles to breathe on days with poor air quality, you might talk about the advocacy work of Moms Clean Air Force — because pollution not only exacerbates climate change, but also asthma.
Think of your conversation as planting a seed rather than winning an argument. And if things do get heated, remember why you’re there.
“For most of us, our goal over the holidays is to have a good time with family and friends,” Romero-Canyas says. Plus, he says, research shows that if you’re trying to persuade someone, when you deliver your message is just as important as what you say.
“If you go into a sacred moment and pick a fight, you’ll end up polarizing family members even more,” Romero-Canyas says. “The most important thing to focus on over the holidays is connecting with your loved ones.”
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