How to (not) talk to a climate denier
Updated: Feb 9
I see the same question popping up on any forum about climate change. How do I convince my climate denier parent/in-law/uncle/etc that climate change is real?
The short and disappointing answer is… you don’t.
I know. What a crap answer from a science communicator. Trying to convince someone that is determined in their current belief system is fruitless. Try getting someone with plenty of faith in their religion to convert to yours (or lack of). Unless that person has recently gone through something to question their beliefs it’s very unlikely. Any beliefs are like that. They become a part of you. Your identity.
Forget the die-hard climate deniers. It’s just like flat-earthers. Or anti-vaxxers. There is no amount of fact that will change their mind. Obviously, because the wealth of scientific information for all three seems like it should be undeniable.
Of course, it’s frustrating. You know you are right, but they also know they are right just as strongly. Maybe stronger as you might change your mind when presented with hard evidence to the contrary. But trying to convince them otherwise would be as useful and fun as banging your head against a wall.
So what do you do? Well, with them I find it’s best to avoid the topic at all costs. If they bring it up you clearly don’t want to agree but don’t get into it either. You just add fuel to their fire. Greyrock the subject. Be so boring and uninterested that they get nothing out of it. Then change the subject every chance you get.
Who can you influence? There are plenty of people out there still on the fence. They want more information but don’t feel adept in finding it on their own. Give it to them. Give it to them in a way they can understand and that relates to them in a meaningful way. Do they have children? Explain predictions about 30-50 years from now. Do they live in a coastal city? Tell them about sea-level rise. I guarantee you’ll find something that anyone can connect with as there are just so many impacts.
How do you know the difference between a denier and a fence-sitter or sceptic? Here are some examples of how they might phrase things differently.
Denier: You know, the climate was going to change anyway. It’s all about cycles. Nothing to do with humans.
Sceptics: The world has gone through periods of warming in the past, before humans, hasn’t it?
Denier: Did you hear about the record lows in Canada? See! It’s all a hoax!
Sceptic: It seems strange to me there could be such low temperatures when the world is heating up.
A denier doesn’t leave any room for doubt. They aren’t willing to listen and any questions are done to try and catch you out, not to learn anything.
I think it’s really hopeful. Climate deniers are now an aging population. Sure, they’ll be some young outliers but most young people are pretty on to it. They were born into this. They are getting it in school. Those whose families drilled their antiquated idea into their heads will be so outnumbered they’ll just be a niche group. The shift in power is just around the corner.
We can’t wait for that to happen, unfortunately. Young people need to continue to speak out. To not support corporations doing the most harm. To vote in much higher numbers than they have before. It’s a hard road ahead. Let’s not waste our efforts on those that won’t listen.