How to Have Constructive Conversations with Climate Change Deniers

Derek Ma Mar 15, 2024
5 People Read
Table of Contents
  1. Understanding Climate Deniers
    1. Generation Gap
    2. Political Ideologies and Economic Interests
  2. Provide Accurate and Accessible Information:
    1. Here is a list of good and reputable sources on climate change.
  3. Communicating Climate Science
    1. Approach and Communicate with Respect
    2. Building Bridges and Finding Common Ground
  4. Addressing Systemic Barriers to Change
    1. Economic Benefits
    2. Fossil Fuel Industries
  5. Final Thoughts on Climate Change Communicate

Dealing with climate deniers can be a frustrating and challenging task, especially when it seems the future of our planet is at stake. 

In this blog post, I will explore various strategies and techniques that I have used to effectively engage with individuals who deny or downplay the reality of climate change. 

It is important to approach these discussions with an open mind and a willingness to listen, as understanding the underlying reasons behind someone's denial can help tailor our responses accordingly. 

Understanding Climate Deniers

Climate deniers, also known as climate skeptics, are individuals who reject or downplay the scientific consensus on climate change. 

They often argue that the Earth's climate is either not changing or that human activities are not the primary cause of these changes. 

Understanding the mindset and motivations of climate deniers is essential in order to effectively engage with them and promote a broader understanding of the urgency to address climate change.

Generation Gap

Generation Gap

When talking with people about climate change, one of the first things I try and determine is what generation they are from.

I have found that there can be significant differences in people’s views on climate change because of the generation gap

The generation gap, is a term coined to describe the differences in opinions, values, and behaviors between different age groups

One significant cause of the generation gap on environmental issues is the difference in life experiences and upbringing.

This difference in exposure to environmental concerns shapes their attitudes toward the environment and their willingness to take action.

Generation Gap is also created by the different media outlets each generation uses.

For example, older generations often rely on traditional media outlets, such as newspapers and television, which may not highlight the urgency of environmental problems or provide comprehensive coverage.

In contrast, younger generations, who have grown up with smartphones, social media, and instant access to information, are more aware of environmental issues and are often at the forefront of advocating for change. 

Political Ideologies and Economic Interests

Many climate deniers are influenced by political ideologies, economic interests, or a distrust of scientific institutions. 

Some deny climate change out of fear that it will lead to government intervention and regulation that may disrupt their economic activities. 

Others may reject the scientific consensus due to the influence of politically motivated misinformation campaigns. 

It is important to approach climate deniers with empathy and respect, acknowledging their concerns and addressing them with evidence-based information. 

By focusing on shared values such as public health, economic stability, and national security, it is possible to bridge the gap and foster productive conversations about climate change.

Educating oneself about the science of climate change and staying informed about the latest research is vital when engaging with climate deniers. 

It provides a solid foundation for countering misinformation and effectively communicating the urgency of the issue. 

IPCC logo

Provide Accurate and Accessible Information:

Education is key in combating climate denial.  

However, it is important to provide accurate and accessible information about the science and impacts of climate change. 

As an environmental scientist, I am able to use my professional and educational background to help educate people.

Of course, not everyone has or needs a background in climate change or environmental science to educate others.

There are plenty of ways to inform yourself about climate change properly.

Here is a list of good and reputable sources on climate change.

1. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change.

The IPCC, formed in 1988, brings together thousands of experts worldwide to evaluate the latest research on various aspects of climate change, including its causes, impacts, and potential solutions.

2. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is a scientific agency of the United States federal government. 

As a scientific agency within the United States Department of Commerce, NOAA is responsible for monitoring and understanding our planet's environment, including the Earth's atmosphere and oceans. 

NOAA conducts extensive research to better comprehend the complex interactions between different components of the Earth system, such as the atmosphere, ocean, land, and ice. 

By analyzing vast amounts of data collected from satellites, buoys, ships, and other instruments, NOAA scientists study various aspects of climate, including temperature patterns, precipitation trends, atmospheric composition, and sea level rise.

3. Nature Climate Change

“An academic monthly journal dedicated to publishing the most significant and cutting-edge research on the nature, underlying causes or impacts of global climate change and its implications for the economy, policy and the world at large.”

The journal follows the standards for high-quality science and is committed to publishing top-tier original research in all areas relating to climate change through a fair and rigorous review process.

4.Ask NASA” Climate Change Blog

Mission:To engage the world with accurate, accessible, and actionable information about our rapidly changing climate, from the global perspective of NASA.”

Staffed by a team of Scientific Advisors, their website covers popular climate topics such as global warming, climate change, ocean, sea levels, satellites, and glaciers.

For more great sources on climate change, I recommend checking out this list from George Washington University.


Communicating Climate Science

Climate change is a complex and multifaceted issue that requires a nuanced and evidence-based approach to convey its urgency and significance. 

When engaging with climate deniers, I have found that the best strategy is to prioritize clear and concise messaging while actively addressing their concerns and misconceptions. 

I usually emphasize the overwhelming scientific consensus on anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change, supported by reputable institutions and numerous peer-reviewed studies. 

97% of publishing climate scientists agree that humans are causing global warming.

And 99.9% of peer-reviewed scientific papers (88,125 climate-related studies) agree that climate change is mainly caused by humans.  

By presenting a balanced understanding of the evidence, it becomes harder for deniers to dispute the reality of climate change.

Another key aspect of communicating climate science to deniers is to avoid jargon and technical terms that may alienate or confuse them. 

Using simple language and relatable examples can help bridge the gap between scientific concepts and everyday experiences. 

Additionally, highlighting the potential impacts of climate change on their immediate surroundings, such as extreme weather events or disruptions to local ecosystems, may resonate with their personal concerns and foster a sense of urgency.

I recommend using personal anecdotes as they are typically more powerful.

For example, I live in Southern California, so I typically talk about heat waves, droughts, and increased wildfires. 


Approach and Communicate with Respect

It is also important to approach conversations with climate deniers with empathy and respect.

Attacking or belittling their beliefs is unlikely to lead to productive discussions. 

Instead, active listening, asking open-ended questions, and finding common ground can create a more conducive environment for understanding and potentially changing their perspective. 

Ultimately, the goal is not to win arguments but to promote understanding and inspire action towards mitigating climate change.

Engaging with climate deniers can be a challenging task, as it requires navigating through deeply held beliefs and misinformation. 

However, it is crucial to promote dialogue and engagement with this group, as dismissing their views outright can further polarize the conversation. 

Common Ground

(photo by: Finding a Common Ground | Citadel Digital Agency)

Building Bridges and Finding Common Ground

One effective strategy for communicating climate change is to focus on shared values and goals. 

For example, rather than presenting the issue solely as an environmental concern, it can be framed in terms of economic stability, public health, or national security. 

By highlighting the potential benefits of taking action on climate change, such as job creation, cleaner air and water, and reduced dependence on fossil fuels, it becomes easier to find common ground and generate support for solutions. 

Additionally, emphasizing the importance of preserving nature and protecting future generations can resonate with individuals who may not necessarily deny climate change but have not fully grasped its urgency.

Another approach is to keep the conversation respectful and open-minded

By actively listening to the concerns and perspectives of climate deniers, it becomes possible to address their specific doubts and uncertainties with evidence-based information. 

Recognizing that changing one's beliefs is a gradual process, it is important to avoid confrontational arguments or personal (ad hominum) attacks, which often only reinforce existing biases and prevent productive dialogue. 

Instead, fostering a sense of collaboration and mutual respect can create an environment conducive to finding common ground and advancing the conversation around climate change.

Addressing Systemic Barriers to Change

One of the main reasons why some people deny climate change is due to their ideological or political beliefs. 

Climate change is often seen as a polarizing issue, with conservatives and liberals having different perspectives on the topic. 

To overcome this barrier, it is crucial to frame the conversation in a way that appeals to their values and interests. 

Economic Benefits

For conservatives, emphasizing the economic benefits of transitioning to renewable energy and the potential job opportunities in clean energy sectors can help bridge the gap. 

I also like talking about various B corporations, such as Regrained, and how they embrace circularity by using spent beer grains and turning them into profitable, tasty snacks.

Another B corporation I enjoy talking about is Patagonia Provisions.  Their buffalo jerky is a profitable snack that also helps conserve grassland/prairie ecosystems that are only a small percentage of what they once were.  

Fossil Fuel Industries

Another significant barrier is the influence of vested interests, such as fossil fuel industries that have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. 

These industries often fund misinformation campaigns and lobby against climate policies. 

To counter this, it is essential to raise awareness about their tactics and expose the financial motives behind their denial. 

By highlighting the economic opportunities and benefits of clean energy solutions, we can shift the narrative away from the vested interests and towards a more sustainable future.

Lastly, education and access to information play a critical role in addressing systemic barriers.

Promoting scientific literacy and providing accurate, easily accessible information can help debunk misinformation and empower individuals to make informed decisions. 

This can be done through educational campaigns, public forums, and collaborations with trusted sources of information.

Final Thoughts on Climate Change Communicate

Communicating climate change requires a multi-faceted approach that combines facts, empathy, and strategic communication. 

It is essential to start by acknowledging that engaging in a constructive dialogue with climate deniers is crucial for progress. 

By presenting well-researched and evidence-based information, we can counteract misinformation and provide a clear understanding of the realities of climate change. 

However, it is important to approach these conversations with empathy and understanding, recognizing that individuals may hold their beliefs due to various factors such as political ideologies or cognitive biases. 

Avoiding confrontations and focusing on shared values, such as a desire for a healthy environment or a sustainable future, can help bridge the gap between differing perspectives.

Furthermore, strategic communication is key in effectively addressing climate denial. 

Utilizing storytelling techniques (personal stories) and relatable examples can help make complex scientific concepts accessible and relatable to a wider audience. 

Additionally, leveraging social media platforms and other online resources can extend the reach of climate change information, allowing for increased awareness and engagement. 

Ultimately, overcoming climate denial requires patience, persistence, and a dedication to promoting accurate information. 

By staying informed, fostering empathy, and utilizing effective communication strategies, we can work towards a collective understanding of the urgency and importance of addressing climate change. 

Together, we can build a more resilient and sustainable future for generations to come.

Table of Contents
  1. Understanding Climate Deniers
    1. Generation Gap
    2. Political Ideologies and Economic Interests
  2. Provide Accurate and Accessible Information:
    1. Here is a list of good and reputable sources on climate change.
  3. Communicating Climate Science
    1. Approach and Communicate with Respect
    2. Building Bridges and Finding Common Ground
  4. Addressing Systemic Barriers to Change
    1. Economic Benefits
    2. Fossil Fuel Industries
  5. Final Thoughts on Climate Change Communicate