In the last few decades the issue of climate change has become a central socio-political issue across the globe, and more and more people are realising the weight and urgency of the crisis that we are facing. Yet, a small percentage of people still regard climate change as something that is not real. Arguments range from subtle doubt all the way through to tangled conspiracy theories, and conversations about the topic with climate sceptics can be challenging. So how can we avoid conflict when debating this still (mainly politically) controversial topic with someone who disagrees with us?
Be understanding of their point of view
We human beings like our own opinion. We like to think we’re right, and when our reasoning is challenged, we don’t always respond well. When someone talks to us in a self-righteous or criticising tone, it can make us feel offended and annoyed and may even strengthen our own belief out of sheer objection, leaving us wanting to prove them wrong. Thus, when debating climate change – or anything, really – with someone who disagrees with you, avoid using a confronting tone or phrasing. Instead of telling them why you think they are not right, try to understand their point of view by asking why they believe that climate change isn’t real. One, people are more likely to listen to someone’s opinion that in turn also listens to theirs. Two, the better you understand why your conversation partner thinks what they think, the more likely you will be able to find common ground with them and introduce them to new perspectives.
Frame the discussion around their values
Try convincing someone who isn’t very bothered about endangered species of the seriousness of the melting of polar ice by telling them that it threatens polar bears. Chances are, you will not get very far. They might, however, be more likely to listen if you talk about the increasing risk of flooding in the area where they live. Focusing on something that your conversation partner personally cares about can help you open a more engaged discussion, because it helps them relate the effects of climate change directly to their lives or the lives of those they care about.
Prove your points with facts – but know when to take a step back
You don’t need to know all the science and statistics about climate change, but to be able to successfully counter misinformation, you need to have enough knowledge around the topic to back your points up with some well informed evidence. It might also be worth being aware of the most widespread misconceptions around the topic and having some evidence at hand to counter them – you will likely come across some of these in your conversations.
That being said, keep in mind that not everyone responds to facts the same way. For example, if you are speaking with someone who doesn’t believe in statistics, you might want to steer clear of bombarding them with numbers, and instead focus on other types of evidence, such as personal experience.
There are many ways to go about a discussion with a climate sceptic, but in any case, be considerate. At the end of the day, climate change is likely not the only thing you and your discussion partner disagree on and, like any other disagreement, it shouldn’t lead to conflict.