How to Talk with Global Warming Deniers

Most of you reading this probably believe that human caused global warming is true.  Likewise, you probably know a family member, friend, or colleague that thinks global warming is a myth. And that is where we collide into heated and passionate arguments. How does one talk and reason with folks who think global warming is not a real threat?

Over the weekend I had the pleasure of moderating a panel at the Los Angeles Green Festival entitled, “My brother-in-law is a global warming denier,” attempting to answer that very question.  The panel was made up of veterans who have been in the green and sustainability movement for decades: Alisa Gravitz, Executive Director of Green America, and Lois Arkin, a spunky 75-year old member of the Los Angeles Eco-Village.

What doesn’t work?
In order to understand what methods works, we need to understand what doesn’t work.  We have to differentiate between science and belief in terms of global warming.  Talking about just the science won’t work, as belief is something that runs deeper than empirical evidence.

Although more and more scientific evidence suggests the claim of human caused global warming is true, belief in global warming is waning.  A Pew Research poll suggests that 59 percent believe in global warming compared to 79 percent five years ago.

Now to the strategies that may work.  Gravitz suggested empathy as a key tactic.  We, as sustainability folk need to empathize and understand what global warming deniers and skeptics not only care about, but what they are worried about.

We may just find we have the same concerns, such as foreign oil, our personal health, our country’s future generations, that gives us common ground.  You may not convince them of global warming, but at least this is a first step towards more sustainable actions.

Yet, often times we still get into a global warming stalemate, no side wants to concede.  Both sides are strong in their convictions.  The hardcore environmentalist thinks the denier is wrong and the hardcore denier thanks the same.  How then do you move forward?

Arkin proposes to not even bother with the hardcore deniers at all, as their minds are already set.  Rather she chooses to lead by example, living a sustainable and planet friendly lifestyle.  Sometimes, actions may actually speak louder than words.

Both understanding with empathy and leading by example are key steps to take.  What are some tips and tricks that have worked for you in convincing folks about human caused global warming?  What hasn’t worked?  On the flip side, for the folks that don’t think global warming is real, have you been able to turn a person who believes in global warming into a denier or skeptic?  What worked for you?  What didn’t work?

Image credit: PIX-JOCKEY (Roberto Rizzato) via Flickr

Jonathan Mariano is an MBA candidate with the Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco, CA. His interests include the convergence between lean & green and pursuing free-market based sustainable solutions.