The other day my brother called me before noon, an unusual breach indicating that something was amiss. As it turns out, the poor guy was recovering from a recent conversation with a friend of his who apparently embraces a whole host of rather bizarre theories while flatly rejecting global warming as something he “doesn’t believe in.” Dumbfounded by this revelation, my brother tried cobbling together a counter-argument, only to feel the local atmosphere becoming more and more heated. Thereafter, he decided to hit me up for some advice.
As it turns out, I do have a few tips about how to deal with a global warming skeptic, should you actually encounter one. Indeed, it is important to be prepared, for it is not only possible but perhaps even likely that one day, when you least expect it, you too will find yourself interacting with someone who thinks Al Gore is evil and polar bears are faking it. You might wind up in close proximity to such a person on an airplane, at a backyard barbecue – heck, you may even know a global warming skeptic and not even be aware of it. Like zombies from another planet, they walk among us.
1. Admit that the problem exists.
Yes, Virginia, global warming skeptics are real. This is the truly inconvenient truth of our time. For awhile there, near the end of the Cheney era, it seemed as though these folks had gone the way of the dodo, but it appears they have been reanimated by a new cadre of right-wing pundits and rabidly anti-government YouTubers who never tire of seeing Obama with a Hitler ‘stache. Rest assured, however, that no matter how loudly this crowd chants “Drill, baby, drill,” they remain a minority who just need a little love and a lot of truth. This is where you come in.
2. Stay cool and collected.
Upon encountering a climate change skeptic, you may experience a powerful fight-or-flight response. Try to resist the natural urge to either head for the hills or shout unflattering psychological assessments, and instead remain calm, present, and grounded. Take a few deep breaths and allow yourself to believe that you’re about to have a rational conversation with a sane individual who may have very good reasons for doubting the national academies of science of every industrialized country on Earth. The person may in fact be completely loopy, but it’s important to extend the benefit of the doubt, initially at least.
3. Identify the type of skeptic at hand.
Nonbelievers come in different shapes and sizes and in every color except green. Most dangerous, and fortunately most rare, is the type who doubt that global warming is happening at all. If you find yourself in the presence of such a person, you might ask her with politeness and genuine curiosity to explain melting ice caps, stranded polar bears, confused birds, or inclement and extreme weather. Chances are, however, that such painfully obvious evidence will be dismissed by this brand of skeptic, whose denial runs deeper than Louisiana floodwaters.
The more common variety of skeptic accepts that global temperatures are rising, but rejects the notion that humans are to blame. “It’s a natural process,” they say. Well, inasmuch as the Industrial Revolution is a natural process, given that carbon dioxide levels have risen sharply during this period. “Oh, CO2 doesn’t cause global warming,” comes the likely reply, as the storm clouds begin to gather…
4. Avoid unnecessary emissions: Don’t debate the details.
With all types of skeptic, there exists a danger that your conversation could digress into a discussion, which could degenerate into a dispute. Should you find yourself on this slippery slope, it’s important to remember one very important thing: from a scientific perspective, the debate is over, and has been for years. Climatologists, the only people who really know climate shift from Shinola, are nearly unanimous in attributing rising temperatures to human activity, while in the greater scientific world, “no scientific body of national or international standing” disagrees with this conclusion. Consensus has been reached; the verdict is in; the case is closed.
Sure, there are a handful of rogue researchers and meteorology majors whom the media wheel out to present “the other side of the issue” in order to appear “fair and balanced.” However, these so-called experts usually lack not only the proper credentials but the requisite objectivity, often speaking from a political or religious perspective. Indeed, it is primarily within these two spheres that the debate is actually occurring. You won’t find many science PhDs arguing about climate change, but you will hear plenty of oil execs, lobbyists, preachers, and plumbers blowing obfuscating smoke out of their…respective biases.
5. Face fear and fundamentalism with love and logic.
If you suspect an underlying agenda, try bringing up the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or IPCC, the 2500-member UN board whose findings comprise most of the material presented in An Inconvenient Truth. Should the conversation turn to New World Order, you have officially left the left hemisphere of the brain, associated with reason. On the right side of the divide, the UN is connected to nefarious forces intent on enslaving humans in general or killing Christians in particular. Either way, you’re dealing with a conspiracy theorist whose motivation is fear and whose method is projection. This type of nonbeliever might speak of the Shadow Government, but it’s really his own psychological shadow of which he is afraid.
Be that as it may, it’s important to refrain from being dismissive, not only because your fellow American may be armed, but because his feelings of powerlessness are totally valid and his argument is partially so. As he is likely to insist, there are indeed a handful of extremely wealthy and powerful people and groups intent on maintaining, or gaining, wealth and power. This, however, is a neither a secret nor a sinister plan, but the workings of an unfortunate trait called selfishness that lurks within every human heart.
If the conspiracy buff is in touch with his internal world, you may gain some traction with a psychological approach of this kind; otherwise you may well veer into the dangerous territory of biblical prophecy and reactionary politics in which pagans and Leftists are intent on destroying all that is right and good, and eating unborn babies in the process. In this case, you’re on your own – just remember that if your skeptical companion seems to sprout horns himself, it’s probably best to bow out gracefully, or return to the breath.
6. You are not the devil, but you can play his advocate.
If you’re able to steer the conversation back into the realm of logic (or keep it there), you might try granting the skeptic’s (false) claim that the jury is still out about what causes global warming. Will the skeptic in turn accept that human activity might possibly play a role, however insignificant? If so, basic morality and common sense dictate that, for the benefit of life on Earth, it’s best to be conservative (ecologically, that is). The assumption is that the person you’re addressing (a) likes life and wants it to continue, and (b) accepts that humans bear some responsibility or play some role in shaping the future (vs. believing that everything is predestined). Even if the skeptic is not an animal lover or a treehugger, chances are that she wants her children and grandchildren to (a) live (b) in a world in which animals and trees exist.
7. Speaking of animals, speak of animals, and humans.
Whether or not your conversation leads to conservation, it does provide a golden opportunity to educate a fellow (or female) human being about the plight of non-human beings on our planet. Is the skeptic aware that she is living in the midst of a mass extinction event, the likes of which hasn’t happened since the demise of the dinosaurs over 65 million years ago? Species are disappearing anywhere from 100 to 1000 times the normal rate, leading leading biologists to predict that half of all life forms on Earth will be gone within a few decades. You don’t have to be a hippy to find this news disturbing. Nor do you need believe that global warming ranks high among the causes of this epic event. Indeed, you don’t even have to care about other species to appreciate the fact that mass extinction puts homo sapiens at risk. Surely even the most cynical tea-bagger cares about humanity’s survival, or at least his own. Either way, you can again make Beelzebub’s case by asking the skeptic to concede that human activity might possibly play a role in mass extinction, in which case the logical course of action is to help preserve life by reducing the size of one’s ecological footprint.
Increased global responsibility is, of course, the ideal outcome of any discussion about climate change. But even if you don’t succeed in changing someone’s mind (a nearly impossible feat in any case), you might be able to change someone’s heart, however subtly, by being patient, kind, and respectful. This is how to speak with – not to or at – a climate change skeptic, for the more the warmth decreases among members of our unique and precious species, the more the warmth of our unique and precious planet is likely to increase. The job of every conscious earthling is to promote global warming of the good kind, remembering that, as with the bad kind, even the most seemingly insignificant actions add up.