2 March 2020

Dinosaurs Under the Tundra, Part 2: Talking about Climate Change with a Climate Skeptic

Posted by Shane Hanlon

Raj Pandya at AGU’s annual meeting. Credit: Raj Pandya.

By Raj Pandya

Note: This is part two of a two-part series. Find part one here

As a recap; home for Christmas holidays, having a nice conversation with my in-laws. My father-in-law’s wife voices skepticism about climate change. Part 1 of this blog talked about what I could learn from that skepticism, and how listening might guide future climate research.  Part 2, this part, is about how I could’ve shared some of the things I’ve learned about climate science.

To me that is the best order for this – listen and learn first, share and teach second – before we try to convince anyone, we better be darn sure we are listening. Anyway, here (based on lots research that has been collected and summarized in this blog by Shane Hanlon) are some ideas for the second part.

Step 1: Find the Agreements

First, and always foremost, acknowledge the areas where your differing world views connect and cross over. She is right about a lot of things. Dinosaurs did live in Alaska. Climate does change naturally.  Honda makes reliable cars. People like to drive.

Step 2: Reinforce the Common Ground.

All of, us despite our differences, live together on this spaceship Earth. How, then, can we be ready for climate change? How could we survive a transition to the dino-friendly Alaska? What kind of car could be as fun to drive as her little Honda, but not cause climate change? More generally, what do we need to do to connect with someone like my father-in-law’s wife?

Be respectful:  My Father-in-law’s wife is prepared for everything – she even has flash-flood kit in her car.  How can I share what we know about changes in a way that respects that?  What kind of extreme weather can we expect in the next decade, and how can she be prepared?  (Notice, we can talk about those questions without even mentioning the phrase ‘climate change’).

Be relevent.  My father-in-law’s wife said climate change was something that wouldn’t really affect her, anyway. Later that day she brought up the unusually hot summer, the increase in flooding, and her concerns about immigration. Helping her see how these things, that are here and now, connect to climate would make it all a lot more real and immediate. Don’t talk about polar bears and 2100 – talk about what it means for her neighborhood and her retirement.

Be Flexible: Climate change is never going to be her thing.  But it doesn’t have to be, she could be doing all the right climate stuff for other reasons. Even If she drives an electric car because its faster, cooler, and more reliable than her Honda, she is still reducing emissions. If we plant (drought-tolerant) trees to make the city streets more beautiful, increase pedestrian traffic, and attract businesses, we still get the C02 sequestration. Solar energy can be more reliable and made in America.

Be Nice: My father-in-law’s wife doesn’t really feel that connected to science or scientists, including climate scientists. We know that people are more likely to consider ideas from people they know – how can we help more people know scientists? Not only as experts, but as friends, colleagues and partners in building a better world.

I’ve actually seen all this work –  In one of our projects, a community leader, who was initially very skeptical of human climate change, started to reconsider when the scientist who helped her fight for flood protection answer her questions about climate.  By being respectful of local priorities, doing something relevent, being flexible, and being an ally, the scientist earned enough trust to be taken seriously on a contentious issue.

– Raj Pandya is the Director of AGU’s Thriving Earth Exchange.