• Kate Meyer

How to talk to a climate denier

We’ve all been there. The topic of sustainability comes up. You, like most others, feel very passionately about being green. But somehow, even now, when the climate is changing around us, there is always someone who doesn’t even believe it is happening.

“How do we really know the climate is changing though?” they might say.

“In the 1970s everyone was predicting global cooling! Now you expect me to believe in global warming?!”

“What about the warming hiatus – there was no global warming from 1998 – 2015, how do you explain that?”

Whether you are a sustainability manager for your organisation, or simply someone to whom sustainability matters, this sort of argument can make you see red! However, even if are certain that climate change is real, maybe you haven’t read about the global cooling hype in the 1970s. Maybe you cant quite explain the increasing sea ice in the Antarctic. Was there really a warming hiatus?

The problem is that there are just so many arguments. Skeptical Science, a site dedicated to busting climate myths, has listed 197 climate sceptic arguments! A few are double ups – but even so – the amount of time needed to read through and understand each is more than most people can fit in.

So how can you convince people who don’t care about being eco-friendly? How should one manage such a plethora of arguments against sustainability? What can you do to encourage people to make environmentally sustainable decisions?

I suggest a combined approach:

  1. State the facts e.g.

  2. The average global temperature has been warming since we started emitting a lot of greenhouse gases.

  3. Greenhouse gases warm up the atmosphere.

  4. Present the options:

  5. We assume I am right and stop using greenhouse gases and switch to a circular economy. The risks include slowing down economic growth. Some industries will almost certainly go out of business.

  6. We assume you are right and continue to emit greenhouse gases and use resources unabated. The risks include changing the state of the planet from one that is hospitable to humanity to one that is hostile.

  7. Know why 2-3 sceptic arguments are nonsense to make the point that some definitely are and promise to follow up on any others that might be presented to you.

To give you a head start on this, here is why the arguments above don’t stand up:

The 1970s hysteria over global cooling.

There are hundreds and hundreds of media articles claiming that the planet was plummeting into an ice age that are cited as evidence of global cooling hysteria. However, there are very few academic articles on the subject. In the 1970s, some scientists were concerned about an imminent ice age. They believed at the time that one was due because of natural cycles, and there had been 30 years of cooling from the 1940s to the 1970s. No wonder some of them jumped to this conclusion. However, even then – with 30 years of cooling, more scientists were concerned about global warming! If you trace back many of the cited articles to their sources the articles speak of cooling and warming, and importantly, insufficient understanding of climate change. This period set in motion many years of deeper investigation into how the climate works – so that we understand it better now than we did then.

The warming hiatus from 1998 – 2015.

Firstly, it is important to point out a 7-year trend of any sort within a 250-year trend is simply noise in the data. There was a 30-year cooling trend that now appears as a mere blip in the graphs! However, there was in fact no hiatus from 1998 to 2015. Rather there was a change in data correlation techniques that meant previous years were slightly over estimated and later years were slightly under estimated. Until this glitch was uncovered, it did seem as though there was a warming hiatus. However once one technique was used across the full time period, the data showed warming throughout.

If you or your organisation wants to be able to talk about climate science in more depth, Ecometrics offer tailored sustainability training programmes in topics such as busting climate change myths, business sustainability, connecting sustainability science with policy, and science-based targets.