6 arguments to refute your climate-denying relatives this holiday
December 20, 2021
We all seem to have that one relative who denies climate change (and loudly) at the dinner table — the one who points to snow on the ground in November to disprove global warming, calls climate change an international hoax or insists climate change is part of “the natural planetary cycles.”
It may seem futile to argue with these family members — you could say anything to them, read them every landmark climate report backed by thousands of scientists, and they still won’t change their minds.
But engaging in this sort of respectful discourse with nay-saying climate deniers — even if your uncle blindly disputes every point you make — is a step in the right direction. Our job as environmental activists (or even just someone who cares about our collective future) is to squelch anti-science rhetoric as we encounter it. Not to do so could mean backpedaling on so much of the progress that scientific research has advanced.
… Or maybe you’re just in the mood to argue. Whatever inspires you to myth-bust this holiday season, here are six ways to respond to your family’s climate-denying comments. In the most respectful, loving way, of course:
1. Uncle Frank says, “Climate change is natural and normal — we’ve seen fluctuations throughout history.”
The Earth has been through a lot in the last 4.5 billion years. And yes, high levels of carbon dioxide have been released naturally in the Earth’s history. Scientists have attributed mass extinctions to atmospheric carbon dioxide from 580 million years ago, long before humans were around to burn ridiculous amounts of fossil fuels.
What we’re experiencing with climate change today, however, is far different than any warming or cooling humanity has seen — in rate and in scale. Our present climate change is occurring 20 to 50 times faster than the most rapid climate change events in Earth’s history.
That some of the world’s mass extinctions have been tied to CO2 shouldn’t be a relief, though; it should be a wakeup call. Unlike in the past, we are the ones doing the damage (through the out-of-control burning of fossil fuels), not the Earth.
The good news is it’s entirely within our control to phase out fossil fuels and avoid the most devastating impacts of unchecked climate change. We don’t have to be dinosaurs, and we definitely should stop burning them.
2. When your cousin Wilma says, “Scientists can’t even agree that climate change is happening.”
Well, actually… 99 percent of scientists agree that climate change is happening and that humans are the primary cause.
To put this into perspective, we are more sure that humans are causing climate change than we are that smoking causes cancer.
Perhaps you’re thinking of indecisive politicians, many of whom are backed by the fossil fuel industry. Maybe that’s why leaders are still dragging their feet when it comes to climate action — or worse, vocally denying its existence in the face of rigorous scientific report, after report, after report.
The truth is politicians have known about climate change since (at least) the 1980s and fossil fuel companies have known about it since the 1960s. But leaders in the highest-emitting countries are doing next to nothing to slow climate change, let alone stop it.
3. Grandpa says, “It’s so cold outside. Sure could use some of that global warming.”
Weather and climate are two different things. Weather fluctuates from day to day, while climate is defined by long-term trends and weather averages.
So, just because it’s cold right now doesn’t mean global warming isn’t happening. The last seven years have been the hottest seven years on record, and that’s counting the bitter polar vortexes that have driven Arctic air down across North America during that period.
The Earth is on track to warm up to two degrees Celsius this century, but winter’s not going to disappear altogether in many parts of the world. Record low temperatures will just become rarer.
The U.S. saw nearly as many record highs as record lows in the 1950s. By 2000, the number of record highs was double the record lows. And, as the cold becomes rarer, it will feel more intense and hit unexpecting places.
And while you might not lose your winter altogether, unchecked climate change will bring other major weather shifts, in the form of extreme weather events like drought, wildfire, and hurricanes that will become more frequent and more intense in our warming world.
So, bundle up and brace yourself for the extreme weather climate change brings — including the intense cold.
4. Your mom says, “Plants and animals will adapt to the changes.” (Mom, stop embarrassing me!)
Climate change is occurring too rapidly to allow for species to adapt. And this is about more than the pictures of starving polar bears you see on Facebook (sorry, Mom).
Climate change threatens over 40 percent of amphibians, nearly 33 percent of corals, and more than a third of marine mammals. At this point, with climate change not even at its fullest force, more than one million species are at risk of extinction. Estimates show that dozens of species go extinct every day.
This is because climate change is compounding the effects of other already-existing detrimental human activities like overfishing and deforestation.
A U.N. report published in 2019 ranked the top five direct drivers of the disappearance of species. Climate change was third, behind changes in land and sea use and overexploitation of organisms (all human-caused).
Currently, species are going extinct at 1,000 times the natural rate of extinction. That means we could lose 30 to 50 percent of the total species found on Earth by mid-century. Can you pass the cranberry sauce?
5. Uncle Frank is back at it: “Climate change is a good thing.
Hold my eggnog.
For many reasons — economic, environmental, physiological — climate change will have a net negative impact on the world. Research even shows we’ve significantly underestimated the financial risks of climate change around the world.
The United States stands to lose billions of dollars, second only to India in terms of the negative economic impact. In our warming world, U.S. estimates currently sit at a loss of one to four percent of its GDP each year by 2100.
But enough with the economic hypotheticals. We’re already seeing how dangerous climate change is to plants and animals as well as humans.
But what’s just as scary are the statistics on natural disasters: Hurricanes are reaching new extremes — with the number of categories 4 and 5 increasing over the last 30 years. Wildfires, too, are claiming larger burn areas and increasing in intensity.
What’s so great about that?
6. Your stepdad says, “It won’t affect me or anyone I know.”
Climate impacts are already here and now, and they will only get worse if we continue to do nothing. Climate change affects individuals disproportionately, hurting the poorest and most vulnerable communities worse than others, so you may just be feeling a buffer from your comparative privilege.
Climate justice recognizes that climate change isn’t just a physical problem — it’s an ethical one, too. The individuals and communities who will be most affected by climate change are the ones contributing the least to it.
But this is also a generational issue — you may not have to bear the brunt of our collective inaction on climate change, but let’s try to have some empathy for future generations (even if you don’t understand TikTok or selfies).
Your great grandchildren — who are currently on track to inherit a world four degrees warmer than yours and feel its effects at every stage of their life — will have to clean up the mess your generation made in their fight for survival.
They’ll grow up in a world with more air pollution, more vector-borne diseases, and more extreme weather events to deal with.
The future of humanity is on the line
In conclusion, you can’t choose your family, but you can try to change their mindsets on climate change. Some of these arguments may stick; some may go in one ear and out the other.
These conversations aren’t easy, but we should try to engage in them when we can. After all, the future of humanity is on the line.
Perhaps if you convince them, your newly informed, ex-climate-denying relatives will even take action for Earth Day in 2022. That action — whether it’s participating in a cleanup, having a plant-based meal, or attending a teach-in — can help put us on a course to a greener, more sustainable future.
And if that happens, you’ll definitely have something interesting to talk about next holiday.
This blog was originally published on November 25, 2019 and updated on December 20, 2021.