Image (sea surface temperatures on July 9) courtesy of Brian McNoldy/University of Miami/NASA/MSFC/SPoRT

5 Great Tips (Plus A Bonus) To Help You Handle A Climate Denier At Your Christmas Dinner

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Sea surface temperature anomaly (°C) for August 2023, relative to the 1991-2020 reference period. Data source: ERA5. Credit: Copernicus Climate Change Service/ECMWF.

If you’re here, it means you’ve got at least one climate change denialist in your community that you’re dreading interacting with at Christmas dinner. I feel you. I’ve got a few in my life, too. So … as I approach holiday meals, I do my best to make sure that our get-togethers can keep going and not be detonated after my head explodes in frustration.

One great strategy is to find an ally. If there’s even one other person who “gets it,” you can talk to them ahead of time and, even if it’s just a knowing glance, wink, smile … whatever, having that one other supportive person can help you stay sane. But sometimes, there are no allies, and for that, you need a strategy.

I’ve put together these tips for myself. Hopefully they can help you, too.

Listen first

Steven Covey’s 7 Habits book includes #5: seek first to understand, then to be understood. Active listening will help you learn a couple of things. One, why someone thinks the way they do. And second, where they get their info. This can help you understand who they are. A recent stand-up comedy I was watching talked about “Fox News Dads” vs “MSNBC Dads.” In the FN example, the comedian’s dad spends every night drinking alone on the couch, watching FN until he’s so mad he runs out of steam and goes to bed. And when he comes into the dining room, all worked up, and people ask him, “OK, you’re worked up … what’s going on?”, all FN dad is able to muster is, “Nancy Pelosi sucks!” I won’t tell you how he made fun of MSNBC dads, because it hit a little too close to home. LOL.

But if you understand that this is just how Uncle Phil spends his time, you can understand that you’re not going to change his mind, and ALSO, just as importantly, that people around him are probably craving a little change of pace from the drumbeat of how much Nancy sucks. This creates an opportunity, if you can handle Uncle Phil in a sophisticated way, to help win over others — maybe not Uncle Phil, maybe at least those around him who enable his mannerisms.

Talk from your personal experience

People can argue with you that “not all scientists agree,” but they cannot argue with you about your life experience.

I take this tip directly from a CleanTechnica post 5 years ago — where the author talks about his experience with his solar, home efficiency, and EVs. He talks about how it’s not only saved him money, the products are simply so … much … better. Doesn’t matter if it’s an e-bike, a meatless meal that made you feel great, or anything else sustainability related … just tell your story about how cleantech and sustainability have improved your life.

Talk about how science works — on a personal level

While Uncle Phil might scoff at the idea of climate scientists in near unison around the world, you can make it more relevant for those who simply don’t understand science (e.g., Uncle Phil and those in his circle), by making it more personal. Rather than “97% of scientists studying greenhouse gases…,” you can say, “Well, if 97% of dentists say you should probably get that tooth fixed before it turns into a root canal, would you listen to them, or the 3% who tell you not to worry about it?”

Nobody wants a root canal. Nobody should welcome a climate apocalypse. Now they’re the same in peoples’ minds.

Talk local

If you’ve ever seen a polar bear in its natural environment, you probably have empathy for their struggle. I’d bet Uncle Phil has never watched a nature documentary, however, and potentially this line of discussion would miss many others, too. So instead of polar bears, ice caps, and rainforest indigenous cultures, try talking about the latest heat wave/flood/drought/megastorm in the area. Who knows, maybe Aunt Sally will pipe up and say, quietly and maybe just to you, “It didn’t used to be like this.”

Very few people are unaware of how their local climate has changed, if they’ve been around the area for a bit.

Keep an inarguable topic in your back pocket

OK, so you feel the convo is not going well … no problem. Remember you’ve got an Ace up your sleeve. Here’s a few lines you can use.

“Even if it’s all a hoax, isn’t switching from coal to solar better simply because of the $500 billion a year in health costs that we all pay to deal with coal soot and other coal pollution?”

“Isn’t there a lot of benefit in creating a cleaner home with less pollution and less plastic?”

BONUS TIP! Use humor

OK, so let’s pretend that even with all this emotionally intelligent delivery and fact-based reasoning, it has all gone horribly sideways. Uncle Phil and Aunt Sally are yelling at each other, your cousin Mickey is eyeing you like he’s going to slash your EV’s tires, and you feel like there may not be another family gathering … try resorting to humor.

“Hey Uncle Phil, how many climate denialists does it take to change an inefficient lightbulb?”

… then smile your most sh*t-eating grin, and with all the love in the world, deliver the final blow:

“Wait, what’s wrong with an inefficient light bulb?”

Personal note

Please share this post with anyone you know who’s going to have a trying time this holiday season handling a family full of climate denialists. I’ve been there. And when I went in unprepared, I was sad AF for a LOOOOONG time after. The more we can be emotionally healthy, the more we stay in the game fighting the good fight.

Also, it’s Christmas. Our CleanTechnica family has been hard at work putting good content in front of you for 13+ years, and we don’t get into journalism because it pays well. If you can, chip in a few bucks. Recurring monthly contributions mean the world to us — stabilizing our business and allowing us to focus more energy on doing good.


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Scott Cooney

Scott Cooney (twitter: scottcooney) is a serial eco-entrepreneur focused on making the world a better place for all its residents. Scott is the founder of CleanTechnica and was just smart enough to hire someone smarter than him to run it. He then started Pono Home, a service that greens homes, which has performed efficiency retrofits on more than 16,000 homes and small businesses, reducing carbon pollution by more than 27 million pounds a year and saving customers more than $6.3 million a year on their utilities. In a previous life, Scott was an adjunct professor of Sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawai'i, and author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill) , and Green Living Ideas.

Scott Cooney has 138 posts and counting. See all posts by Scott Cooney