First, I’ve got a couple of disclaimers to clear.

  1. When I refer to grandparents, I’m referring to anyone who denies climate change. It just so happens that in my case, my grandparents stand as those very people. 
  2. Even though my perspective on climate change is slightly different to their’s, I still love my grandparents. And you should still love the deniers in your life too.

There is only so much one can do on their own to ‘save the planet’; be vegan, ride your bike, be an ethical shopper (thanks Goodsmiths), protest, go zero waste- but at the end of the day, it’s a community mindset that is most important. Effective environmental grass root movements don’t come down to single blade of grass, or even a few patches, but a sea of lush green. With everyone doing the bits that make sense and the stuff that’s important to them.

Through learning about the politics, laws and management of the environment at university, it’s become apparent that engaging in meaningful conversations, although seemingly small, is an exceptionally important way to increase awareness about climate change, and step towards this community change. I am no expert but in my experience it certainly seems that way.

Below is a culmination of common incorrect phrases about climate change. As well as a tool kit of responses. When faced with the challenging views of climate change deniers it can sometimes be difficult to keep your cool. But for the planet’s sake, and your own, it’s important to do so. It’s therefore necessary to have some tools up your sleeves to be able to engage and understand where the other person is coming from.

Here we go.

Common phrase 1: “The earth’s atmosphere has always been changing”

Response:

Get on their level, understand their point of view.

You could say something like this: “Correct! The atmosphere has always been changing, due to natural variations in the Earth’s orbit”. We need to understand that over their life time, they would have experienced extreme weather events; heat waves, floods, drought- you name it- it’s definitely happened.

Next, clarify your point.

You are not arguing that climate change is a new thing. You are arguing that climate change is now occurring at an exponential rate, as a result of human actions.

Hit them with a bite sized fact.

NASA, a very reliable and politically neutral source, who spend a lot of time up in the atmosphere, have produced the following graph.

Graph of CO2 levels in the atmosphere

I’m not suggesting to have this graph on you at all times but rather understand the key take away points. As of the year 1950, emissions of carbon dioxide have sky rocketed, well beyond historical levels. And this is attributable to human activity. Try asking your grandparents for an explanation on this one, I’d be interested to know their hypothesises.

Common phrase 2: “It’s not going to affect me”

Response:

You guessed it, you’ll need to understand where they are coming from.

Because again, they are right. Feel free to tell them this- “You’re right! It probably won’t.” The effects of climate change are not sudden or easily identifiable, but rather are gradual and inconspicuous.  As well, if they’re living inner city, away from coast lines, surrounded by resilient infrastructure, the effects of climate change are even less noticeable.

Here, you might like to try an emotional appeal. We can call this one The Tear-Jerker Approach.

“But Granny and Grandpa, WHAT ABOUT ME!?”

Remind them that you too would like to one day have children. And that you’d like to bring them into a world that is not falling apart or threatening to their health. Remind them that maybe your children would like to have children too. Remind them that their actions today have an immense impact on the health and wellbeing of all generations to come. Their own flesh and blood.

Make clear that the things they have had, the privilege of enjoying, will no longer be around to enjoy. Make the effects of climate change, and further environmental destruction, tangible and real. Make them hit home. Some examples could include; an ocean without piles of rubbish, breathable air or visiting the Great Barrier Reef.

plastic bottle

Common phrase 3: “There are bigger issues to solve”

I dealt with this one a lot, especially in the lead up to the election.

There definitely are endless important issues to be addressed- homelessness, domestic violence, drug abuse- the list goes on…but I’m not sure exponential economic growth is one of them.

Response:

Regardless, you should first comfort and reassure your grandparents that you do understand the importance of ‘jobs and growth’ and that of course you want economic prosperity. Because, to an extent, you do.

But you also know that no issues can be resolved without the environment in which they take place.

In fact, our current climate crisis is forcing us to look at economic growth in a different way.

Sustainability is becoming more important for all companies and across all industries. As transparency becomes more prevalent, and expectations on corporate responsibility increase, businesses are recognising the need to act on sustainability.

Not only are we thinking of new and innovative ways to to develop successful businesses and industries, but also give back to the planet simultaneously.

For an example: as China is no longer taking Australia’s waste there have been pushes for the country to develop our own domestic recycling industry. Not only would this help overcome Australia’s recycling crisis and offset climate issues, but also create exponential job and growth opportunities.

The old ‘feed two birds with one scone’ trick.

Operating business and industry within this more conscious framework also helps to address those other “more important issues” that your granny and grandpa are banging on about. In fact, we can’t effectively address issues like homelessness, food insecurity, natural disasters, etc if we don’t first address climate change.

Common phrase 4: “Humans also exhale carbon dioxide. So what should we do- stop breathing?”

Response:

This one doesn’t quite require any ‘getting on their level’. We learn about photosynthesis and the carbon cycle at around grade 5 in school.

Get straight into it and explain that “it doesn’t quite work like that.” Yes, we exhale carbon dioxide, but this is part of the natural carbon cycle.

Things go a little pear shaped when we emit more carbon dioxide than the cycle can handle. And let’s just say we are emitting more than the cycle can handle.

CO2 cycle

It may also help to explain where majority of our emissions actually do come from. According to NDEVR Environmental, the electricity, transport and stationary energy sectors in Australia have been the biggest emitters over the past 18 years.

Conversations are key

Conversations about climate change can be intimidating. Feeling like you so desperately need to convince those that resist. Making climate change make sense in their context, rather than some abstract overwhelming science, is part of it. But at the end of the day, it is about coming from a place of understanding, rather than needing to prove, that should lead to the greatest impact.