The joyous time is here — holiday get-togethers of all kinds pepper our calendars from now through the spring. For many, that means time spent with family and friends who may not be up to speed (or in agreement with scientists) when it comes to the urgency of climate change. Instead of trying to lay low, those of us with a passion for staving off climate catastrophe should see it as a HUGE opportunity to influence our families. We have some guidance for how to approach it!
Find a lighthearted segueway into the conversation.
Climate change is an urgent topic and should be taken seriously, but there are many ways to break the ice that don’t have to become a dissertation about fracking’s dire effect on our water supply (though by all means, go there if you think your family is ready!).
Has the conversation turned to the presidential election? Try “Isn’t it great that climate change has become a main theme in the primary this year? FINALLY!”
Someone mentions they’re shopping for a new car soon? Talk about options that are more friendly to the environment, and sprinkle in some light but ironclad facts — ”Getting off of fossil fuels ASAP is one of the major keys to thwarting climate catastrophe in time. Have you seen any electric or hybrid cars you’re into?”
Have a niece or nephew that’s super smart and passionate about something? After folks are done marveling at their accomplishments, pivot to how much they remind you of Greta Thunberg, who is making incredible strides to hold officials accountable for climate change action. Young people today are inspirational!
Alternatively, maybe you’ll find it easiest to bring up climate change before dinner one-on-one or in small groups rather than with the entire family all at once.
Whatever approach feels natural and unforced, just be on the lookout for good opportunities and summon the courage to be a leader for this topic.
Be willing to show that climate change makes you feel vulnerable.
Many times, when something scares us big-time, it can be easier to express that fear in the form of anger. While anger and condemnation are totally appropriate for this topic in some settings and with some audiences, it’s an unproductive trap for important conversations in this particular setting — family dinner.
If it drives you mad that a relative won’t acknowledge how important solving climate change is, try taking a deep breath and keep angry replies at bay. Instead, open up about how the climate crisis makes you feel.
Here’s an example:
“Uncle John, I hear what you’re saying. But when I see the wildfires in California ramping up, and hurricanes becoming more prevalent and extreme, I can’t stop worrying about how that is going to affect me/my kids/my grandkids. This isn’t about political points — I want to have clean water, safe food, and a livable climate in my future. Those basic human necessities are all at real risk.”
Your relative may be argumentative, but there’s a chance they’ll soften their approach when the topic is about your feelings rather than a showdown over facts.
Remember that you don’t have to change anyone’s mind in one conversation.
The point in having these discussions isn’t to persuade anyone by the time the pie is served that they’re wrong and they should become a volunteer in the fight to stop climate change.
The real value is to plant seeds of thought that disrupt our loved ones’ resistance to the facts about climate change. While you may never change the mind of one stubborn family member, you have other family members listening and learning who may come to you later — maybe after dinner, or maybe in a couple of months — for more information about how they can get active.
You’re really just broadcasting a gentle beacon of light at this dinner: “I am a person who takes climate change seriously, and you can come to me if you want to learn more.”
That’s how future action-takers are activated — by seeing someone who is passionate and unwavering being brave enough to go out on a limb.
Will you take the pledge to talk to your family about climate change?