Mountains in Clouds
  • Rhys James

Approaching climate denial effectively

"Guilt without redemption causes paralysis."


No truer words have ever been spoken. As a climate activist and person who has spent many years combatting both misinformation and disinformation, I have learned a few important lessons when it comes to climate denial. And although my journey has entailed many peaks and pits, it was only recently that I overheard a conversation where a man stated: "guilt without redemption causes paralysis." What does this mean? It means that unless we can offer those in the wrong a sense of forgiveness and acceptance of their mistakes, they are likely to double down on their behaviour which in this case is climate denial. So throughout your conversations, it is important to remember that notion and hold is close as you do your best to persuade others to accept the reality that is the climate crisis.



It is important to understand from the very beginning of engaging in discourse with climate deniers that it is by no means easy, you need to remember where they are coming from. Climate denial was invented over 40 years ago now - this is something you can remind them of. Fossil fuel companies, who accepted climate science in the 1970s, have since spent millions on disinformation campaigns which targeted lesser-educated older males. That is 40 years of highly influential, highly psychological and highly effective campaigning that you are trying to combat with a conversation. So set realistic expectations, do not become overwhelmed with frustration when things go astray. This brings us to potentially the most important component of beginning these conversations: listen. We must listen if we are to have any hope. Listen to where they are coming from, understand their narrative and their story. Quite often this will lead to them questioning their understanding and highlight their confusion on the matter. But you must listen, they may just wish to be heard. Follow on to their statements with phrasing such as "okay I hear you, tell me more?" and "why do you think that?". We should aim to connect these conversations and questions with emotions.



Maintaining your cool, keeping face, not speaking down but rather speaking with, these are the kinds of behaviours we must keep central to our approach. The moment we show aggression, ridicule or mockery - we lose. This isn't a battle of wits or egos, we are helping a victim of disinformation. So on that note, creating a safe space is imperative. Is a packed dining room table with extended family an appropriate space? No. Is a quiet space where we can truly open a constructive and safe conversation without additional variables better? Yes. If they bring it up in front of others, we may wish to ask to have a conversation about it later with them. This gives them time to think about it and be less likely to go immediately into their shell.



It is important that you are able to convey very easy to digest climate science once they begin to preach their ill-guided 'facts'. Using descriptive sentences heavy with imagery and relatability is vital. This should be easy enough with the very tangible increase in extreme weather events that are occurring the world over. However, do your best to highlight the science using examples they may best understand or amplifying the voice of people they may respect. Avoid quoting anything they claim to be 'fake news', and rather utilise primary sources and credible individuals. I quite often make the mistake of using examples from the other side of the world, this is less effective than making it personal. However, if we are to use these examples, highlighting the already beginning movement of climate refugees and explain the likelihood of richer nations requiring to host them. Again though, the facts hold less value than life, experience, relatability and connection within these conversations is where the real ground is made. And in doing so, we must continue to control our own emotions; there will absolutely be rhetoric put forward that will be frustrating and perhaps even painful - but this is not about you or me, it is about them and our planet.



A point in which I have found rather effective in explaining the fundamental basics of climate denial is to contrast the origin of either side of the narrative. On one side, we have stakeholders who stand to lose their profit margins, their ever-expanding bank accounts and investment properties. We have only one source of funding for the research that promotes climate denial and that is those same very stakeholders. On the other side, we have individuals with nothing to gain other than a continued appreciation of the natural world... and of course a stable climate which allows agriculture, reliable access to water and a decreased likelihood of dying from an environmentally-related cause.



It is highly unlikely that upon the completion of these conversations, which may I add are more effective in person than say the comments section of Fox News video, will end in a climate denier completely accepting climate science. Remember, we are tackling forty years of highly refine climate denial and the added barrier of social media echo chambers. So am I saying that there is no point? No, I am saying that it is a commitment, we must follow on and check back in with the individual to see where they are at. This will deepen that connection and show you are not in it for the debate or egotistical justifications but you are in for them and the greater good.



There is an additional thought that I wish to leave with you with; combatting climate denial this late is for the climate denier's redemption more than anything else. There is little to gain with the very minute number of climate deniers remaining in contemporary society, they're just loud. Our planet's climate has changed, we will not solve the climate crisis but rather address it, and you should know that good people are working very hard to offer resilience, adaptation and continued action. Perhaps a more effective approach than to combat climate denial is to motivate passive allies. There are many people who more than accept the reality of climate science and the impending worsening scenarios, however, these same people are unsure how to help and where to begin. These are the people who we should focus on to join assist in decreasing the worst of climate change. And that same notion from the beginning of this article stands true amongst these people too; "guilt without redemption causes paralysis." We are all in this together and the sooner we realise this, the more hope we have.

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