Below is a guest post by our UK friend, Danny Chivers: a climate change activist, carbon footprint analyst, slam poet and author of the all-new No-Nonsense Guide to Climate Change.
We’ve tried ignoring them. We’ve tried debating with them. We’ve tried revealing their links to fossil fuel companies, and shining spotlights through the gaping holes in their arguments. Yet, somehow, they just won’t go away.
Of course, we have to remember that most people in the world do understand that human-made climate change is real and serious, by about a 2:1 ratio; even in the US, there is a broad majority in favour of climate-friendly action. However, this undercurrent of denial is still slowing down the action we urgently need on climate change – especially when these opinions are held by senior politicians and policy-makers.
Climate change is a difficult and scary thing to get your head around, especially if you have a busy life with more immediate things to worry about. If some nice well-spoken person pops up on the radio with some comforting reasons not to worry about climate change, then it’s very, very tempting to believe them…
Here, then, are ten suggestions for tackling different types of denial – it’s not an exhaustive list though, so please do add your own ideas in the comments!
1) Don’t break your skull against the hardcore deniers. Most of them won’t budge until the rest of society (and/or their own self-interest) demands it.
2) Choose your battles. This means that there’s not much point in locking horns with a professional denier unless other people are watching – at a public debate, an internet message board, or a media interview. In these cases, remember that it’s the audience, not the denier, that you’re trying to win over, and so coming across well is just as important as having the right arguments. Stay calm, confident and polite, and…
3) Get clued up about the commonest myths. It’s annoying to have to do this, but the professional deniers do tend to keep trotting out the same discredited arguments again and again, and so it’s worth knowing how to counter them. I ran through some of the most persistent climate myths in a recent article “Switching Off Denial”, and www.skepticalscience.com is good at debunking new bits of nonsense whenever they arise.
4) Go on the offensive (gently). Far too often in discussions with deniers, we end up on the defensive – trying to bat away a series of misleading claims and myths, rather than explaining what’s actually happening to the climate. Instead, try to be gently challenging – For professional deniers, ask them which bits of the basic science they disagree with. Do they not believe CO2 is a greenhouse gas, or that the planet is warming up? Ask them what evidence they have for any extraordinary claims that contradict 150 years of science and tens of thousands of temperature measurements. If they claim it’s not a big problem, give them some real-life examples of what floods, droughts and storms are already doing to people all over the world. Climate change deniers often struggle when challenged on the overall picture, because their cherry-picked criticisms don’t add up to anything coherent.
5) Avoid calling it an environmental problem. Many people automatically put “environmental stuff” into a mental box marked “things that other people are sorting out”. Most people care about the environment, but they don’t see it as something directly related to their lives (except perhaps when they sort the recycling or buy an eco-friendly brand of toothpaste). Climate change is not an environmental issue – it’s about people, and livelihoods, and safety, and social justice, and food, and the economy and lots of other things that people relate to far more closely.
6) Be positive without being dishonest. People aren’t stupid. If you paint too rosy a picture about how wonderful and easy-to-achieve a low-carbon world will be, no-one will believe a word of it. Yes, there are loads of benefits to getting off fossil fuels, and most people’s lives could be improved in really important ways. But getting there won’t be easy, and there will have to be sacrifices along the way. Definitely focus on the positive, but don’t try to sell people a line.
7) Set a low-carbon example without being preachy. This one speaks for itself – living up to your ideals and being the change you want to see can send a really powerful message and convince people of the sincerity of your arguments. Please don’t be smug about it though. No-one likes that.
8) Be creative! There are people who get turned on by graphs and pie charts, but we’ve probably already got most of them on board. We need to make more emotional connections with people; we need to bring the issue to life with stories, artwork, films, poems, and songs. We don’t just need to make people think, we need to help them feel; we’re then more likely to inspire them act. Humour can also be a powerful weapon here. Seek out good examples of climate change creativity and spread them far and wide; some of my favourites are The Age of Stupid, Art Not Oil, Adbusters, Rev Billy Talen, the cartoons of Polyp and Marc Roberts, short films like Wake Up, Freak Out. Or try creating and sharing your own work; you can see some of my own attempts at eco-slam poetry here and here.
9) Get active. One of the most powerful ways to shake folks up is through inspirational action. This month’s mass arrests in Washington in protest at the Keystone XL pipeline aren’t just a way of piling pressure on the Obama administration – they are a wake-up call to the whole nation. Few things drive home the seriousness of an issue as effectively as civil disobedience – if large numbers of people are prepared to get themselves arrested over something, then it must be a real and major concern. Whatever the outcome of the pipeline campaign, the courage of the Washington arrestees will have had a real and lasting effect on countless people around the world, helping to shake them out of complacency and denial. We need more of this sort of thing, everywhere.
Editor's Note: Getting active with Moving Planet–for example, filling your communiy's streets with a climate bike parade–is a great way to show your neighbors that a lot of people care!
10) Let’s be visionary. Don’t get me wrong. Graphs are important. I love graphs. But they’re not going to solve the denial problem by themselves. We also need positive visions, connections to people’s real-life concerns, and links with other campaigns and struggles. We need imaginative responses using art, music, humour, entertainment and culture, and inspirational action that hits at the heart of the problem. We need to make the reality in which we all act together on climate change look far more compelling and attractive than the current fossil-fuelled path into climate disaster. Luckily, people are already working on all these things – so why not join them?
You can read the first chapter of Danny’s book for free online, here.