Of all the astonishing facts about climate change, perhaps the most astonishing is that we’re still arguing over whether it’s actually a thing.
Put aside the fact that in the time since the Industrial Revolution atmospheric CO2 levels have increased to a level higher than any time in the last 15 million years, with levels of other heat trapping gases like nitrous oxide and methane rapidly on the rise. Chalk it up to coincidence.
Excuse away the fact that global sea levels have risen roughly nine inches since 1880, which can only be explained by thermal expansion (water expands when it heats up) and melting ice caps. It’s not like all those good people living in New York, London, Miami, dare I say, Seattle, are in any actual risk of losing their homes and livelihoods due to sea levels rising. And the part about enormous swathes of land on nearly every continent turning into actual desert (think 1930s Dust Bowl but on a global scale) through a process aptly named desertification? What’s the big deal? Climates have changed in the Earth’s past.
The truth is, even if you presented these and many, many other facts about climate change to certain people, they would still likely spin an argument to explain them away. Why? Part of it can be attributed to the age-old “out of sight, out of mind” phenomenon; it’s much more painless to believe something, especially something as gloomy as global warming, isn’t really occurring when it doesn’t affect you or your day-to-day decisions.
It doesn’t help that, in many cases, the science isn’t very straightforward. When we wreak havoc on the environment and emit a hodgepodge of compounds into the atmosphere, some of which have never been in nature prior to their synthesis in a lab, the ensuing chemical and biological consequences could take any number of forms. Still, even as the warming climate will start to impede our everyday lifestyles, I wager that you will encounter a few folks determined to stick to their ideological guns and insist you’ve been bamboozled into accepting a load of pseudoscience.
When it comes down to it, humans just love a plain, good old-fashioned argument, all the more so when we get the side playing devil’s advocate. It’s that simple. Arguing might as well be recognized as the official pastime of Homo sapiens. Assuming this as a bottom-line truth, let’s proceed and learn the subtle craft of winning an argument against a climate skeptic.
Method 1: Spew as much hard science at the person you’re holding the argument with. It helps to be prepared with all the graphs, equations, and scholarly articles you can scrounge up. It’s only effective if you are intimately familiar with the science yourself beforehand. This method has very mixed results however, as it precludes the fact that your “opponent” sincerely cares what the science has to say, and trust me, oftentimes they won’t. If you do choose this route be careful not to inundate them with technical jargon that will make you sound pretentious, unless your goal is to sound pretentious, then go for it.
Method 2: Call up Bill Nye and put him on speakerphone. You might think I’m being facetious, but given his recent, tireless media quest attempting to spread the word on climate change, he might just be willing to stay on the line in hopes of gaining one more convert to the cause. Tracking down his contact info might be another matter.
Method 3: Listen. About as counterintuitive as it gets, right? Many people simply want to have their opinions heard or at least hear themselves speak, and until you stop to lend an ear and at least make the appearance of being interested, not even a meteorologist could sway their beliefs. You’d be surprised how often they don’t really oppose your views at all, but merely want to voice their perspective.
Method 4: If you’ve run out of approaches for reasoning with them, ask them if they respect you. If they say no, the argument, and probably your friendship, ostensibly dissolves, and there was no point in debating them to begin with.
If they say yes, follow it up by concluding that if they respect you, they should trust that you can think critically and base your beliefs on climate change accordingly. You have essentially squeezed them into a stalemate, although as far as arguments often play out, this will leave you on far better terms than the heated, bitter, and messy relations many debates close with.
Let’s face it: Arguing can be fun, and oddly satisfying. But like certain other activities in life, it must be done properly and only in moderation. This is all the more true when the matter at stake is as misunderstood and urgent as climate change. True, the outcome of one debate isn’t going to make or break the future of our planet, yet it’s imperative to keep in mind that in some tiny way, you are representing Mother Earth. It’s an important job. Make her proud.
Reach contributing writer Tony Scigliano at email@example.com. Twitter: @EarthtoTones