How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic
November 26, 2019 6:59 AM   Subscribe

In 2006, Coby Beck wrote a series of articles for The Grist "containing responses to the most common skeptical arguments on global warming." Bookmark for discussion around the dinner table this holiday season as necessary.
posted by Etrigan (28 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
 
It's too bad that many people's positions on climate change (and everything else) are not rationally based and thus immune to argument.
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:07 AM on November 26, 2019 [14 favorites]


First question to ask a skeptic (about anything):

“What kind of evidence would it take for you to change your mind?”

Their answer to that may help you save a lot of otherwise wasted time.
posted by darkstar at 7:28 AM on November 26, 2019 [55 favorites]


It's too bad that many people's positions on climate change (and everything else) are not rationally based and thus immune to argument.

I don't push back against Uncle Stu at the table because it'll change his mind.
posted by Etrigan at 7:38 AM on November 26, 2019 [35 favorites]


This page is a good demonstration as to why it's really really hard to talk to someone who is unwilling to seek out information, treat reputable sources as actually reputable, think critically, or challenge any preconceived notions on ANYTHING - You need pages and pages of indexed info, and it's more than most people can keep in their heads at any given moment. It's the same sort of challenge as it is talking to hardcore trumpists about anything impeachment related - It presumes a willingness and openness to info they didn't already have, the amount of data to deal with is completely overwhelming and hard to discuss without a reference, and all of your well researched an indexed points that things that aren't always easy to recall, so you end up gesticulating wildly while you are reading off of your phone or whatever and end up being handwaved away because you have to look it up on a site like this and and don't just KNOW it.

I'm not saying that it's not worth having these discussions, just that this sort of reference presumes a sort of framework that isn't present in a lot of these discussions.
posted by MysticMCJ at 7:44 AM on November 26, 2019 [13 favorites]


Yeah the framing of this is off. It's not "how to talk to a climate skeptic" that's important. It's "how to counter a climate skeptic's disinformation when there are other people listening" that's important.

At this point, anyone who's a "climate skeptic" has been lost to the trolls and must be quickly and rapidly routed around.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:48 AM on November 26, 2019 [24 favorites]


This is great. And yet it doesn't help me with my Trump-supporting brother-in-law who works for the EPA (!!!), whose take is always that the scientific community is marching in lockstep (the collusion argument, which they address), and as a result, you can't get published or win grants unless you write about scientific models that say what they want to hear. So the truth is out there, but the "overwhelming evidence" is only overwhelming because that's where the money is plus those are the only voices that are allowed to be considered scientific.

Basically we'll be talking about turkey carving techniques and whether it's better to make the dinner roll dough ahead of time and freeze it, or make it all day-of.
posted by Mchelly at 8:15 AM on November 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


I did this, exactly once, with a conservative acquaintance.

He would come up with his "evidence" and I would show where it was wrong, with cited sources. Once, he sent me a graph. Reverse image search showed where someone had cut the right part of the graph off, showing and interesting exponential climb.

We went back and forth for about two weeks, and he finally said "Well, it's too late to do anything about it, anyway."

A few months later he was back to making the same arguments.

Now, like with most right-wing viewpoints, I settle for trying to get them to understand that their facts are lacking, and that many of us still want our policies made on a factual basis.
posted by atchafalaya at 8:16 AM on November 26, 2019 [6 favorites]


"Climate skepticism" is tribal rather than being rooted in any actual dispute over facts or reasoning. Either they have a vested business interest in maintaining denial or climate change is what liberals believe in and they're not liberals.

Either way, argument to change their minds is pointless.
posted by Sangermaine at 8:17 AM on November 26, 2019 [8 favorites]



This is great. And yet it doesn't help me with my Trump-supporting brother-in-law who works for the EPA (!!!), whose take is always that the scientific community is marching in lockstep (the collusion argument, which they address), and as a result, you can't get published or win grants unless you write about scientific models that say what they want to hear.


Step 1: email the Koch brother.
Step 2: Use Amazon Web Services's GPU nodes for your model.
Step 3: send the bill to Mr. Koch.

DONE.
posted by ocschwar at 8:21 AM on November 26, 2019


Step 1: Register climatechangeisrealcousinbobhowareyounotunderstandingthis.com
Step 2: Set up URL Redirect for climatechangeisrealcousinbobhowareyounotunderstandingthis.com to following url: https://www.theonion.com/report-average-american-must-have-life-ruined-by-natur-1836604584
Step 3: Lose your shit at the dinner table because your family member is now an unreasonable ignorant bigot and cause a rift in the family that will make things awkward for years to come.
Step 4: Dab
posted by Fizz at 8:39 AM on November 26, 2019 [4 favorites]


For me, most of these battles have been going on for years, and they are evidently unwinnable. I'm technically—barely—young enough to get away with it, so "OK, Boomer" is going to be my answer to a lot of such noise: "You won't engage with integrity, so I'm done trying to engage."
posted by phrits at 8:40 AM on November 26, 2019 [7 favorites]


It's too bad that many people's positions on climate change (and everything else) are not rationally based and thus immune to argument.

Well, they have reasons, but they aren't connected to what you probably mean by "rationally based".
posted by thelonius at 8:44 AM on November 26, 2019 [2 favorites]


"Vineland was full of grapes" is actually an argument?

I'll grant it took me a while to realize this, but I did still come to realize that "wait, they were Vikings, how the hell did they know what grapes really looked like, maybe they were just berries".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:03 AM on November 26, 2019 [4 favorites]


Step 1 is to win their trust. That's the only way people will listen to anything.
posted by amtho at 9:11 AM on November 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


Vitis riparia is a wild grapevine whose habitat I did think was generally accepted to include most possible locations for Vinland, including up to Nova Scotia.

Has this been challenged?
posted by Acid Communist at 9:18 AM on November 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


For nine years, there was a website called Climate Debate Daily. It's no longer active. Minds were not changed. But I used to read it often, wondering what "the other side" was thinking.

Ten years ago I asked my mathematician brother what he thought about "the climate change debate," thinking that he must have been exposed to the denialists, being our family's token conservative. But he is a scientist first, a conservative/Catholic second, so he said, in his characteristically blunt manner, "What debate?"
posted by kozad at 9:26 AM on November 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


It is far, FAR too late to reason with anyone who is a climate change "skeptic". Skeptics do not exist any more. There are only deniers. And to them I say, "go fuck yourself, you have nothing useful to contribute to this or any other conversation topic, from here until the end of time."
posted by JohnFromGR at 9:27 AM on November 26, 2019 [8 favorites]


Ok I guess not necessarily Newfoundland. My bad. Sorry for the derail.
posted by Acid Communist at 9:33 AM on November 26, 2019


Many minds HAVE been changed by facts.

There ARE casual, low-information people out there who have only heard nonsense. Saying "this is pointless" is unhelpful. Science and refuting garbage thinking is always helpful. I appreciate when lists like this are created. Thank you for sharing it with Metafilter, I bookmarked it!
posted by agregoli at 9:37 AM on November 26, 2019 [11 favorites]


 "Vineland was full of grapes" is actually an argument?

“God told Noah He'd never destroy the world, end of.” is also an argument and isn't anywhere on the grist pages. For some people it resists the “What kind of evidence would it take for you to change your mind?” query too. See also folks like Forest Mims (yeah, the electronics guy) who uses gadgets + faith to be contrary.

(Though now I'm stuck with an unredacted version of Genesis 9:16 with this added to the end: … and Ham murmureth “ok boomer” and I'm a bad person but I'm okay with that.)
posted by scruss at 9:38 AM on November 26, 2019 [5 favorites]


“God told Noah He'd never destroy the world, end of.” is also an argument

I suppose pointing out that this would not exclude the deaths of eight and a half billion people, including everyone you have ever known and all of your and their descendants wouldn't work, right? I mean, even if climate change doesn't wipe out everything, you'd think that preventing that kind of disaster is still a worthwhile cause.
posted by suetanvil at 9:48 AM on November 26, 2019 [2 favorites]


“God told Noah He'd never destroy the world, end of.” is also an argument

Of course, God never told Noah he’d take any action to keep us from destroying the world.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:27 AM on November 26, 2019 [8 favorites]


The problem is that the debate about the facts is ultimately a proxy for the real debate, which is how we should live as a society. Jedediah Purdy:

The denial comes not because the denialist cannot see this, but because he does see it, not because he doesn’t believe others are there, but because he feels their presence so acutely, fears they will make claims on him, fears they will get power over him and take what he has. When I was in high school in West Virginia, my classmates told me that Michael Dukakis had a plan to take everyone’s guns, that Jesse Jackson had a plan to put all the white people in camps. Today we hear that climate change is an internationalist stalking horse for global economic government. I don’t think climate denial is really about doubting science. I think it is about controlling who has moral and political claims on you.

This is why the climate conversation of late has devolved into squabbles over whether we're allowed to have plastic straws or hamburgers -- for the denialist, the idea that we might have to change how we live for the sake of future generations (or even the next generation) is too much to bear. Rather than face up to that, they assemble a vast array of counterpoints, no matter how flimsy, to avoid being led where they would rather not go.
posted by Cash4Lead at 12:54 PM on November 26, 2019 [8 favorites]


That being said, https://skepticalscience.com/argument.php is still quite useful.
posted by ClimateCal at 7:02 PM on November 26, 2019


None of these would probably work on someone who believes that climate change is literally a (((Cultural Marxist))) plot to destroy Western civilisation. And there is such a firehose of YouTube conspiracy videos backing them that refuting them all would be like that guy who spent two decades of his life proving that there were gas chambers in Auschwitz just in case there were any Holocaust deniers who held their beliefs in good faith.
posted by acb at 2:33 AM on November 27, 2019


The problem is that the debate about the facts is ultimately a proxy for the real debate, which is how we should live as a society

This is a very good encapsulation; thanks; I'm going to steal it.
posted by PMdixon at 12:48 PM on November 27, 2019 [2 favorites]


Step 1 is to win their trust. That's the only way people will listen to anything.

But it's really just step 1, and the steps that follow can be a lot harder.

The problem is that trust can be something fairly contigent. I mean, there are people I would trust with some things but not with others and I suspect some people feel similarly towards me.

With family members, I would like to imagine that there often is a bond, affection, appreciation of good qualities. Presumably that's why you're still sitting down with them although they have these shitty opinions - assuming it's not just grim social obligation and empty ritual. I mean, that's probably the case often enough, but still - even if not, even if there is a functional relationship based on some degree of trust, that doesn't necessarily solve the problem.

I don't just need to get this person to trust me, I need to get them to trust my judgement on this particular issue. I need them to respect me intellectually. And that sort of respect is sadly a lot harder to win than trust in general, depending on factors depressingly unrelated to actual intellectual rigor (for me as a woman, for instance).
posted by sohalt at 6:34 AM on November 28, 2019


A couple years ago I was working with a guy who was a complete conspiracy believer. He listened to Alex Jones, he thought the earth was flat and he thought the moon landing was a hoax. I went around and around with him, all to no avail. He had a younger guy he was feeding this stuff to, but he wasn't completely off the rails yet. I couldn't get anywhere with the first guy, but five minutes of Socratic questions cured the younger guy, and he is still a facebook friend. You gotta pick your battles.
posted by ambulocetus at 5:23 PM on November 30, 2019


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