How to Convince the “Skeptics”

Explaining global warming to a climate change denier is not an easy task, and should be approached with strategy, a calm demeanor, and careful wording. If I pull out the “big gun words”, like greenhouse gas emissions, carbon dioxide, or fossil fuel combustion, then people will generally lose interest and are going to stop listening. For many individuals who lack scientific literacy, these words are confusing, intimidating, and vague – leading to a misconstrued understanding of the fundamental scientific principles that help explain global warming. The fact that humankind is inadvertently causing the drastic climate change observed today is difficult for some people to wrap their head around. Individuals may feel insulted, victimized, or doubtful when considering humanities devastating impact on the environment – especially when a small majority of politicians, celebrities, and other trusted public figures are consistently encouraging a philosophy of climate-change skepticism. So what’s the best way to convince someone who isn’t so quick to take the bait?

First things first – don’t argue. Arguing will kill your chances at convincing the other person because many people view arguments as a game to be won, as opposed to a conversation to be had. Instead, listen intently and genuinely to the individual – let them talk first and explain that you understand their point of view and that they’re correct in many regards. Aim to reach a common agreement, such as that just about everyone acknowledges that the world is getting hotter (just not that human’s are responsible). Consider even appreciating their skepticism and complimenting their inability to believe everything they hear. Don’t act like a scientist, or a teacher, or a know-it-all. The conversation, though spoken with confidence, should be colloquial and unexaggerated. This will help to gain the trust of the individual.

Then get to the meat of the issue. Explain that global warming is happening. Without a doubt, the world’s temperature is increasing at staggering rates, leading experts to theorize what or who could be responsible. When speaking to those who lack scientific literacy, this would be a good time to avoid “big science words” and to make things as simple as possible. Explain that the observed temperature increase correlates to humanity’s growing usage of oil and gas. This “stuff” is rich in energy, and we burn it to fuel our cars, our homes, and just about anything that uses energy and electricity. But when we burn it, where does it go? It goes up, forming a “blanket” that becomes a part of the Earth’s atmosphere. The more energy we burn, the bigger this blanket gets. When the sun’s hot rays reach the Earth, our planet absorbs some of this heat, and sends some of the heat back up towards space. But the blanket of burned gasses acts like a barrier to outer space – causing the heat from the sun to stay trapped on Earth. Over time, like 100’s of years, this heat increase becomes a problem by making our planet really hot – too hot to allow life to sustain in our environment.

Once you’ve explained the basics of global warming, it is important not to force the other person to change their mind or to accept your explanation. An individual’s beliefs are a core psychological aspect that helps define identity, and people are not quick to change their understanding of things. The point of your entire conversation with the climate skeptic should be to implant the quick and easy-to-comprehend idea that humanity is responsible, and that it’s not something to be ashamed of or insulted by. The “blanket” analogy is especially strong in this regard, as it makes sense without emphasizing science, and it provides an explanation that is not commonly heard or explained. Given enough time to think and reconsider things, the skeptic may begin to accept that global warming is possibly caused by humanity’s doing. I believe that they need to reach this understanding themselves, without being ostracized or convinced by a know-it-all.

I hope you enjoyed reading my guide to help convince the skeptics, as awareness is the single most important factor towards changing policies to prevent and reduce the reality that is global warming. Good luck, and remember that education is invaluable and that everyone deserves to know the truth.

Until next time,

Mike Salhany

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