How to talk to your uncle who thinks global warming is a hoax?

So, you accept the science of climate change and global warming as legit. But you often encounter people, at family gatherings, on your Facebook page, on Twitter, at social events, etc. who don't. Do you keep your mouth shut when someone says something clearly wrong that brings the science into question illegitimately? If you do, and others are listening, then one voice, a denialist voice, is influencing people. Probably better to say something.

The problems is that the denialist schtick involves having a lot of different arguments, with absolutely no regard as to legimacy, against the science. You've heard of the Gish Gallop. You make an argument that seems to invalidate your opponent's position, and it does not matter how well that argument is demolished, no problem, you just make another argument. This is sometimes what happens when you find yourself in these conversations. "But what about ...." is probably the most common retort to a counterargument to a denialist claim.

I'm frequently asked what resources people can use to learn about the arguments, both the denialist arguments themselves and how to counter them. If I provide information on one resource, it is always That web site is very nicely organized, it includes all of the denialist arguments (if you know of a denialist argument does not cover, let them know, or if you like, let me know and I'll pass it on). The primers that address the arguments are often provided at multiple levels, so you can get the non-technical tl;dr, or you can go into the details.

But, not every body relates to web sites. Sometimes you like to take a book to bed with you for the evening, or to the beach, or to some other place where you like to read, and just learn stuff. Or, while you will certainly find or other web sites (including my blog, I hope) useful, you may want to explore a few other perspectives, or other ways of saying things.

Well, now there's a book for that. "How to Change Minds about Our Changing Climate" is slightly misnamed. This book, by scientists Seth Darling and Douglas Sisterson, does not really go into the science of mind changing. But it does provide a litany of denialist claims and the scientific answer to them, in a way that you will find useful. You will not only learn the arguments but you will gain confidence in making the arguments at that family dinner or school board meeting or cocktail party.

Seth Darling is a scientist at the Center for Nanoscale Materials, Argonne National Laboratory, and a fellow at the Institute for Molecular Engineering at the University of Chicago. Doug Sisterson is a senior manager at Argonne National Laboratory, US Department of Energy Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Climate Research Facility. They know the science and have done a very nice job putting the argument on paper (or eBook). From the publisher:

One by one, the authors debunk all the most pernicious myths surrounding climate change and offer talking points that readers can use to do the same, in chapters such as “There is no consensus” and “There’s no link between warming and extreme weather.” In fact, there is consensus, and the time to take climate change seriously is well past. As Darling and Sisterson cogently explain, “We are poised to compress an amount of global warming that historically has occurred over the course of thousands of years into a single century”—and the menacing effects we’ve already seen only hint at what’s to come...

You can get the book here.

Also, do me a favor. If you get the book on Amazon and read it, please go to Amazon and leave an honest review. Anti science denialists like to swarm books on amazon with bogus awful reviews, and you can help counter that.

ADDED: An important criticism of this book, that I agree with, is the authors' use of the actual myths to be debunked as titles. This is not good communication strategy and is discussed, vis-a-vis this work HERE.

While you are at it, check out Michael Mann's book, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines and, again, if you read that please consider giving an honest review on Amazon; Mann's book is frequently attacked on that site.

(Speaking of books being attacked, my book, which is a novel and not on climate change, is here. I got badly attacked by Mens Rights Activists who hate me because I'm against rape. The book isn't even about that, but they are organized and have been in the habit of harassing me and other people who speak out for women's rights.)

In any case, you can also up vote reviews you like and down vote reviews you don't like, on Amazon.

Finally, a while back I put together a list of climate change related books, HERE. You might find that useful.

More like this

I'd add Weart's the Discovery off Global Warming to that reading list. Good background for anyone willing to wade into the fray.

By Chris Oestereich (not verified) on 03 Aug 2014 #permalink

I am sure that when they see this website, they realise warmers are not just wrong, they are also degenerates.

By antiprogressives (not verified) on 03 Aug 2014 #permalink

Thank you antiprogressives for showing us who the true degenerate is. No doubt some of your buddies will attempt to show up and prove that they too are as you.

By Richard Chapman (not verified) on 03 Aug 2014 #permalink

I usually don't even bother trying. I think it's pointless to try to "educate" them about reality. They aren't sticking to their wrong-headed position because of any educational deficiencies. They believe (emphasis on 'believe') that 2 plus 2 is 5. I'd need to destroy their belief system before they'd agree the right answer is 4.

That's why the best you can aim for is to lead them to doubt their own sources and to doubt the thinking they've been programmed to believe in.

(With luck, if they realize that their double-think is false, they may make the connection that their handlers in the media are also "false prophets" who have been misleading them not only on this, but on a lot of other topics as well...)

By Brainstorms (not verified) on 03 Aug 2014 #permalink

You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink.
I think this is the best advice.

First, no, not everyone is unconvincible. That's a meme. Based on a certain degree of truth, but it is not the whole story. Second, a valid oblective is to make people shut up. People are not used to being challenged and proved wrong. That happens a few times and uncle Vadnis will learn to shut up. That reduces the flow of bullshit to the not yet informed.

@jaget: Or, as a former colleague of mine had as his email signature,

"You can lead a man to data, but you can't make him think."

By Brainstorms (not verified) on 03 Aug 2014 #permalink

It is true that, with a little help, open-minded people can see the dishonesty inherent in denialists' arguments. I have seen it happen in my own circle of friends.

One cannot change the mind of a conspiracy theorist (which, at bottom, all deniers must be). They are immune to reason and evidence, but arguing with them in public forums is still useful because their lies must be confronted for the benefit of readers who are not well versed in the genuine science.

Obviously any rational thinking adult would understand that man made global warming is fake, so if the adults aren't listening, why not go to the kids!

Nice try idiots. Please just stop! Everyone is so sick of hearing this garbage. Just in case anyone is reading this stupid article and isn't aware: Climate change occurring naturally is real and has happened for millions of years , we as humans have nothing to do with it.

Now get this garbage off the internet!

This book [...] does not really go into the science of mind changing.

That's a shame. It would be even more useful if it did.

Dunc, I disagree. That is not the objective of the book at all. Indeed, this book is relatively short and straight forward. It has a very specific purpose.

Hey Sash, you know all that climate that happened millions of years ago. All those giant fern trees. All that carbon. It's just been laying around under the earth beneath our feet all this time. And guess what? We've been digging it out of the ground and sucking it out of the rocks and pumping it all back into the atmosphere. Yeah, all that old carbon that was dead and gone millions of years ago, just like you said, brought back to life by your friends, Big Oil. So now we've got our own "normal" carbon, plus all that old carbon. And guess what? It's too much carbon if we hope to maintain a steady global temperature. Start thinking rationally and this wall become clear to you.

By Richard Chapman (not verified) on 04 Aug 2014 #permalink

Thanks for allowing Sash's comment. I always enjoy it when the septics use the word everyone and then immediately contradict themselves.

Regarding “How to talk to your uncle who thinks global warming is a hoax?

There's a considerable difference between those who are in doubt and those who think global warming is a hoax. The first, one can attempt to reason with. The second are often so personally invested in their ignorance that they're impervious to evidence, logic, and reason. The second group is populated with the smart alecks whose knowledge is generally limited to parroting septic talking points and regurgitating whatever crap they find on septic blogs. They are the Dunning-Krugers of the climate “debate.” The first group deserves to be treated with civility, not the second. The valid objective here, as Greg implied, is to to shut them up. How one accomplishes this depends on the relationship and the circumstances. They can't be convinced, but they can be ridiculed.

By cosmicomics (not verified) on 04 Aug 2014 #permalink

RE: Can lead a horse to water, but can't make him drink.

I've always said, "Sure you can make him drink....put salt in his feedbag".

I suspect that analogy carries over to making a person think. We just have to find a way to make him/her thirsty (i.e. reframe the questions/data so they're more open to it).

By Dan Andrews (not verified) on 04 Aug 2014 #permalink

Some insight about 'cosmicomics' Second Group:

Upton Sinclair famously observed, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."

By Brainstorms (not verified) on 04 Aug 2014 #permalink

21st Century update to Sinclair's quote:

“It is difficult to get a Congressman to understand something, when his campaign contributions depend upon his not understanding it.”

By Brainstorms (not verified) on 04 Aug 2014 #permalink