Communicating With Climate Activists

Written by Lynne Balzer

anti-fracking protest

Not so very long ago when I tried to communicate some facts to a woman, she interrupted with obvious annoyance, “Save your breath. Because no matter what you say to me, I won’t believe it.”

She was saying in effect that she wouldn’t listen even if I was telling her the truth.

At least she was honest. Most people just won’t respond at all. Knowing on some level that they don’t have answers, they just shut you out. This is true even when confronting demonstrators.

Even Greta Thunberg, who claims to understand the science, seems unable or unwilling to communicate with anyone who might disagree with her. When she was politely approached by Marc Reisinger during a climate sit-in in Stockholm, she didn’t respond to him.

There is a video record of this encounter, in which he said, “I heard you’re telling students to study the climate. I’d like to interview you on this topic if you agree.” Rather than answering him, she pulled off her wool cap, which must have been a signal.

Because immediately a woman appeared and whisked Greta away, telling Marc that she had something else to do. (reported on, Pam Barker, April 25, 2019)

In this same way, we’ve personally witnessed members of Congress being whisked away by their handlers when we tried to ask them questions at political events.

It seems that most of those misinformed about climate are unable to argue the issue from a scientific standpoint.

But when someone attempts to tell them the facts, they simply dig in their heels, becoming even more adamant in their established beliefs.

This is a psychological phenomenon known as the “backfire effect”.

This cognitive bias causes some people who encounter facts and evidence that contradict their beliefs to reject that evidence and strengthen their original viewpoint.

So, providing evidence that proves someone wrong may not only be ineffective but may actually cause some people to support their viewpoint even more strongly!

Professional propaganda masters, being aware of this phenomenon, know that if they can just get to our young people early enough, they may just have them for life.

That’s exactly what they did in Nazi Germany. As Adolf Hitler once said, “If you tell a big enough lie often enough, people will believe it.”

Mark Twain observed that “it is easier to fool someone than to convince someone they’ve been fooled.”

The ego has a big role to play in the backfire effect – especially when a belief is related to a person’s concept of self.

Many people just can’t admit that they could ever be wrong about anything even when they are told that it isn’t their fault that they were given the wrong information. It’s as if being proven wrong is a direct threat to their ego.

But that doesn’t mean we should give up trying to communicate with people who have been taken in by the climate disinformation campaign. We just need to be careful of what we say to them, approaching them in a friendly, nonthreatening manner.

This could be done with a few well-chosen questions. Here are a few that have been recommended. You may think of even better questions.

But first, these people need to be praised for caring enough about the earth to sacrifice their valuable time and energy to participate in demonstrations.

We can only wonder how anyone could give such love, devotion, sincerity, time, money and energy to a conclusion as wrong as human-caused climate change. Yet, we can’t directly tell them how silly this is.

You could start off by saying, as one young man did, “I think it’s great that you care enough to give up your valuable time to stand up for the environment…I also care deeply about the earth and about all human beings.”

He then cited some specific environmental issues: plastic in the ocean, burning of Earth’s tropical rain forests, etc.

Then he asked, “Do you think that someone could care about the environment while still not believing that humans cause climate change?”

Here it’s important to go silent, allowing the person to talk. The person might ask why you don’t believe in AGW…or even call you a climate denier.

At this point, you could say, “I’m not denying that the climate is changing. The climate is always changing. But there are many natural causes of climate change. It’s never been scientifically proven that human-emitted carbon dioxide causes climate change.

“And just as many scientists have been saying that there is no climate emergency. Did you know that recently 500 top scientists sent a registered letter to the United Nations telling them this?”

Another question: “Do you have an open mind?” If the person hesitates or asks what you mean by this, you can explain, “A person with an open mind is willing to consider all sides of an issue.”

If she still seems hesitant to answer, you could ask, “What if you were on a jury hearing a case in which someone is accused of theft, and that person says he is innocent? If you had an open mind wouldn’t you want to hear all of the facts before making up your mind? Even if that person looks like a criminal and might seem to have a motive, wouldn’t you still want to hear all of the evidence in the case?”

At that point, the person you’re talking to will hopefully say, “Yes.”

“So then wouldn’t you be willing to listen to all sides of the climate change issue?”

The person might be surprised to hear you say “all sides” not “both sides.” You could say, “Well, there are many different viewpoints on this issue. Some people think the climate isn’t heating up that much, and others say that the earth has warmed a little but not because of carbon dioxide.”

You could mention the other factors that have caused past climate change before carbon dioxide became an issue: the changes in solar activity, the Earth’s orbit around the sun changing a bit, etc.

It’s important to listen carefully to what this person has to say and try to see things from his perspective. Simply acknowledging – and repeating back to him – his feelings and understanding will relax his guard, making him more amenable to reason.

For instance, you could say, “Yes, we’ve been hearing a lot about this on TV and the Internet…But can we believe everything we see on TV and the Internet? Some of these news outlets like CNN have been caught delivering false news stories.”

“I’m sure you know the difference between fact and opinion. So, we need to look at only the facts. And then you can draw your own conclusions. Right?”

Here we should get a “yes” from that person. But if this person doesn’t answer, it’s important to keep repeating the question in different ways until she agrees. This is sometimes called the “broken record” approach.

If at any time she appears unwilling to talk further, it’s best not to press the issue. In that case, you could say in a polite and friendly manner, “Well, maybe it’s hopeless for us to communicate about this issue,” and walk away. Sometimes if you do that, the person will have a change of heart and want to continue to talk.

If the person appears to be willing to consider the facts, it would be a very good idea to have a prepared fact sheet with four or five items, including graphs, that demonstrate the cyclical nature of climate and the way in which agencies such as NASA and NOAA have changed past records to exaggerate the real warming that has occurred.

This shortlist could also contain Internet links for those who want to do their own research.

If the person you are speaking with is unwilling to take this information, you could say, “Well, these are just the facts. You can check them out if you want to. Don’t take my word for it.

If only one person in ten is willing to consider your point of view, you’ve succeeded. Even those who don’t appear receptive to these ideas may have a spark implanted in them that would stimulate their own research and a future change of mind.

Lynne Balzer taught science at the high school and college levels for about twenty years. A project director for Faraday Science Institute, she has studied this issue for a long time. Her new book, The Green New Deal and Climate Change: What You Need to Know, is available from Amazon in paperback and Kindle format.


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Comments (8)

  • Avatar

    Tom Martin


    After all is said and done ..
    I am looking for the science experiment that actually demonstrates doubling CO2 raises the temp 2 degrees or more.

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    Thankfully some of us have already survived many predicted disasters from the deranged socialist/environmental/nutty brigade and hopefully will see out a few more …

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    David Robertson


    I have also come across this attitude in AGW believers. They are resistant to any challenges to their faith. In other words it isn’t an intellectual conviction based on evidence and reason, it is the blind faith of a religious cult.

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    Doug Harrison


    It is much harder to convince a person that they have been fooled than to fool them in the first place. Mark Twain?

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    Alan Stewart


    Excellent Lynne but you’re missing something major. My college was Sales/Mkt.g and I know how easy it is to manipulate minds but my point is not that.

    Simply, it’s Rhett Butler’s ‘Frankly Scarlett……’ They don’t give a damn about the envoronment. The new generations only give a damn about zero effort and maximum ‘docle vita.’ They will inherit the ‘Whirlwind’ as within the Biblical words.
    I’m old and will not have to pay for their stupidity. I hope they SUFFER. I’ve paid all my life.

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    I’ve given up. Every time i try to get a dialogue going, I’m
    told that 97% of scientists say mann-made climate change is happening,
    so who am I to disagree?

    • Avatar

      Zoe Phin


      97% of a cherrypicked subset of scientists.
      Since no survey of scientists was conducted by climate scientists, but only activist scientists from other fields, their bias doesn’t matter.

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    David Wieland


    I don’t think we should ever give up on encouraging critical thinking, even though it seems to be facing an extinction crisis. My wife is unfortunately among the believers who refuse to even look at data and accuses me of being blind. But lately I’ve sensed a slight awareness of the lack of information in propagandistic “news” items and the reality of foreign-funded anti-fossil fuel activism here in Canada. Change is slow. It’s too bad that the alarmists were ever given as much leeway as they’ve had.

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