How to Talk to Family Members About Climate Change, So They Actually Listen

Given the current political landscape in the US, having frequent, tough conversations with our family members has become reality for many of us. Despite breaking bread together, our life experiences, political leanings, and generational differences may mean we bring differing opinions to the table. Regardless, there are some important discussions worth broaching, and climate change certainly falls into that category.

Due to the massive amount of information on the internet — which can either be rooted in fact or utter falsehoods — opening a dialogue with your family about climate change can be especially tricky. Read on to learn how to get your point across without getting into a full-fledged argument.

How can I start a conversation about the realities of climate change with a family member?

You don't want to enter into a conversation about climate change if emotions are already running high. In an effort to have a calm, productive discussion about our collective carbon footprint, it's best to come prepared with useful information.

"Climate change may be a concerning reality for many, if not all people," Dayry Hulkow, a primary therapist at Vista Pines Health, told POPSUGAR. "A good first step would be to seek factual and accurate information. It's important to set time aside to speak with family members."

Beginning with open-ended questions is often the best bet. "One way to start a conversation is to simply ask open questions such as: 'What do you think about climate change?' or 'How do you feel about it?' Other questions could be more solution-focused such as, 'What can we do to be more informed?' or 'How can we contribute to positive change?' Another important strategy would be to listen, really listen, with an open heart and mind," she explained.

What strategies should I avoid when talking with family members about climate change?

Climate change is a topic many of us feel passionately about, especially if you're a part of a younger generation. With that being said, some family members might have their own ideas about the matter, and while you may not agree with their opinion, bursting out in a fit of anger is unlikely to change their way of thinking. "It would be helpful to set all judgments aside and not impose personal opinions," explained Hulkow. "Just because we are 'family' does not mean we share the same thoughts or ideas. Family members deserve the same respect and compassion as everyone else, even when there is a significant age difference."

What's the best way to address false information?

Because we live in a time when conspiracy theories are truly running rampant, it's critical to vet the sources you rely on and ensure they're rooted in science. "There is so much information out there that it becomes difficult sometimes to discern how real or false it may be," Hulkow said. "That is why seeking factual and accurate information is so important. For instance, NASA is considered to be one of the world's leading climate research agencies, as noted on their website. They provide facts and much-needed education, which is backed by scientific research."

For those who are looking for a place to start their research, the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University has compiled a thorough list of helpful resources.

How does talking with family members about climate change differ from talking with friends or acquaintances?

Understandably, talking about a polarizing topic like global warming can get personal very quickly with your family members. "One of the biggest differences is that talking with family members usually goes beyond the facts," she said. "Climate change could be a very sensitive subject and could elicit many different emotions. Such feelings may include anxiety, stress, fear, depression, helplessness, and hopelessness. These are difficult emotions for many people to recognize and talk about even with family."

"We can start by acknowledging the feelings that do come up and offer genuine support to those we love the most."

Additionally, Hulkow pointed out that discussing climate change can open the door to other emotionally charged conversations that can seriously impact a person's life in the long-term. "Talking about climate change can also bring up questions like: 'Who should I vote for in the upcoming elections?' or 'Should I even have children?' These are big questions, and very personal," explained Hulkow. "Answering these questions can lead to life-changing decisions, both at the individual and familial level. Such decisions could bring even more emotions to surface, which could very easily escalate."

"It is worth repeating the importance of listening, really listening, with an open heart and mind," she continued, noting that you might not be able to change someone else's mind in a single conversation. "The truth is the realities of climate change may not be improved over a single conversation. This appears to be a very complex problem with many unanswered questions. But at the very least, we can start by acknowledging the feelings that do come up and offer genuine support to those we love the most."