Talking About Climate Makes Everyone Angry

Talking About Climate Makes Everyone Angry

Joan and I love puns, and have had many happy moments in pun fights, trying to outdo each other. Unfortunately, she usually wins. Her winning pun is usually so bad that I am at a loss for words and all I can offer is a groan. So, the other day when I was wasting time on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, I asked Joan why talking about climate makes everyone angry. She had a simple, one word, answer… “denial”.

I knew she was right, but all I had was the old family joke, “De Nile is the longest river in Africa.” In fact, I have since learned that I wasn’t all that clever. Indeed, variants of this pun have been around for years, usually ascribed to Mark Twain, but with no proof.

Talking About Climate Makes Everyone Angry 1

- Mark Twain (apocryphal) -

Talking About Climate Makes Everyone Angry - Picking Sides

When I ramble through social media, I see angry people! This is especially so when they talk about politics or climate. In fact, these days talking about the climate is a political argument. People take sides and yell at each other. So, they say many nasty things. On my recent visit, I read some real “winners”. For example, “Climate change is a religion for people with no faith.” Or, “Climate deniers are morons!” Generally, the dialogue is heated and mostly pointless. It seems that talking about climate makes everyone angry!

Climate Resilience is not About Being Right

Talking About Climate Makes Everyone Angry

Some Folks Have to Win Every Conversation

Some folks have to “win” every conversation. So, their goal is to force everyone to see just how right they are. If the argument ends, they win the conversation, take the prize and are smarter than everyone else. Indeed, this feels good. But, winning a conversation doesn’t cause change. In fact, often people simply nod in agreement to get out of an uncomfortable situation. They have had no change of heart and think the winner is a jerk. Or, they just shut up and walk away. 

Once again, they have no change of heart and still think the winner is a jerk. And again, talking about climate change makes everyone angry

Climate Resilience is About the Future

The climate is changing. The results are in and there is no real question. Though, in my rambles through social media I see many folks arguing about consensus without knowing the true meaning of the word. In fact, consensus means “a general agreement, majority view, or collective opinion.”  (Oxford English Dictionary)  It does not mean 100% agreement.  In fact, one (or several) differing views do not undo a consensus.  When people argue that 100% of scientists must agree, they demand a level of agreement not expected in any other activity.

Arguing about consensus is a waste of time. Most scientists agree that the climate is changing. The few that don’t do not negate the facts. Indeed, they often base their conclusions on untested, or unstated data and assumptions that do not stand up to peer review.

With that in mind, we need to respond. This will take work and it may be expensive. But, the alternative will be much more costly in dollars, lives and the misery caused by injury and dislocation. 

So, climate resilience is about our future and our ability to survive, thrive and flourish.  

Talking About Climate Makes Everyone Angry Because It Is Scary

People are angry because climate change is scary. They worry about money, about their homes, and about their family.  This issue strikes at the heart of our sense of security and wellbeing. It is a threat!

Fear is a natural reaction to a threat. As well, frightened people respond in predicable ways. They run away, which I see as denial. 

Let’s get away from this big, scary monster. Don’t talk about that! Go away!”

Or, they fight. They argue and try to win the conversation. They feel as though winning the conversation makes climate change unreal. If they win the conversation, the climate isn’t changing and everything will be just fine.

Finally, some simply don’t care. For me this is the most frightening response of all. Indifference is harder to deal with than arguments.  It’s soft, it’s mushy, and it’s difficult to get a handle on. Some folks respond this way because they see climate change as a long-term issue. So, they feel that they won’t be around to see it. As a result, they don’t really care one way or the other. They just want to get on with their lives without worrying about it.

I know that this is a simplistic analysis, but in my years of dealing with climate, more often than not I have found fear to be the root of the arguments hurled at me. Simply, I have a very scary message and mission and they would rather I just shut up. Talking about climate change makes everyone angry. 

Moving Beyond Fear

We need to move beyond fear and take concrete action. To do this, we must confront anger calmly and with the facts. Yes, I know that deniers rarely listen to the facts, but that is no excuse to descend to the level of emotional argument. It can be frustrating, but staying above the fray is a better path to action. As always, I try to remember that fear is the root of the anger and I try to answer the fear, not the anger.

Talking About Climate Makes Everyone Angry

Sailing Beyond Fear on the Nile

Talking About Climate Change Makes Everyone Angry and Prevents Action

We are all scared, but the changes we need to make, most times are incremental. I see small changes in lifestyle, adjustments to buying habits, and most important, being prepared. We need to understand what we need to do during a big weather event, what we need to bring with us in case of evacuation and knowing who we need to call. For example, how well can I handle a 72 hour power outage? These are simple things that do not require a lot of money.

Of course, some changes may be larger, and are usually the focus of most of the argument. For example, we love to argue about carbon taxes or which politician has a better plan. These things are important, but not central to my daily life, expect when I have to pay for gas.  Again, I know that this is simplistic, but I see the impact at the pump and I am usually oblivious to the energy cost embedded in other products I buy.

If we engage in the small stuff we are much more likely to support the bigger stuff.  In the end, jamming big changes down people’s throats just gets their backs up. Their natural reaction is to resist and find loopholes to get around the plan.  They undermine success and, if the resistance is big enough, they doom the plan to failure. 

Action Requires Buy-In

To achieve resilience, we need buy-in to take action. We must stay on top of the fear, calm down the rhetoric and get on with it. Talking about climate makes everyone angry and angry people resist change.

Over to You

Let’s keep the conversation going. Share your comments.

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About the Author

Talking About Climate Makes Everyone Angry 2

Joel Nodelman

President & CEO

Joel is an engineer and risk management specialist with over forty years of professional practice. He is committed to helping his clients achieve climate resiliency and sustainability.

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