Ask Eartha: Don’t be afraid to talk climate change

Eartha Steward
Ask Eartha

Dear Eartha,

Over Thanksgiving, I had a difficult conversation with one of my family members about climate change. What are your tips for talking to deniers and should I even worry about them?

Gary, Blue River

Thanks for your question this week, Gary — gotta love those awkward family conversations and the internal struggle between politely passing the mashed potatoes and starting a food fight (not that you’d do that). This Thanksgiving was a particularly good time for climate change discussions since the U.S. government followed up a month of dire international climate news by releasing its own 1,600-page National Climate Assessment on Black Friday. The report, which is required to be published every four years, relies on input from 13 federal agencies and over 300 federal and non-federal climate change experts.

Tell your local government officials that climate action is important to you. Go to your town council’s next meeting and give a comment. Write your town council or the county commissioners a letter or express support by writing a letter to the editor of the Summit Daily.

In this document, we learned that climate change is already impacting the United States and that the cost of inaction will result in significant consequences. Economically speaking, if emissions continue on their current trajectory, the damages from lost crops and labor as well as extreme weather events would cost the United States up to $500 billion a year.

Finding common ground

If you know folks who aren’t persuaded by the science as you are, then you need to figure out what language they speak. That is, what are their values and how does climate change impact those values? If crazy Uncle Barnaby thinks climate change is a hoax but he values independence and security, talk to him about the importance of creating a clean energy economy here in the United States — relying on our own resources and our own people.

Another tactic to try is identifying your shared values. Do you both enjoy the outdoors — fishing, skiing, hunting? Are you parents? Religious? Starting from a place of mutual appreciation will allow you to move forward without tension. Then connect climate change to the issue you both care about: How will it be impacted? What solutions are you both excited about?

If Uncle Barnaby is still dismissive, don’t despair. While he and others like him might seem like an outspoken majority, they’re not. Nationwide, 70 percent of Americans believe that climate change is happening and that it will harm future generations. Even more support exists for renewable energy and regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant. These are powerful numbers and they indicate widespread support for policies that will help fight climate change.

Think globally. Act locally.

While the reports of the last few months have been alarming, it’s important to remember that there is still time. We can’t take back the emissions already in the atmosphere, but we can limit what we produce now in order to lessen future impacts.

Certainly, it’s important for us all to look at our own lifestyles and figure out how to decrease our carbon footprints. Could you commit to taking the bus one day a week? Cutting back on the amount you drive is not only good for the planet, but also your wallet. How efficient is your home? An energy assessment will help you make improvements, so you can use less energy and spend less money. Do you throw away your food scraps? Composting is an easy way to cut methane emissions at the landfill. High Country Conservation Center can help you get started if you’re feeling stuck.

Don’t forget to act locally. It’s so easy to get caught up in international or national goings-on about climate change that we forget our own backyards. HC3 along with government, business, education and ski area partners from across the county recently wrapped up a six-month planning process to create a Climate Action Plan for our community. In mid-November, over 60 Summit locals came to an open house to learn more about the plan and provide their input. You’ll have another opportunity to comment on the plan once the draft is finished.

Then what? Tell your local government officials that climate action is important to you. Go to your town council’s next meeting and give a comment. Write your town council or the county commissioners a letter or express support by writing a letter to the editor of the Summit Daily. These actions show your representatives that they should keep climate change in mind as they make decisions that impact the future of our communities. It also empowers them to advocate for forward-thinking policies at the state level. And it will empower you, too, to continue speaking up for what you believe in.

As soon as you start speaking up, you become a member of the vocal majority, and that’s what matters most. Keep that in mind the next time you (politely) pass Uncle Barnaby the potatoes.

Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at

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