On the Holiday Subject of Climate Change

Keeping Global Warming Talk Cool around Holiday Dinner Table

A blogger offers some practical advice on avoiding a climate change brouhaha with relatives gathered around the holiday dining table.

Just in time for the year-end holidays.

Okay, so Aunt Emma and Uncle Henry are coming for dinner. By whatever names, we’ve got one somewhere in the family tree.

But “no one wants squabbling to overshadow gobbling at a holiday feast,” blogger Russell McLendon advises. “Is it worth risking an argument to set the record straight?” when your “favorite” relative goes haywire on a matter of climate science?

Maybe not “if your uncle had two glasses of wine and wants to grumble about Al Gore,” he advises. Let him be or run the risk of ending up “convincing him even further that environmentalists want to control his life.”

But not speak-up at family gatherings? Coming across as knowledgeable and confident “without seeming nitpicky or condescending” might be the key, McLendon writes, adding that it’s of course key in any event to know your audience. He offers insights on broaching the subject “without raining on everyone’s parade”:

  • If dinner-table chat turns to the (un)reliability of computer models, point to surface temperature records, satellite data, ice-sheet borehole analyses, measurements of sea level rise and sea-ice extent, and observations of loss of permafrost and melting glaciers. “Computer models are helpful for predicting future climate patterns, and they’re becoming increasingly accurate, but they’re hardly the only evidence we have.”
  • How about the one concerning no increased global warming since 1988? Point to 2005 and 2010 record-high global temperatures. Explain how a strong El Niño skewed 1998 to be especially warm, and point out the flaws in seeing linear year-to-year rising temperatures as indicating a trend.
  • Glaciers are growing. Oh really? Not according to the World Glacier Monitoring Service, whose evidence suggests otherwise. Some glaciers are stable and a few are growing, McLendon reminds us. But many more are losing rather than gaining in water-equivalent thickness.
  • Climate always changes. True, but it’s the pace of change this time around — and the role of human emissions in the warming — that are particularly concerning, a pace going beyond some species’ ability to react.
  • A bit of global warming will be good for us humans. No doubt there will be both winners and losers in a warmer world, but don’t let short-term benefits for some outweigh long-term dangers for many.

More generally, McLendon advises against being insulting in such discussions, urges rattling off a few reputable sources of your information as appropriate, and says, “Don’t mix science and politics.”

“Take a break,” he advises, and respect your family audience gathered for a holiday meal, “so don’t bore them with endless bickering.” Don’t let a scientific debate on climate change “kill the good vibes” of the family’s coming together over the holidays … If you can explain global warming without losing your cool, you might give environmentalists everywhere something to be thankful for.”

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2 Responses to Keeping Global Warming Talk Cool around Holiday Dinner Table

  1. Just pretend to change the subject:

    Anyone seen the movie “Melancholia”?

    How about the classic “Dr. Strangelove” ?

  2. Ben Dunham says:

    A timely and enjoyable piece. But for relatives who have read excerpts from Climategate 2, these bromides will not calm the waters.