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How Do You Bring Up Climate Change at the Dinner Table?

Posted: 01/05/12 07:57 AM ET

Recently, Russell McLendon published a great article titled "How to Talk to your Uncle about Climate
Change." The article was handy enough that instead of jotting down talking points to prepare myself for the inevitable holiday dinner table discussion last month, I just emailed the article to any of my friends or relatives who I felt might fall into the same category as McLendon's uncle.

McLendon's article centers around a climate-change denying uncle who many of us may have, but in addition to speaking with climate-change denying relatives, the holidays often bring up conversations about the same topic with another segment of the population: those who do not deny climate change, who accept that it is a problem in need of solutions, yet still are generally apathetic towards it.

While polls still show that Canadians are concerned about climate change, the amount of people who express climate apathy still seem to make up a sizeable percentage of the population.

I decided to conduct a small poll amongst people I know who fall into this category about why climate change is not an issue they are too concerned with.

There were a few overwhelmingly common answers, one being: "It doesn't really affect me/I don't really think about it."

The average Canadian is not given a reason to think about climate change. While Canada is not immune from the direct impacts of climate change, we are far from being one of the most vulnerable countries, and it simply doesn't create consistent problems that cause it to be at the forefront of many Canadians' minds.

At COP 17 in Durban in South Africa last month, I had the chance to talk with numerous Africans about how climate change affects people in their communities. The conversation that followed was very different than the one you would normally have in Canada.

In Canada, the dialogue around climate change centers around questions related to jobs and the economy (as do most things these days), whereas in many parts of Africa, the questions asked are: How much draught and famine can we expect? How many populations will need to be displaced? How will subsistence farmers be able to support themselves?

If Canadians found themselves asking similar questions, and found themselves face-to-face with the direct impact of climate change on a regular basis, I think we would see Canada's climate apathy decrease.

Another common answer to the climate change dilemma is: "Technology will save us." A few people I know expressed a belief that new technological developments will solve everything. The most common answers to what advancements these would be were usually electric vehicles or renewable energy.

It's hard to argue this point, as advancements in fuel efficient vehicles and renewable energy is what is helping us transition away from fossil fuels. The question now becomes how fast will we further integrate these new technologies?

The answer to that question might depend on how much and how quickly our population demands this by either supporting them with our consumer dollars or supporting legislation that promotes them.

I've also heard: "Right now we have to choose the economy over the environment."

A commonly held belief is that we have to choose between the economy and the environment, and that if you want to curb pollution, you will also have to curb economic growth.

The truth is you cannot have a healthy economy without a stable environment. The National Round Table of the Environment and Economy estimates that climate change could cost Canada 5 billion a year by 2020. The economy depends on the planet's ability to provide resources and as climate change increasingly affects this in a negative way, it becomes more difficult for the economy to flourish.

Similarly when the economy is down it becomes increasingly difficult for individuals, industry, and government to create the policies and take the actions necessary to help move us towards development that is closer to being sustainable.

We can't choose between the environment and the economy; we need to choose both and find ways to harmonize the two.

Talking to your relatives or friends about climate change can be an uncomfortable situation. Everybody has the right to prioritize issues in their own lives, and nobody should feel talked down to by someone who is concerned about the climate apathy many Canadians feel.

On the other hand, many of us might feel if there were more people engaging in dialogue about climate change it would be harder for Canada to increasingly ignore the science of climate change and take actions like being the first country to sign, ratify, and then formally pull out of Kyoto.

Ultimately, we each get to decide whether or not we are comfortable bringing up the topic of climate change at the dinner table. And even while we endure the climate crisis, it is important to stop and be thankful for those people you care about.

If having a conversation about CO2 emissions prevents you from doing this, then perhaps the climate change discussion is best left to another time.

 

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