Trouble in the Turkey: How to Deal with Climate Deniers this Thanksgiving

It’s November 25th, and you’re beaming. You don’t mean to, but you can’t help yourself. You’ve gotten over the campus flu, and you passed all of your midterms. Your travelling is over, and now you’re sitting with your loved ones for the first time in what feels like forever. Someone is tending to the dishes; someone is checking the temperature in an oven; someone else is taking bread out of another. The lights are dimmed; there’s a candle burning somewhere, and you’re home. Your shoulders aren’t tense. You’re laughing. You’re reminded of how much you love those you surround yourself with. 

The humming dies down, and you seat yourself. Your beaming grin lowers to a soft smile, and you place your napkin on your lap. The room seems to glow orange and red, despite the lack of colored bulbs. There’s something in the air, and it’s that Thanksgiving feeling you were so excited to feel. Someone places the first dish down on the table, and it’s steaming. It’s looking a lot more appetizing than the shoestring fries East Quad was serving a mere two days ago. Your plate is set, your fork is ready, and you dig in. 

The tastes melt in your mouth and mingle just as they should, and you’re feeling happy. You can only swoon at the thought of dessert later when a voice pierces through your cranberry-scented haze:

 “You know, I don’t think those sea levels are actually rising. It’s just what they want you to think.” 

Your grin disappears, and you choke on your mashed potatoes a bit. Your eyes go wide, as do a few others at the table. You look up, and you see eyes on you. Are people waiting for your response? It looks like they are. You set down your fork, and you take a deep breath. 

If you are unlucky enough to run into a climate change denier this Thanksgiving, have no fear. This blog will lead you through the best possible path to dealing with these people and their antics. I will walk you through the three most common types of climate deniers at the dinner table and provide you with combat strategies for efficient damage control.

The Sneaky Commenter

The first kind of climate denier I call the “Sneaky Commenter.” These climate deniers are identified by their sly comments that they seem to perfectly plant within a conversation almost undetected. You almost forget they’re a climate denier until you sit down at the dinner table with them once again. They’re on the trickier side to identify, but much easier to convert. Famous examples include several MSNBC reporters and their guests. Some things you might catch them saying include:

  •  “Well, the climate is always changing!” 
  • “Florida still isn’t underwater.”

While true, these statements are still quite harmful. To these kinds of climate deniers, you keep a cool and playful attitude. Some examples of rebuttal can include: “Yes, but it’s been proven that the climate has warmed about 0.14 degrees per decade since the 1880s, and the rate of warming over the last 40 years has been about twice that number” or “Yes that’s true, but why should we wait until a state is completely submerged to take action?” You could also raise the point that climate is much different than the weather, and even though their favorite sunny places are still warm, the colder places all over the world are getting hotter too. They will likely hear you, listen, and hopefully understand and continue the discussion, or agree to disagree. All you can do is listen, communicate your feelings and needs, and request what you need from them in respect to boundaries and respect. 

The Brick Wall

The second kind of climate denier that is likely to be sharing the rolls with you is the “Brick Wall.” This climate denier is almost too far gone. You wonder if they’re watching Ben Shapiro in their free time. They’re easily identifiable at the dinner table by taking every opportunity they can to tell everyone that they don’t believe in climate change. Possible and usual comments that come from this person are:

  •  “A rise of 4 degrees globally isn’t something to worry about,” 
  •  “People will just adapt like they always have.” 

These comments are almost so ridiculous you find it hard to even respond. It seems like the person doesn’t care about how credible they sound, and they don’t seem to care much about climate change at all. It doesn’t concern them, and they’re convinced it likely never will. Some efficient rebuttals to these claims include: “A rise of 4 degrees will actually result in a complete sea level rise of up to a meter,” or “Yes humans can adapt, but any kind of extensive warming event will harm ecosystems, wildlife, and humans alike all across the globe. Also, do we really want to have to adapt to hurricanes, intense floods and heatwaves as well as awful air quality?” This type can be hard to crack, but with cold facts and a strong tone, you’ll be able to work them down into having a productive conversation with you. You may even completely convince them, or it might be a good time to practice setting boundaries. If things seem to be turning sour, expressing your discomfort within this topic of conversation is healthy, valid, and an efficient way to protect your wellbeing during dinner. 

The Businessman

A third, likely type of climate denier at the dinner table is “The Businessman.” This is the worst type of denier to encounter, especially on a holiday that’s supposed to be so warm and fuzzy. This person is the opposite and can usually be identified by their loud presence, disregard for others, and selfishness. They certainly don’t believe in climate change and believe that news promoting awareness is harmful and wrong. These deniers likely only care about the economy, investments, and how the global warming narrative will “brainwash” generations. Likely quotes from these deniers include: 

  • “Our air right now is the cleanest it’s ever been,”
  • “The stopping of fossil fuel production will tank our economy and society as a whole.” 

These statements are obviously not true and incredibly harmful. This person has a hard time listening to facts and being open to understanding public data. It’s also likely that this person may see the facts and understands them, but lives in blissful and willful ignorance about the issues. No matter how horrible their dialect may be, remember that it’s not your responsibility to turn anyone around. Some essential facts to explain to refute their claims include: “Actually, our air quality has significantly eroded in the past five years, leading to about 10,000 air-related deaths,” or “There is actually an incredibly large return on investment for the switch to clean energy, about a 6:1 ratio.” These people may need a lot more facts and figures than the previous ones did, but again, you are not responsible for cracking them out of that clouded mindset. Just remember to keep them away from your impressionable grandparents. 

In all, when you’re leaving Ann Arbor to say hello to your loved ones, don’t let a silly climate denier ruin this holiday for yourself and those around you. Be proud of yourself when you stick up for Mother Earth, but remember that once you’ve presented your facts and figures, that’s all you can do! When you venture back to Ann Arbor, you can get involved in Eco Restoration work days at Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum by contacting or get into contact with the UMSFP working groups to brainstorm sustainable food justice and community resilience initiatives. Continue to advocate for the planet each and every single day and you will be fulfilling your part.