Your 2019 Guide to Climate Conversations at the Thanksgiving Table

It’s that time of year when we reconnect with our loved ones, pass delicious home-cooked delights around the table, give thanks, and erode our last line of defense against the hordes of jingle bells, eggnog, and holiday decorum.

It’s also a time for environmental professionals to once again display patient assertiveness in table conversations with friends and family as climate change, and the typical responses, come up:

“My town has a plastic bag ban now!”

“I like meat too much, I can’t give up steak.”

Or my personal favorite, “but didn’t you fly here?”

You may have that conspiracy theorist relative who still doesn’t believe in man-made climate change. You may have relatives who throw their hands up in absolution of the problem. If you’re fortunate, you’ll have relatives who are eager to learn how they can do their part.

Regardless of who sits around your table and what their values and beliefs are, the most immediate impact we can have on the world is by changing the minds and hearts of those closest to us. To do so, it helps to be equipped with the latest talking points, links, and communication tactics to make a real difference. We’ve compiled for you the best resources to help you speak truth hotter than your momma’s green bean casserole.


Get the facts straight. Here are some handy links on the latest scientific consensus:

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – Special Report on 1.5 Degrees

  • We can avoid the worst impacts of climate change if we keep warming below 2°C, and even so, the difference between 1.5 and 2 degrees of warming is monumental (for instance, coral reefs would decline by 70-90 percent with global warming of 1.5°C, whereas virtually all (> 99 percent) would be lost with 2ºC.
  • Limiting warming to this point will require us to essentially cut pollution in half by 2030 and zero out emissions by 2050.
  • Read our analysis of  the report here and our in-depth summary here

UN Emissions Gap Report 2019

  • We are currently on pace for 3.5 degrees of warming, which is more than double what the IPCC recommends.

Have any deniers in the family? 

You might need to reexamine your approach. Ask questions, stay calm, use storytelling, be vulnerable, and cater to political and economic ideologies. Use solutions to find common ground – we can all agree that pollution in our communities is bad, that we need better transportation systems (after all, who doesn’t love complaining about their commute). The goal is to avoid shouting matches and partisan squabbling, both of which shut down honest conversations. It would be helpful to remind everyone that this does not need to be a political or partisan issue at all, it has just been framed that way by special interests. 

ASAP Science – How to Talk to Climate Deniers

And if you need more ammunition on the science:

Climate Reality Project – The 12 Questions Every Climate Activist Hears and What to Say

Skeptical Science – A Ranking of Climate Myths and the Science to Refute Them


Stop being a debbie downer.

Wind and solar have been booming across the globe, and will grow even faster in the coming years. Renewables are now incredibly cost competitive as compared to fossil fuels.

The proliferation of renewables has shifted the conversation away from how we’re going to decarbonize to how fast. 

States are moving while the federal administration lags.

25 Governors have joined the US Climate Alliance, committing half of the country to uphold the Paris Agreement and reduce emissions 26% by 2025. The conversation does not need to be about the federal government or Donald Trump.

States are also moving fast to put a price on pollution, with over 30 bills proposed across 16 states last year. Check out your own state’s progress on our State Carbon Pricing Network page.


This is a challenge we all face together.

Behavior change is an important part of solving climate change. However, research finds that nudging behavior towards environmentally-friendly decisions can distract people from the deep systemic solutions that we need at a larger scale. If your loved ones are ready for action, try steering them towards political engagement to start.

Vote with your wallet.

After speaking about political action, you can finally oblige the question that is really on your loved ones’ minds – “What can I do every day to feel less guilty?” Fortunately, there’s plenty of resources on what personal actions you can take to minimize their personal carbon footprint, most of which actually save you money. What are some of the best options?

  • Live car-free
  • Avoid one roundtrip transatlantic flight per year
  • Buy green energy
  • Eat more plants and less meat
  • Buy a hybrid or electric car

There’s a lot more that everyone can do on a small scale, such as switch to efficient lightbulbs and appliances, recycle, wash clothes in cold water, and much more, but the impact of these behaviors is low in comparison to the big stuff. Don’t let the conversation dwell too much on these minor behavior changes that distract from political involvement and high-impact lifestyle choices.

Source: Seth Wynes & Kimberley Nicholas, 2017, Environmental Research Letters

While personal consumption changes should never preempt political action, they are still an important part of the equation. Science shows that people are more likely to take action on climate if those around them are doing the same, so you’ll have a far easier time at the Thanksgiving table if you’re putting your money where your mouth is. If you want more material on what role individual consumers have in climate change, there’s plenty more to draw from: – Climate Change Needs Behavior Change

NRDC – How You Can Help Fight Climate Change

“Thanksgiving reminds us that no matter what befalls us in life, we can take the charred remnants and we can reconstruct a life unimaginably richer than that from which the shards and pieces.” – Craig D. Lounsbrough