No one in Charessa Fryc’s family believes in cutting back on carbon emissions: not her family in the Philippines, on the mainland or here in Hawaii. She struggles to even casually bring up the subject at the dinner table.

“It gets really hard because it is emotional for me,” the University of Hawaii student said. “But even if you have the facts and figures as soon as you get emotional … you lose.”

Protesters of all ages rallied at the Hawaii State Capitol for climate action last September. Claire Caulfield/Civil Beat/2019

If she wants her family to use less plastic, it’s up to her to supply the reusable flatware. The responsibility also falls on her to collect and wash the plates, cups and silverware after the meal.

“Sometimes they’ll be like ‘Why do you even bring that stuff?’ which makes me sad because it’s important to me to use my green kit and yet I still feel like I’m being made fun of,” she said.

Only 45% of adults in Hawaii discuss the issues at least occasionally, despite the state having the largest percentage of adults who believe in global warming.



Those numbers, which come from a 2019 Yale poll, worry some experts and Hawaii residents working to stop climate change.

The latest episode of “Are We Doomed? And Other Burning Environmental Questions” addresses how to talk about climate change without losing friends or offending family.

Josh Stanbro, Honolulu’s chief resilience officer, said focusing on the effects of climate change people are already seeing and feeling is a great way to open the conversation.

“You can talk about ice caps melting, but that doesn’t really have people perk up their ears,” he said. “When you talk about trade winds dying in our islands … people understand that. They know they’ve got to try to keep their windows open. They’re buying fans now. They’re buying air conditioning in their homes.”

Visitors shield their faces from the sun at Waikiki Beach. Todays temperatures were in the low 90s even with trade winds.
Visitors shield their faces from the sun at Waikiki Beach. In 2019, Honolulu broke heat records 20 days in a row, making it the hottest summer on record. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

Stanbro said he understands why people might be skeptical about climate change. The fossil fuel industry has spent decades spreading misinformation about carbon emissions. Stanbro likens it to the tobacco industry’s initial denial of the links between cigarettes and lung cancer.

But if someone is skeptical about climate change, bringing up the fact that fossil fuel companies knew about climate change in the 1960s could make them feel defensive.

No one wants to feel stupid or hear that they’ve been duped.

Instead, Stanbro recommends spreading some aloha. Offer to buy a family member a fan to deal with warmer temperatures or organize a work party to install hurricane clips on your neighbor’s house.

“Doing something to help protect somebody as an offering of good faith is a great way to start a conversation because it’s hard to impugn somebody, to feel like you’re being attacked, when somebody is actually offering to get you a fan,” he said.

The Nature Conservancy's tips

You could also start the conversation by talking about things the person cares about like surfing, poke bowls or endangered birds.

It’s a strategy that worked for Trae Menard, The Nature Conservancy’s director of forest conservation on Kauai.

“I think the people in Hawaii are very in tune with the plight of endangered species, more so than anywhere else in the country as far as I can tell, particularly endangered birds,” he said.

The 2018 storm that flooded much of the island was also a wake-up call for many of his friends who were skeptical about climate change.

The Hanalei River flooded the valley on the North Shore of Kauai after 28 inches of rain fell in 24 hours. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Trae spent a lot of time after the storm answering his friends’ questions and explaining how changes in the climate can affect weather patterns.

“The idea that this is going to impact how we live in the future, I think is really starting to drive the point home that, yes, climate change is real and it’s something that we need to deal with,” he said.

It was hard for his friends to admit they were wrong, and Menard doesn’t think it’s productive to make anyone feel bad. So he focuses on conversation, not competition.

“As soon as you dismiss their belief that shuts down the conversation right there, then it becomes personal,” he said. “You don’t ever want to challenge their intelligence or come off as superior.”

But you don’t need to be a scientist to bring up possible solutions to climate change, Menard said. He’s found success when talking about how we could avoid air pollution, smog and oil spills by transitioning to different energy sources.

“Once you start to tie it to the benefits that we would all enjoy outside of just solving the climate change issue … I think people are open to that,” he said.

It’s easier to ignore stressful topics like climate change, but that won’t lead to solutions.

“Climate is not one of those things that we can avoid talking about because our lives depend on it, our kids welfare depends on it,” Stanbro said.

In Stanbro’s experience if politicians, elected officials and community leaders only hear people complain about potholes, they’re going to focus on potholes, not clean energy.

“We have to be able to articulate what are we gonna do, how are we gonna move forward and how we’re gonna make sure that we’re protecting ourselves against the impacts,” he said.

“Are We Doomed? And Other Burning Environmental Questions” is funded in part by grants from the Environmental Funders Group of the Hawaii Community Foundation and the Frost Family Foundation.

Want to hear more? Check out Civil Beat's other podcasts.

Are We Doomed?! And Other Burning Environmental Questions
Are We Doomed?! And Other Burning Environmental Questions

What the heck is reef-safe sunscreen? Where does all the trash go? Why is it so hot? Join Civil Beat as we tackle your questions about Hawaii's environment. Smart. Irreverent. Never boring. This is not your grandma's science podcast.

iTunes | Spotify | Soundcloud

Offshore is a new immersive storytelling podcast about a Hawaii most tourists never see.

iTunes | Spotify | RadioPublic

Support Civil Beat during the season of giving.

As a small nonprofit newsroom, our mission is powered by readers like you. But did you know that less than 1% of readers donate to Civil Beat?

Give today and support local journalism that helps to inform, empower and connect.

About the Author

You can subscribe to Civil Beat's podcasts on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, SoundCloud and your favorite podcast app.