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
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.
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. In 2019, Honolulu broke heat records 20 days in a row, making it the hottest summer on record.
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
1. Meet people where they are.
2. Connection outweighs facts.
3. The goal is conversation, not conquest.
4. Focus on the person across from you. Learn more
“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.
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