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Opinion: An expert's advice on talking to the climate skeptic in your life

November 24, 2020. Summarized by summa-bot.

Oil refinery, owned by Exxon Mobil, is the second largest in the country on 28th February 2020 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, United States. Tens of thousands of people live within 2 miles of the complex, which produces gasoline for much of the East Coast. The petrochemical plants inside the complex make materials used in products such as diapers, chewing gum, tires and makeup. The state government gives Exxon permission to pump out millions of pounds of air pollution each year from its Baton Rouge complex. But because of accidents and leaks, from 2008 to 2011 the Exxon Mobil Baton Rouge complex put out nearly 4 million pounds of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, without the government's approval. (photo by Barry Lewis/InPictures via Getty Images)

John Sutter and Karin Kirk respond to CNN readers' questions about how to engage climate skeptics in conversation in persuasive ways that foster common ground. The bottom line? This has never mattered more.

(CNN)I've ended up in plenty of awkward climate-change conversations over the years I've spent covering the issue as a journalist.

I'm trying to nudge that number just a bit with this series of conversations about the climate emergency -- conversations that start with listening to CNN readers.

Several of you asked through CNN's online form about how best to engage with climate skeptics in your lives -- about how to have these difficult conversations and about how to be persuasive when you do end up chatting with someone who doesn't accept the fact that humans are warming the planet dangerously, primarily by burning fossil fuels.

In those conversations, she aimed to persuade voters that climate change is real and worth voting on.

John Sutter: I want to start with a question from a reader, Ryan, in Florida, who asks, "How do I convince my normally otherwise rational friends that climate change is real" and worth paying attention to?

And that is, "Why are you needing to have a conversation?" Like, what's your personal angle?

Even though I spent my whole life -- like since (I was an) undergraduate -- working on the science of climate change, I'm quick to abandon that in conversations because it's often a dead end.

And I know that clean energy is the biggest solution to climate change.

Sutter: Of course, there is a right and wrong answer in this case because of the science -- we're causing climate change -- but you're saying, just kind of abandon that?

Sutter: Is persuasion the right goal in these conversations?

Once the person trusts you and once you're saying, "Oh, I'm learning from you, I'm appreciating you, I'm benefiting from this conversation," then you'll be masterfully persuasive.

Sutter: Are there any key "don'ts" that you have learned from engaging in these conversations about climate change?

Kirk: The key "don't" is don't spend too much time arguing with people that you're never going to change their mind.

She asks whether it's possible for us to address the climate crisis without the help of people who won't accept the scientific realities.

Sutter: What is the trend in terms of public opinion on the climate crisis?

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