How do I convince my boyfriend that climate change is important?
How do I convince him that climate change is important? Or just, how do I talk to him about climate change without coming off as a big, unknowledgeable dummy?
Here’s The Thing is an advice column/newsletter where I mostly beg people to either stop dating someone or to ask their crush out. Or I talk about weird things that came to my mind that no one is paying me to write about. I can never decide if I should capitalize the “the” in Here’s The Thing or not; apologies on lack of consistency.
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OUR COLLECTIVE BFF:
My boyfriend and I have been dating for a year now. He is very passionate about politics (fully leftist/socialist), but he doesn't seem to care as much about climate change issues. He's not a climate change denier at all; however, I've brought it up a few times, and he seems to follow that logic of "Well, it's mainly big corporations causing it so there's nothing we can do." I'm not perfect by any means, I used to have that mentality too and to be honest haven't really focused on the climate until recently, but every time I mention, like, eating less meat or starting a garden, he seems to brush it off like it wouldn't make much of a difference.
One time I was eating dinner with him and his family, and his aunt mentioned something like, "Did you hear they're saying we should eat less beef because it affects climate change?" sort of in a mocking way. I nodded and said that yes, we should be eating less beef, and meat in general, and she countered with,"Well nobody is going to stop me from eating my burgers and steaks." And my boyfriend agreed with her?!?! Which hurt pretty bad, honestly. I brought it up later and he still seemed to think changing his eating habits wouldn't do any good.
I don't know if he uses all his mental/emotional energy on politics or what, but he never wants to engage in the climate conversation as much as he would with something politics-related. Or maybe he doesn't see how climate change IS related to politics. I'm not an expert on the climate, so it's been difficult to bring it up (which probably just means I need to do my research). So then I get mad that he doesn't care as much, but I don't know how mad I can really be when I'm not good at engaging with it, myself. He's a really good person with a big heart and he cares so much about people, so it's been shocking to learn that this isn't something he's passionate about. How do I convince him that climate change is important? Or just, how do I talk to him about climate change without coming off as a big, unknowledgeable dummy?
There are a lot of separate threads here in this letter that are all in one knot. (And when I say a lot, it’s probably like five threads, which to me is a very high number). Let’s start untangling some things. I’m going to group them so I don’t forget to hoot and holler about any topic, but all of these are obviously interconnected.
1) Climate change is “political.”
As you pointed out, climate change is extremely, extremely political if you consider anything that needs to be address on a massive, collective level political. It is just as political as health care, taxes, immigration, and education. PERHAPS EVEN MORESO because climate change is a threat multiplier. Any problem that a community is facing is going to be made worse by climate change. ALL OF THE PROBLEMS are going to get worse because of climate change. That is a guarantee. On top of that, it is guaranteed that climate change will hit marginalized communities the absolute hardest. That is already happening. We are already seeing that. Famine, drought, flooding, and natural disasters, will always be easier for wealthy, white, westerners to avoid or bounce back from than it will be for anyone who is not privileged and protected. Rich people, and particularly rich white people in developed nations are going to dig into their generational wealth and prepare for what’s coming in ways that poor and marginalized folks simply cannot do. That is political. That’s about as political as it gets, if to you politics is about helping people and addressing inequalities.
It’s also incredibly, incredibly personal. Like COVID, certain populations are much, much more at risk. Certain communities will face way more death and destruction. We know which communities those are. We already know. Our1 actions now determine how hard those communities get hit. It is frankly genocidal not to act.
2) Individual actions do make a difference.
If I took a bunch of Adderall and had no other things to do for a week, I would write you an impassioned 492 page book on the reasons why individual actions like eating less beef do matter. First of all, this is a collective problem, so if everyone decides they shouldn’t have to be the one to act, then no one will act and then, yeah, nothing will change. It’s like voting. If everyone thinks their vote doesn’t matter and they don’t vote, then they have created a self-fulfilling prophecy. No individual’s vote matters but the votes together do. The same way no individual cent in my bank account matters, but all the cents together very much do. That’s just how collective action works.
DOES THAT MEAN THAT IF WE ALL STOP EATING BEEF THE WORLD WILL BE SAVED? No. Of course not. If that were the only change we made, without ending subsidies for beef, without changing transportation, without dismantling fossil fuel corporations, without 3,194,473,482,178 other actions, then yeah, that would not be enough. Nor is it any one individual’s fault that we are in the position we are in. Climate change is most certainly not my fault! Most social problems that our country faces are not my, Sophia Benoit’s, fault. (I’m not that special). That does not mean I am not responsible for harm reduction. That doesn’t mean I get to walk away. That’s fucking selfish.
For me, I drive a (used) electric car and plant native pollinating plants, and stopped buying fast fashion clothes, and don’t use air conditioning almost at all because I care, not because it will solve the problem. It’s the same thing as giving an unhoused person money. I do not think that giving an unhoused person money is going to fix their life, nor do I believe that I am going to solve homelessness by giving someone money once. That is, however, not my aim. My aim is saying, I fucking care that your needs are not being met today. I care that I have money and you do not right now, by random fucking unfair chance. I want you to get what you want or need today. I care. Again, I don’t think it’s a solution, but my action isn’t about a solution.
The truth for every single social ill is that the problems require both immediate, “small” individual actions and large, systematic overhauls. Large, collective changes take time, and we do not all have time. I’m not going to withhold money from someone who needs it today simply because it won’t help that person enough on a systematic level. That’s fucking cruelty.
Covid is another VERY perfect metaphor for all this. To address covid we need both systematic actions—vaccines, mask mandates, stimulus money so people could stay home—and the cooperation and sacrifice of individuals—wearing masks, getting vaccinated, getting tested, not taking unnecessary risks, staying home.
I also love the ambulance metaphor from We Are the Weather by Jonathan Safran Foer. (There have been some criticisms of this book, if I remember correctly from two years ago, but I don’t remember what they are. I am just endorsing this metaphor). We have all agreed as a society to move out of the way when an ambulance is driving down the street (it’s also the law, but you get me). If someone needs to get to the hospital as fast as possible, yes, it’s the EMTs and the ambulance that are saving them, but that requires the individuals in the cars to take collective action and move out of the way. We need both things for the person in the ambulance to survive.
(Lastly, I tweeted about this, but the whole meme about a study that said that 71% of emissions are from 100 corporations is super misleading and incorrectly cited all the time. Just google it!)
3) You know PLENTY.
The idea that you don’t know enough is fucking ludicrous. You know the planet is warming. You know people’s lives and homes and food sources will be affected. That right there is fucking PLENTY of information for you to care about it, and for really anyone to care about it. (I’m not suggesting that everyone needs to care equally about it! Also, again, a lot of people are just trying to make it through the day, I’m not suggesting that they ought to feel guilt or responsibility for climate change).
Our world right now has completely fucking warped the concept of expertise. It’s very, very troubling. I mean, we have large swaths of people who don’t believe in the vaccine or masking or whatever because they think that what they read on Facebook somehow overrides that2. The idea that you can become an expert on a topic—more so that scientists or researchers or activists who have devoted their lives to this—is pretty silly. And the demand that you do so to engage with caring about it is even more ridiculous. And on the other hand, the internet has people thinking that every sentence needs a citation, that no one’s experiences or feelings are valid without a link to an article in The Atlantic or some shit. The concept of expertise is fucked right now. So let me say this: literally all legit climate scientists agree that the planet is warming, that humans caused it, and that we need to act now. Almost all of them think it’s worth doing every possible fucking thing on every fucking level to stop this, lest the world become uninhabitable. You do not need to cite studies to talk about caring about people, animals, the biosphere, earth itself. You do not need to use “logic” to debate people into caring. It is already logical to care about this.
Which brings me to my next point.
4) You can’t make people care or act.
I am so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so happy that you care. I am thrilled that you care. In my mind, you care correct to care about climate change. One of the best things you can do—and climate scientists again back me on this—is to talk about climate change. Talk about the changes you’re making and why. Talk about what you’re scared of, what you’re grieving, how climate change has impacted you. Talking about climate change is vital. We all have to talk about it. We have to encourage other people to make changes, to fight for a better world.
That said, you cannot make other people get on board. Some people are fighting for all kinds of other things, some even more “immediate” than climate change. Some people are barely making it through the day and cannot take on climate change. Some people don’t care out of selfishness. Some people don’t care out of the belief that it won’t affect them. Some people don’t care because they cannot afford to care. Some people don’t care because they don’t know enough. There are 842 million reasons that people aren’t on your level of caring about climate. Not all of them are morally valid3, many are! But you cannot make them care. It—frustratingly—doesn’t work that way.
You can talk to your boyfriend about why you care and maybe eventually he’ll come around. Personally, I think as more and more natural disasters and heat waves occur and more and more people die, people are going to catch on that this is a massive, existential problem. I wish it didn’t take that, and I will keep yelling about climate change, but I cannot spend all my time on one person, and especially not on one person who doesn’t want to be convinced. I’d rather spend my time talking to people who care, but who aren’t sure what to do. Or on myself and my own actions.
5) You can, however, be upset.
I personally would be upset about a couple things. Firstly, I’d be upset that he didn’t back you up in front of his family. On a relationship level outside of the climate crisis, that’s not great and I think you should say something that is proportional to how you feel about what went down. For me, that would be at least a medium deal. I would say something like this, but this is just me! “Hey, when we were with your family and you sided with your aunt over me, that really hurt my feelings. I’m not saying you need to agree with me about everything, but please don’t jump in and support another person who is disagreeing with me. You can either stay out of it, or smooth things over and move along and we can talk later. We’re a united front when we’re together in public.” Your partner is supposed to have your back, especially around family.
The second thing is, I do think you might need to consider how much of a big deal it is that your boyfriend doesn’t care about this. I do not know his or your circumstances. I cannot decide how big of a deal this is or whether it’s a dealbreaker. For me, it would be very hard to see how someone who had the means to care, but who didn’t care could share the same values I do. And if someone doesn’t have the values of trying to do good when they can—which doesn’t have to look exactly like what I do—I don’t know that I could be with them.
For example, my boyfriend still eats beef, but I don’t. He does other things that are way less carbon intensive than I do, like I used to buy a lot more clothes than he did (I’ve stopped), and he doesn’t drive a car at all. The issue isn’t with which one of us is doing more or better, but that I know for a fact that he cares about people and the climate crisis. Does he care about the same exact issues as I do in the same ways? No, we’re separate people!
But if your boyfriend is making choices that seem to you to be selfish or that don’t align with how you want to live, it’s ok to assess if that’s someone you want to be with on a values level.
Ultimately, you’re brilliant and you’re doing great and climate change is a big deal and every action matters, but you can’t make people care. All you can do is spend your time doing what you think will help the most. ❤️
You can submit your own question—or yell at me about how I’m wrong—by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org
When I say “our” here, I mean the actions of people with privilege. I mean wealthy people. I mean developed nations and their governments. I mean the people who are emitting carbon out the ass day in and day out. I mean me, specifically and people like me generally. I do not mean people who cannot afford, for whatever reason!, to make changes.
That is not the only reason for vaccine hesitancy, but that is some people’s reasoning.
As decided by me, Sophia Benoit, the arbiter of who is good and bad in this world.