Civil Climate Discourse: How to talk about energy and climate

The issue of global warming/climate change has been used to polarize populations for political leverage.

People like myself who are skeptical of alarmist claims find it difficult to engage with others whose minds are made up with or without a factual basis.

In a recent email, Alex Epstein gives some good advice how to talk about energy and climate.

At the end, I provide links to other material from Alex supporting his principle message regarding human benefits from using fossil fuels.

The text below is his email with my bolds.

Two simple-but-powerful tactics

1. Opinion Stories

Unless I have some specific reason for wanting to have a long conversation I like to keep my conversations short, with the end goal of getting the other person to consume some high-impact resource.

One way to make this even more effective is to offer to email/mail the person a resource. Then you’ll have their contact info and can follow up in a few weeks.

The last paragraph of your message is really important. You’re telling the story of how you came to your opinion. I call this device “the opinion story.”

Here’s how it works.

Imagine you’re trying to persuade someone to read your favorite book. My favorite book is Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand.

I used to say: “Atlas Shrugged is the best book you’ll ever read. You have to read it.”

That’s an opinion statement. If you haven’t read the book I’ll bet that statement makes you resistant. “Oh really? You’re telling me what the best book I’ll ever read is? You’re telling me what I have to read?”

Opinion statements often breed resistance and reflexive counter-arguments. So now I try to persuade people differently.

I might say: “My favorite book is Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. I read it when I was 18 and the way the characters thought and approached life motivated me to pursue a career I love and give it everything I have.”

How do you react to that statement?

Probably better. You’re probably not resistant. You may well be intrigued. And you can’t disagree with me–because I didn’t tell you what to think, I told you my opinion story. I respected your independence.

While statements breed resistance and counter-argument, stories often breed interest and requests for more.

You can use opinion stories for anything, no matter how controversial.

For example, if someone asks me about my book, The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, I don’t need to say “I prove that we should be using more fossil fuels, not less.” I can just say “I researched the pros and cons of different forms of energy and was surprised to come to the conclusion that we should be using more fossil fuels, not less.”

I like to have an opinion story on every controversial opinion I hold.

2. Introducing Surprising Facts

Reader Comment: “The problem I always run into is that they really believe Germany is a success.”

I’ve had the same experience, too! On many issues.

Often in conversation, the phenomenon of conflicting factual claims on an issue—such as the impact of solar and wind on Germany’s economy—leads to an impasse.

One way to deal with this is to focus on establishing an explicit framework, with human flourishing (not minimum impact) as the goal and full context analysis (not bias and sloppiness) as the process. Most disputes stem from conflicting frameworks, not conflicting facts. And if you offer a compelling framework you’ll be more trustworthy on the facts.

That said, here’s a tactic I discovered a few years ago to make certain factual points much more persuasive at the moment.

I’ll start with how I discovered it.

I was walking through the Irvine Spectrum mall with a good friend when we ran into two young women working to promote Greenpeace.

My friend found one of the women attractive and said he wanted to talk to her. I thought, given my experiences with (paid) Greenpeace activists, that this was unlikely to be an edifying experience, and encouraged him to instead record a conversation between me and one of the women. Unfortunately for posterity, I was unpersuasive and what follows was never recorded.

I decided to talk to the other Greenpeace woman. She quickly started “educating” me on how Germany was successfully running on solar and wind.

Me: “Really? I’m curious where you’re getting that because I research energy for a living–and Germany is actually building a lot of new coal plants right now.”

Greenpeace: “No, that can’t be true.”

Me: “Okay, how about this? I’ll email you a news article about Germany building new coal plants. If I do, will you reconsider your position?” [Note: This is an example of the technique I recommended above.]

Greenpeace: Hesitates.

Me: “Actually, wait, we have smartphones. I’m going to Google Germany and coal. Let’s see what comes up.”

Displaying on my iPhone is a recent news story whose headline is something very close to: “Germany to build 12 new coal plants, government announces.”

Me: “So what do you think?”

Greenpeace: “I don’t know,” followed by—very rare for a Greenpeace activist—having nothing to say.

Had this been a normal person I am confident the live confirmation of the surprising fact would have made a lasting impression.

I think this tactic works best for news stories about surprising facts. Vs. an opinion story about some issue of analysis, like what Germany’s GDP is.


Alex Epstein is among those who demonstrate from public information sources comparisons between societies who use carbon fuels extensively and those who do not.

The contrast is remarkable: Societies with fossil fuels have citizens who are healthier, live longer, have higher standards of living, and enjoy cleaner air and drinking water, to boot.

Not only do healthier, more mobile people create social wealth and prosperity, carbon-based energy is heavily taxed by every society that uses it.

Those added government revenues go (at least some of it) into the social welfare of the citizenry. By almost any measure, carbon-based energy makes the difference between developed and underdeveloped populations.

A previous post- Social Benefits of Carbon referenced facts and figures from Alex’s book which can be accessed here.

Read more at Science Matters

Comments (6)

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    Kinda reminds me of how, as a little Jehovah’s Witness boy, I went door to door trying to sell my mother’s religion to Roman Catholics.
    #1 mistake, I was a JW loser, so no one bought it.
    What if I was a Hollywood star selling Climate Change? That changes everything, but not rationally. People constantly take mental short cuts, taking advice from people they admire is one example.
    Democracy has a big pitfall, simpletons who don’t know what’s best for them get a vote that offsets the vote of a genius. Liberals lust for power, star power. They have no shame, so they screw over the same mental incompetents they purport to champion.
    Sorry, climate change believers, but you are losers.

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    Spurwing Plover


    Greenpeace still sails all over the Globe in their Fossil Fueled ships Arctic Sunrise and Rainbow Warrior II they launch their fossil fueled Zodiacs they board oil rigs and tankers they block coal ships and oil tankers just see Patrick Moore and whey he quit Greenpeace which had founded as the Don’t Make a Wave Society and they ned to replace the Dove with a Vulture

  • Avatar

    David Lewis


    The above tactics are well thought out and might work on many. However, they will never work on those who support the climate change movement due to hidden agendas. A person who wants to use climate change to de-industrialize America isn’t going to care about Germany building coal plants. People who support the climate change agenda because they believe our standard of living is excessive don’t care that societies with fossil fuels have citizens who are healthier, live longer, have higher standards of living. These people will always be pushing for climate change action even as the evidence against the need to do so becomes overwhelming.

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      Mark Steyn in one of his many brilliant speeches said words to the effect:

      “I provide them with uncontestable facts and they turn around and say ‘that’s just your opinion’!”

      Global warmists and eco-warriors are ideologues. They are not interested in facts.

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      David makes a critical point here. The first challenge is to determine a person’s potential motive. If someone is aligned with climate change/global warming as a means to a political end they have already accepted the premise of fraud and will never open to alternative or opposing data. I’d say that the most vocal and vehement GW supporters are in this category. The others, who should be reachable, are mostly just affected by the overwhelming propaganda propelled by the left media and Hollywood, …or they are just trying not to be accosted by the rabid political supporters of the left, so they take the easy way out and nod their heads in agreement. For this latter category, the above measures are worth considering.

  • Avatar

    Spurwing Plover


    When my older brother lived in Mountain View California he worked for the Raytheon Company who owns Ammana that makes Mico-Wave ovens and those Greenpeace Idiots were always picketing his place of work becuase they also make parts for missles

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