Climate Change at the Dinner Table

The holidays are a time for family, friends, food, and for many people, avoiding politics, religion, and other topics of conversation that might interrupt peace and goodwill at the dinner table. Climate change often gets lumped into this category of subjects to steer clear of, yet we routinely talk about weather, health, and plans for the future and for our kids, topics that are intertwined with climate impacts. If we start from these topics that people are already comfortable discussing, we can use them as great entry points to productive conversations.

Talking about climate change with trusted people in one’s life predicts increased knowledge and acceptance of climate science. If you are especially informed or concerned, just starting a conversation could help your friends and relatives get engaged. Climate change can be a scary or depressing topic to think about, but talking about it with others can help build feelings of support and camaraderie; it helps to know that others are committed to taking pro-climate actions too. The more we view climate change as a pressing issue that we are all working on together, to better our lives and our children’s lives, and not as a taboo subject that only concerns politicians and climate scientists, the more we feel that we can and should have some control over what happens to our planet, society, and economy.

It’s a lot more fun – and effective – to take on climate change together than by ourselves. “VCLC youth climate leaders” by is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

So how does one bring up climate change if the chatter at holiday meals more often surrounds school, work, or sports? First, make sure you have an understanding of the underlying climate science so you can express it clearly yourself. EarthDNA, a project of MIT, has produced a Climate 101 presentation aimed at preparing young people to speak to their families about climate change. It is useful for people of all ages and can be viewed here

Try connecting your climate conversations to personal and local issues, rather than national politics. Provide examples of climate-friendly technologies and innovations that you are really excited about – it shouldn’t be all doom and gloom. And try to be open-minded – it’s easy to assume what certain family members will think about climate change, but they might surprise you! There are lots of reasons to care about climate change, and a casual conversation over pumpkin pie might be the moment someone realizes why it matters for them. Below are some ideas to get you started – feel free to adapt to your own group of family and friends and to the climate topics that interest you!

Reflecting on Changes from the Past

  • What were winters like when you were younger? Did the creek always freeze over so you could ice skate on it? Do you notice differences today?
  • Who was the first person in our family to get a car? A grandparent or great grandparent? Did families usually have one car or multiple when you were growing up? It’s interesting to compare that to today and how rapidly the number of cars on the roads and therefore the emissions from transportation have increased.
  • What did the area you grew up in look like? Where was the nearest grocery store? How much was farmland vs. forest vs. developed land?

Current Events

  • I’ve read that during a full moon or new moon, ocean water comes up through the drains in Miami at high tide and causes flooding. New York City is planning the construction of a miles-long sea wall. If you lived in a coastal city, would you stay there? 
  • I see a lot more EV charging stations than I did a couple of years ago. Would you like to have an electric car? A lot of car manufacturers are preparing to shift to largely electric cars soon.

Imagining the Future

  • Do you think future generations will be able to have the same foods for the holidays that we have? Will they always grow in the same areas? Will we always be able to ship them here? If we ate only things we could get from local producers, how would our table look different?
  • It’s scary to think about what the world could look like when our youngest relatives grow up. When I (walk instead of drive/vote/avoid single-use plastics/etc.) I try to do my part to make sure they will be able to enjoy nature like we did. 

Katherine Hayhoe, a climate scientist and communicator, gave a great TED talk about starting climate change conversations that inspired this blog post: The most important thing you can do to fight climate change: talk about it