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TEDxBrisbane Talks 2017

How to manage touchy subjects like climate change over the break

This end of year time can be tricky.  A time for reflection.  A time for getting together with family and friends.  A time when mixed emotions get expressed.  Those who are into the whole consumer gift giving stuff embrace it with open wallets and get excited not only with the gift but with the wrapping paper as well.  Those who are pleased to see the end of it and would prefer to let it all wash over them.  It’s a liquorice all-sorts kind of picture.  No one pillowcase sack fits all.

Whatever this time is, history tells us it can bring out the best and kindest parts of our nature and the opposite.  It’s not helped with the over indulgence of drugs of one kind or another.

So we’ve set the backdrop in a generalist fashion, for things to go either way.  What steps can we take to moderate the mood and content of conversations so that when asked after the ‘dust has settled’  how did Christmas turn out, we can say: pretty good considering, in fact, better than expected.

For some help ensuring we’re prepared, this story by Peter Ellerton: I’m a critical thinking expert. This is how you win any climate change debate like Greta Thunberg (The Conversation, 11 December 2019) might be worth pondering for a few minutes and having on hand to share if need be.  Ellerton writes:

As bushfires rage and our cities lie shrouded in smoke, climate change is shaping as a likely topic of conversation at the family dinner table this Christmas.

Such discussions can be fraught if family members hold differing views. You may not all agree on the urgency of dealing with climate change – or indeed whether it is happening at all.

When I teach the art of argumentation – a core skill of critical thinking – I tell my students about the concept of “point at issue”. This is what the argument is about and should be the focus of rational discussion.

But when debating emotive and controversial topics such as climate change, the point at issue can become lost.

So what to do? We can learn much from Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg – a master of staying on topic.

And later:

Keeping the argument on track, and keeping it both civil and productive, is a key skill in critical thinking. It is helped by:

  • making sure everyone is clear about what the point at issue actually is
  • bringing the conversation back to the point when it strays, or at least acknowledging that we are now talking about something else
  • calling out any misrepresentation of the point.

This will help keep the integrity of the argument intact and avoid it degenerating into an exchange of ideological blows.

If you need extra help, my colleagues and I have produced paper to help analyse the rationality of climate denial claims. It also helps you find the point at issue, and stay on it.

This is a skill worth developing in discussion with friends and family. In the maelstrom of ideology surrounding climate change in this post-truth world, keeping a rational focus is critical.

Take good care in these troubling times.  As your customs would determine, enjoy the next few days and weeks with some down time.  We acknowledge that there will be little down time for those whose work requires them to fulfil various duties.  And for those who are the cooks and preparers of meals and tend to essential family needs, the work goes on.

For the full story, click on the linkExpect talk about touchy issues at this time of year