Opinion | How to Talk About ‘Extreme Weather’ With Your Angry Uncle

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The solution is to offer a vision of a better future. People are willing to make all sorts of changes if they’re convinced it will make a difference. Democrats aren’t coming for your hamburgers, contrary to what Fox News might tell you, but eating one-fifth less beef can cut global deforestation, a leading driver of climate change, in half. With stakes so high and inconvenience so low, who wouldn’t happily cut beef consumption by 20 percent?

It’s true, of course, that individual actions alone cannot solve the problem of a burning world, but that doesn’t make individual action merely a symbolic drop in the bucket brigade. Dr. Hayhoe cites successful examples of sweeping historical transformation in pointing out the power of advocating for change, individual by individual.

“When you look at how women got the right to vote,” she said, “it wasn’t because the president woke up one morning and said, ‘Women should have the right to vote.’ It was because women used their voices consistently to advocate for that change. When you look at the civil rights movement, when you look at apartheid in South Africa, when you look at gay marriage, when you look at any large societal change, it did not come from the top. It was instigated in every single case by ordinary people who used their voices.

“There’s this endless argument on social media — individual actions or systemwide change — and my answer is, ‘Yes.’ Because what is a system made up of but individuals?”

This is why it’s so important to learn how to talk about climate change with others. Convincing people on both sides of the aisle that they are not alone in their fears, that there are solutions to the challenges we face, and that their own actions can make a difference is the first step toward holding politicians to account.

Margaret Renkl, a contributing Opinion writer, is the author of the books “Graceland, at Last: Notes on Hope and Heartache From the American South” and “Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss.”

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