Jane Fonda on how to talk about climate change with climate deniers

by Jane Fonda

December 7, 2020

Everything you need to talk to friends, family, and even strangers about climate change. 

Actress, Entertainer, Writer and Greenpeace Activist Jane Fonda participates in the youth-led climate strike. People in Los Angeles and across the U.S. left their homes, workplaces, and schools for a youth-led Global Climate Strike. They marched and rallied to demand transformative action to address the climate crisis, and called on leaders to choose to side with young people, not fossil fuel executives polluting the planet for profit. The September 20-27 global week of action is the beginning of a reckoning for the fossil fuel industry that will launch a growing movement of millions of people through the 2020 election toward a more just, green, and peaceful future for all.

© Madeline Carretero / Greenpea

I know it’s not easy to listen to the dire warnings coming from climate scientists to then be called a liar, a fraud, or part of a doomsday cult when you tell people the facts. But we must not let that stop us from talking about climate change at every chance we get. If you don’t talk about it, why would you care? And if you don’t care, why would you ever act?

Keep in mind that the deniers are in the minority. 73 percent of Americans believe in climate change. But 42 percent don’t think it will affect them in their lifetimes. In other words, we have an opening to talk, but we need to help people understand the urgency of the crisis. That process starts by having these important conversations.

We must talk about the real-time damage that climate change is doing to the things we care about right now. That’s why Greenpeace and I teamed up to create this guide. We wanted to make sure you had the information and resources needed to talk to friends, family, and even strangers about climate change. 

I hope it helps. You never know whose life you might change.

Climate Change Myths

Myth 1: Climate change is fake news! What’s your evidence?

Take a look around, the evidence is everywhere. Extreme weather events exacerbated by global warming, such as hurricanes and forests fires, have been intensifying over recent years at unprecedented rates. 97 percent of climate scientists agree that if we don’t act quickly to cut fossil fuel emissions, the climate crisis will continue to worsen.

Myth 2: Even if it’s real, humans didn’t cause it. 

The science is very clear and has been for the last 40 years. Humans are responsible for burning fossil fuels and causing our current climate emergency.

Myth 3: You’re just trying to take our jobs away.

A top priority of the climate movement needs to be making sure workers and communities are better off in the transition to a climate-safe economy. Unfortunately, 13 million people are currently unemployed in the U.S. right now. That’s why we need to enact a green and just economic recovery in line with a Green New Deal that will put these 13 million people and more back to work — with millions employed directly in building clean infrastructure and renewable energy. 

The good news is, the solutions to the climate crisis are very job-intensive and include transitioning to electric transportation, installing charging stations and retrofitting buildings to be more energy efficient and resilient. We’ll need to build and install solar panels and wind turbines and make electric cars, batteries, buses and trains and so many other things that will be essential not only for the future but for now! Our stance is that as we’re fighting for these new jobs, we need to fight equally hard to make sure workers have the ability to form a union to be sure as many of these jobs as possible are good family-sustaining jobs.

Senator Ed Markey, D-Mass, introduces Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, as he hosts a press conference calling for bold climate action in Congress and to blast Republicans for blocking real action on climate change. Members of the Sunrise Movement surround the podium.

We also can think broadly about what our communities need. Did you know that 14 million households are struggling to get water that’s safe to drink because our water and sanitation infrastructure is so decrepit? As we phase out fossil fuels over time, why not mobilize massive public and private investment to replace these pipes and other infrastructure, creating good union jobs while we protect people’s health at the same time! 

For workers who don’t find a new high paying job in the transition off fossil fuels, pushing for a Green New Deal means advocating for a pension guarantee or a safety net of wage insurance, health benefits and free job training to act as a bridge to a new career. The oil and coal industry have laid off thousands of workers in the past couple years having nothing to do with climate change policy. It’s time for workers everywhere to work together for long-term economic recovery that creates millions of unions jobs and can protect the climate and environmental justice communities at the same time!  

Myth 4: Scientists are divided. 

That’s what the billionaires from the fossil fuel industry want us to think. For decades they have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on campaigns and think tanks aimed at sowing doubt. It’s the same thing the tobacco industry did back in the day when they made us believe the science on smoking causing cancer was flawed. Their old mantra was,“if we can just get people to doubt, we win.” As I have said in the past, scientists who aren’t being paid by the fossil fuel industry are in agreement about where they stand on the climate crisis.

Myth 5: We can’t afford to just build solar panels everywhere!

Here’s the thing: The longer we wait to jump into action on the climate emergency, the more expensive it will become. In comparison, the Green New Deal is a real bargain. We can afford $20 billion in direct annual subsidies and billions more in bailouts to fossil fuel companies. We can afford spending $719 billion per year on a military budget that’s currently bigger than the military budgets from China, Russia, Saudi Arabia combined.

Christian Lofton with Renewable Energy Design (RED) Group and Daryl Cox with Sylverster & Cockrum Installers, aligning a panel and tightening the nib clamps. Solarize Charlotte is a grassroots initiative to help make the transition to solar power as affordable as possible.

We can certainly afford to invest in the renewable energy and clean, modern infrastructure we need to transition away from fossil fuels. Plus, investing in a future beyond fossil fuels with a Green New Deal will create good-paying jobs, healthier communities, and stronger infrastructure that will benefit our society many times over.

Myth 6: The economy won’t be able to handle all the lost fossil fuel jobs. 

The process of transition isn’t an overnight thing. What we’re demanding is an end to expansion of fossil fuel production and the beginning of a gradual transition off fossil fuels until we end our reliance on fossil fuels as soon as possible, well before 2050. The new energy sector will provide far more jobs per dollar spent than the fossil fuel industry, and the jobs will be cleaner, safer and better for everyone’s health.

Myth 7: The earth’s climate has always changed/fluctuated over centuries.

Yes, the climate has fluctuated in the past, but we are causing the current changes. Things can have more than one cause and it’s important to listen to the science. Scientists have proven that the carbon emissions created from the burning of fossil fuels is causing global warming. There is no controversy there at all. We need to stop the use of fossil fuels to save the planet from climate catastrophe.

Myth 8: Renewable energy only works when it’s not cloudy or windy.

An important part of building out a new clean energy sector of solar and wind power means building the storage batteries where that energy can be stored for those times when there’s no sun or wind. Not only are solar and wind generators great for the planet but they are less expensive to build than coal-powered plants and the cost of energy storage is also falling rapidly.

Myth 9: China is the real culprit for causing climate change.

All countries need to work together to decarbonize, and China and other developing nations will be crucial to that effort. But the US has a unique responsibility to lead on this issue due to our historical carbon emissions and our current high per capita emissions. Everything we can do to help other nations shift their economy will benefit Americans. What’s more, ending fossil fuel use here in the US will have immediate health benefits for Americans (through reduced air pollution) and will help reverse the legacy of environmental racism in our country.

Yes, they need to step up their efforts but as the country that has produced 20 percent of the carbon emissions through 2014, the United States must take the lead on this, show China and other countries what can be done.

We must help provide the technical assistance and some funding for less developed countries to be able to move directly to a clean, renewable economy, without becoming totally reliant on fossil fuels. This is a global crisis and we are a country that has the capital and the technology to show the world how to transform our way of life to one that’s healthy and sustainable for all.

Myth 10: Don’t you think they’ll eventually find a technological fix?

It’s possible, however no technological fix has been created that won’t still require us to transform our economy. It takes a lot of time to come up with such technological fixes and even more time to prove they don’t cause more harm than good. Scientists say by 2030, we must cut our carbon emissions in half so time is of the essence. We can’t waste time hoping that some silver bullet solution like geoengineering is going to save us. 

Myth 11: Why bother with a Green New Deal when carbon pricing will get the job done instead?

A price on carbon is fine as part of a larger, more comprehensive climate policy, and is probably a decent idea. But it can’t solve the problem all by itself. It’s not a magic bullet. Studies have shown a carbon price could be a good mechanism for driving out coal and decarbonizing the electricity sector, but it is pretty ineffective for other sectors such as transportation, buildings, and industrial emissions. Those sectors will require a more comprehensive approach to decarbonization.

There is also the issue of speed. A politically feasible carbon price would start low and rise steadily — and we just don’t have time for that anymore. We’re in a climate emergency and we need policies that can deploy renewable solutions over the next decade. 

Myth 12: Climate change is just a way for Greenpeace to fundraise.

You think Greenpeace has bribed all the climate scientists to issue their dire warnings? Greenpeace is powerful, but not that powerful.

Myth 13: Won’t species just have to adapt like they always have? How is it different?

Global warming is happening so fast. Evolution/adaptation is a very lengthy process and the science is clear, if we don’t cut carbon emissions in the next 10 years entire ecosystems will begin to unravel beyond our control. The ecosystem that is likely to feel climate change “first” is the Arctic, and it is happening now

Although, the sea-level rise is more likely a big end of century impact, in the U.S. it will first happen in the coastal regions where rising sea levels will make those areas uninhabitable and in the Mid and Southwest, desert areas will expand due to rising temperatures and lower precipitation.

Myth 14: Isn’t climate change just an excuse for people like AOC and Bernie to start a socialist takeover?

Folks may assume this because the solutions to the climate crisis require a strong federal government providing resources to the states. If that’s the assumption, then they must worry a lot about our taxpayers subsidies going to big corporations like the fossil fuel industry and to agrobusiness, to name just a few. That’s socialism too—corporate socialism. 

As part of the Break Free movement, Greenpeace Croatia along with the local NGO Cyclists’ Union and Green Action/FoE Croatia organised a protest bicycle ride in Zagreb, calling for an end to the fossil era and transition to renewable energy. Some 1500 cyclists attended. The participants made a brief stop in front of HEP, Croatia’s biggest utility, and spread a 16-meter banner reading “Break Free from Fossil Fuels”.

As we’ve learned with the pandemic, solutions to broad economic and health emergencies must have the strategic and financial backing of the federal government. No other institution, certainly not the states on their own, have the capacity to address these emergencies.

Myth 15: Can’t people just move if sea levels rise?

Where to? That would only exacerbate climate migration and it takes money and resources to pack up and move and not everyone has the means to relocate at a moment’s notice. This would also mean abandoning many of the major cities around the world.

Myth 16: Isn’t nuclear power a solution to the climate crisis you also oppose?

It takes many, many years to build a nuclear power plant and there are always enormous cost overruns. We don’t have that kind of time before it’s too late. 

Nuclear fission emits far less carbon dioxide than oil and gas-driven energy, but the uranium mining, processing and transport involved in a nuclear plant are all carbon intensive. Additionally, we’ve never figured out how to dispose safely of the waste. This is the world’s most unforgiving technology and its waste is a serious issue.

An American nuclear plant needs between 19 million and 1.4 billion gallons of water a day just for cooling purposes. Because of this, the plants need to be built near major water sources. This at a time when clean water is increasingly becoming scarce. Flood risks and droughts have caused plant shutdowns. Last year, Bloomberg Businessweek identified 19 U.S. nuclear power plants under threat from rising seas.

Myth 17: It’s a myth from the Democrats to justify taxing us more to pay for social programs for people who don’t want to work.

When it comes to the Green New Deal, corporate America and the 1 percent billionaires will need to pay up. There has been such disparity for so long in this country that social programs are essential to helping people get on their feet. The vast majority of people want to work as it gives meaning to their lives. When people have good jobs and social programs that help them get back on their feet, it makes the entire country safer and stronger.

Myth 18: Remember when it was “Global Warming?” They had to change it, because the lie was obvious – where I live it was the coldest winter on record. 

There is no contradiction between the terms “global warming” and “climate change” and both are used by scientists. “Climate change” is often used to refer to the wide range of impacts that come with a changing climate, while “global warming” more narrowly refers to the observed increase in average annual temperatures across the globe.

Under global warming, the planet will still experience seasons, and even occasional extreme cold weather. But on average, temperatures are increasing around the world.

Myth 19: Don’t you fly / drive / eat cows / use plastic / own a phone? Hypocrites!

Climate activists and other concerned individuals are trying to lower their carbon footprints by cutting back on all those things. However, the fact is even if we all made the necessary lifestyle changes, they can’t be brought to scale fast enough to get us where the scientists say we need to be in time. The fossil fuel industry loves to focus people’s attention on what kind of straw they use or whether they eat hamburgers. It’s a great way to make us feel we’re at fault for the climate emergency when they are the ones to blame.We need strong government action because the market is not providing us with sustainable choices or options. 

Myth 20: The climate has always changed.

It is true that the Earth’s climate has changed greatly over the millions of years of Earth’s history, but our current climate crisis is due to changes that humans have made to our atmosphere over the past century. Just because your house’s temperature changes due to natural cycles doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to set it on fire.

In the short term, Earth’s temperatures can change because of factors like oceanic cycles like the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) or the 11-year solar cycle. However, those cycles operate on long time periods, human activities are 100 percent changing the climate very rapidly right now.

Myth 21: Global average temperatures haven’t changed in 15…18…20 years 

Science doesn’t lie. According to NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, the global annual temperature has increased at an average rate of 0.13°F per decade since 1880 (the beginning of the industrial revolution) and over twice that rate +0.32°F since 1981. In 2019, the average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.71°F above the twentieth-century average of 57.0°F, making it the second-warmest year on record.

Jane Fonda

By Jane Fonda

Activist, actor, and Fire Drill Fridays founder

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