My Date With A Climate Change Denier

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“You say the earth is flat, too? Really…”

He was tall and cute and the perfect amount of awkward. Our first date was on a balmy Tucson evening in January. I scootched back in my chair and crossed my legs beneath my sundress as he asked, “What do you write about?”

“Right now, I’m writing a lot about food.”

“Oooh!” he said. “Like restaurant reviews?”

“Well, sort of. I’m interested in how our food systems affect the climate.”

He nodded and thought this over. “Do you think this whole climate change thing is going to catch on?”

“What do you mean?”

“You know, ‘global warming’?” His voice wore italics and, though his hands didn’t leave the table, his fingers became bobbing quotation marks.

I opened my mouth and paused. He smiled that uncomfortable first-date smile and took a sip of his beer.

Hmm, I thought. Yes. The climate is changing, has changed, and humans are central to the story. Sheets of ice are cleaving away from glaciers and more and more carbon dioxide and methane molecules are swarming through the atmosphere, heating it up, and they will continue to do so whether or not the “idea” of global warming, you know, “catches on.”

My date took another sip of beer and stared at me with the blue eyes that had prompted me to give him my phone number in the first place.

“I think climate change already has caught on?” I said, hating how my voice rose into a question mark. “I think it’s happening? And I think a lot of people agree that, um, it’s a … big deal,” I said.

“Hmm,” he said, and nodded, considering this. He smiled, and in a teasing, flirtatious tone, said, “So you’re all into that, the global warming stuff?”

Some believe that the climate deniers will just die out. Not many in my generation get riled up about interracial marriage, for instance — it is, for most of us, entirely a non-issue — and many say that attitudes toward climate change could similarly shift with time. The academic term for old ideas dying along with old people is called “cohort replacement,” and according to this logic, all we have to do is wait.

According to this logic, however, an eligible young woman does not find herself on a date with a very cute 28-year-old man who puts “global warming” in quotation marks.

“Well…I sort of don’t think climate change is something to be believed in,” I said haltingly. “I mean, it kind of…is.” I hesitated, wondering, should I go further?

He changed the subject. “So you said you work at the UA?” he asked. “What do you do?”

I chuckled. “I work in the University’s Office of Sustainability.”

“Sweet! What do you do there? What exactly is sustainability?” he asked, all blinking blue eyes and lanky curiosity.

Finally, the date ended. I called my sister as I biked home across campus to tell her about my foray back into dating. We laughed — how did I find these people? He was 6-foot-4 to my 6-foot-1: a rare find. He was sweet and courteous: so much potential. He had a college degree!

“How did you meet him?” my sister asked.

“A coffee shop.”

“Climate deniers drink coffee?”

“Evidently.”

“You need a better screening process,” she said.

“How do you screen for ‘acceptance of climate change’?” I asked.

I rolled through the dust and heat of a 70-degree winter’s evening and wondered how I should have responded to his question. How do we talk about something as big as global warming on something so small as a first date? And yet — how can we not? For those of us that live in the desert Southwest — indeed, for all of those that live in extreme climates around the world — it is impossible to ignore the fact that annual temperatures and precipitation levels have already swerved far away from the norm.

What can I say? Yes, climate change is a big and scary idea, but there are all sorts of things we — no, I’m sorry, I’m afraid there will be no “we” after tonight — there are all sorts of things you can and should do to help work towards a solution.

The problem is that “believing” in climate change is not as simple as learning the facts. Psychologists have found that people absorb information selectively, picking and choosing those facts that fit into their already-established worldviews. Yet psychologists have also found that familiarity breeds fondness: Repeated exposure to a new idea leads to progressively lower fear and avoidance and even, eventually, sometimes, to acceptance.

Perhaps my Friday evening offered my blinking blue-eyed date the chance to ease his mind into the idea — the very big, scary idea — that our world is warming rapidly and we’d better do something about it. But somebody else would have to offer him a second exposure to the concept.

Megan Kimble is a student in University of Arizona’s MFA program for creative nonfiction. Environmental coverage made possible in part by support from Patagonia. For information on Patagonia and its environmental efforts, visit www.patagonia.com. In affiliation with High Country News. Photo by Shutterstock

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{ 15 comments…read them below or write one }

  • KatieSue

    I was on a date with a guy once who it turned out didn’t believe in dinosaurs. I don’t really care about dinosaurs myself but the fact that this guy thought that fossils were “funny shaped rocks” was so stupid I couldn’t go out with him again. It didn’t make him a bad person, or mean he’d be a terrible father or husband or even a bad boyfriend, but it just seemed like it was a sign of something bigger. An unbending mind or lack of imagination. I’m not sure what. Funny how we can agree with somone on so many social issues but dinosaurs are the red flag.

  • Scott Huber

    If you work in sustainability, I’d have to suggest you missed an opportunity to educate him… especially when he specifically asked you why you believe as you do. Instead you choose not to do so after judging him, and now you write about it in very loaded terms (e.g. “denier”).

    By not answering, you proved his point to him.

    If you had said “You know… you don’t have to believe in ‘global warming’ in order to understand the importance of sustainability and protecting our natural resources…” might well have been a great conversation starter and an opening to an informed relationship.

  • Mark

    I don’t know if you meant that to be funny or not, KatieSue, but I can’t stop chuckling about some dude’s disbelief in dinosaurs. What does he think *fossil* fuels are?

  • Chris Mcpartland

    Was that the only issue? I think you should’ve given him more time. And global climate change isn’t due to JUST mankind.

  • Ryan

    A missed opportunity for a good, civil discussion. You tell him why man made global warming matters, and what “sustainability” means, and he tells you why he doesn’t buy it. Sounds more interesting than discussing it with people who already agree with you.

  • Brian

    As a 6’4″ guy myself who knows tall dates aren’t easy to locate, I think this guy missed a great opportunity to get to know the 6’1″ woman in front of him! He automatically downplayed something she is very obviously interested in pursuing yet it was so easy to find out beforehand her interests. Heck, it took me about 30 seconcds to Google her name to find out that she’s passionate about climate change and that it’s something I would need to show some interest in talking about during a first date. Surely he did this same search, yet for some reason he chose to somewhat talk down the topic. I thought all the kids these days Google’d their dates beforehand?

  • Thinker

    What would you have done if he would have blinked his eyes and said “you know you’re trying to you seem really convinced that today’s AGW scientists are claiming with near 100% certitude that they have isolated all the variables in the entire equation for the climate of the planet and the main and most important variable is the A (anthropomorphic) — even though that’s the hardest equation science has ever tried to solve and they’ve only been working on it a relatively short time.”

    The scale of what they’re trying to solve is just enormous. Humans obviously have an effect on the climate. The certainty with which many scientists assert the degree to which we can pin that down in such a large open system seems silly in the face of the complexity of the system.

    Maybe he was just playing dumb (sustainability is way easier to understand after all) and is writing about your date on his blog too.

  • Next!..

    Well done – Anyone who has managed to get a college degree yet still doesn’t know what sustainability is or is unable to comprehend that man’s activities over the last 150-200 might just have an effect, whether alone or exacerbating, on the climate is too stupid to waste any more time on.. plenty more fish in the sea.. well, for the time being anyway..

  • alex

    Women are attracted to assholes. This is due largely to the fact that assholes tend to project confidence- which is what women find attractive. Most guys who project confidence are usually not very smart. This is why the human race is DE-volving: mostly it is stupid people who are breeding. That said- if you care about climate change or any environmental issue: THEN DON’T HAVE KIDS. Population growth is the primary reason for environmental degradation. You cannot “Save the Planet” if you continue to ignore the primary problem: overpopulation.

  • Cole

    Have we really gotten to the point that if someone disagrees with you they’re labeled a “denier”? The last time I heard the term denier was with holocaust deniers. Is this term used on purpose to associate people with that hate filled group? It’s a great tactic but not a really nice way to treat someone. I have no idea if we are coming out of another ice age or if climate change is completely man made. Not a clue. I have an open mind on the subject. Right now there is too much spin from people on both sides of the issue that have billions of dollars to make if this goes their way. Always follow the money. Might be a little too early to start calling somone a denier just because they don’t share your point of view. Not a very tolerant way to live. I don’t think I would have gotten another date with my wife if I had labeled her a “denier” if we disagreed about something at dinner that first night.

  • John

    Once I was out sailing with a couple of well educated people. The woman looked at the night sky and said, “Isn’t it amazing that each one of those stars is like a sun?”
    Man: “What are you TALKING about. That is so silly.”
    Me: “Well, Larry, what do you think the stars are? How big? How far away?”
    Man: “I think they’d be about as big as a house, and a couple of miles away.”
    This is true. The guy was a smart articulate real estate investor.

  • Paul

    But Meghan, what if he was great dancer and loved puppies? What if he owned two businesses-you don’t have to know what they do…

    The climate is changing-fact.
    There are more greenhouses gasses in the atmosphere-fact.
    Humans are putting more greenhouses gasses into the atmosphere-fact.
    Humans are causing global warming-this is open to some continued dispute even amoung scientists.

    He probably went home thinking, “whew, she was close minded. Good thing I didn’t tell her I was a republican.”

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