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More About Constructive Dialogue on Climate Change: Common Ground Can Open the Door to Progress

A while back, I was at a Life Cycle Assessment conference where someone asked, “How can we deal with people who don’t accept the science of climate change?”

As many of you know, my response was that we have to find common ground with those people. They might not care about climate change, but there may be things they do care about where we can work together. Maybe it’s human health. Maybe it’s energy independence. Maybe it’s saving money or being self-sufficient or resilient. It’s not always easy to find points of concurrence, but it can pave the way for change.

A recent article in the New York Times illustrates this principle beautifully. Not only are Democrats influencing red or purple states to move to renewable energy by talking about cost savings, even Republicans are getting on the bandwagon. Earlier this month both houses of the South Carolina legislature voted unanimously for an act that will support much wider adoption of solar power in the state.

Another way to keep conversations going when you don’t see eye to eye with someone on big policy issues (or science) is to consider the losers. People working in the fossil fuel sector are likely to lose out with the increase in alternative energy options. Acknowledge that. Think about what can be done to support those coming out on the short end of the stick. There are ways that the future can be a win-win for all—it just takes careful thought up front, good planning and a concerted effort to make it happen.

As I said before, why not encourage manufacturing of alternative energy components in coal country? Another idea would be to support installation of electric vehicle charging facilities at service stations and provide training in electric vehicle maintenance. As we’ve seen over and over in our S-ROI studies for policy, there’s no reason why tax incentives and subsidies can’t have strings attached that help move all stakeholders to a better, or at least neutral, position.

Once stakeholders aren’t frightened for their future, their viewpoint will naturally open up and they’ll have an easier time considering alternatives (including science they might not have accepted before).

The New York Times article focuses exclusively on Democratic candidates. But I’d like all of us to start to be more inclusive in our conversations. If we stop using polarizing words and start acknowledging each other’s fears and priorities, we can start to make real change in our communities, workplaces, families and wherever we think differently. And as we are starting to recognize, diversity in thought results in better solutions than what can be achieved by people with identical needs, wants and fears.

- Written by Lise Laurin