The holidays offer an opportunity to raise the climate crisis with friends and family at the dinner table. This can turn awkward if someone there is still in denial but most likely climate change will come up anyway: What starts out as small talk about the weather may soon be about the impact of record-breaking, mega-storms, catastrophic wildfires, drought, and clear sky flooding in various parts of the nation.

So let me share some thoughts for guiding controversial dinner table conversations on climate:


First of all, no one has ever changed their mind due to a single conversation. Therefore you primarily want to keep the peace and to strengthen your relationship with each other, and that starts with respect and active listening.

What you’ll be hearing will allow you to understand people’s deeper values, and that opens the opportunity to establish common ground in shared values and concerns – after all, don’t we all want to preserve a livable world and wish the best for our family?

There are valid concerns where people’s livelihoods are threatened, either in the boom-and-bust fossil fuel sectors or where tourist destinations lose their appeal and economic viability due to heat waves, toxic algae blooms, or terrible air pollution from unprecedented wildfires.

So before the conversation turns gloomy or confrontational be sure to bring up the many win-win solutions now at our disposal.


Solar power has become extremely cheap, and together with storage they can protect a home from rolling blackouts while reducing the dependence on fossil fuel. In Georgia and Florida, clean energy advocates joined with Conservatives in the “Green Tea Coalition” to fight against utilities for their right to install solar, and here in Colorado a new coalition between Clean Energy Action and the Libertarian Independence Institute is forming to push for microgrids. Once people understand they have shared interests they will put their ideological differences aside.


Apartment dwellers now have options to buy into community solar or tell their utilities to source their power from renewable sources. Wind power is scaling up, and new transmission lines connect it to population centers while farmers and ranchers make substantial new income from leasing space for wind towers without losing much land.


And most importantly, unsubsidized wind and solar now beat coal and natural gas on price by a lot. (Nuclear is great for carbon reduction but its cost is beyond good and evil, and those supposedly cheaper and safer modular nukes you may have heard about remain mere promises which may or may not come to fruition decades from now.)


The discussion around transportation and electric vehicles can be a little dicey because fossil lobbyists spread a lot of disinformation, and frankly because many people remain madly in love with their oversized gas guzzlers. That said, one ride in an affordable Tesla Model 3 or Nissan Leaf with their superior acceleration, quiet ride, top safety ratings, massively lower cost of ownership is often all it takes to make a convert.


Taking personal responsibility for improving local air quality and reducing emissions – both for carbon and toxic exhaust – has to start somewhere, and given that many of us only buy a car once a decade you better make that decision count.
A much less sexy but most effective climate solution is to reduce the footprint of our homes with better insulation all around. It pays for itself, and some credit unions offer lower cost “RENU” loans for efficiency upgrades or solar.


The overall solution points to one thing: We need to electrify everything, from transportation to heating to appliances. The reason is because anything running on electricity can be powered by clean renewable energy. Secondly it greatly reduces our primary energy needs because whereas fossil fuels turn the vast majority of primary energy into waste heat, electric systems convert almost all of the energy into productive work – more power to us!  (Here is a Short List Of Climate Actions That Will Work for further reading.)


Finally if there’s one thing to lift up it is this:

We’re in a crucial transition now.  ‘Business as usual’ is simply not an option and denying this won’t serve us. We need to adopt a forward looking attitude, identify ways to make a difference, and commit to an active role.

Happy Holidays – and try to keep that conversation positive!

Martin Voelker, former 350Colorado board members, chair of the Jeffco chapter of the Colorado Renewable Energy Society, Jeffco chapter