A reflection from Laura Yates about a climate change conversation during her senior spring break.
We were less than a week away from graduating from college, and celebrating the past four years together, when the conversation moved to the topic of climate change. One of my closest friends said he thought scientists were just trying to scare everyone into changing their behavior. I snapped, and yelled at him for not believing in science. I refused to listen to anything he had to say. I ended the conversation abruptly by saying, ‘I don’t want to talk about this with you at all.’
Everyone froze, and got really quiet.
The rest of the trip was really uncomfortable. In that moment, I shut down my ability to relate to my friends, and completely lost the opportunity to have a valuable conversation about climate change.
With some coaching, I understood what I lost through my way of being [certain] in that conversation. I also realized I had the power to change the way both my friend and I remember the conversation. I could open it back up with a different way of being. So I wrote him this letter:
I wanted to talk to you and apologize for the way I acted on vacation. When you said you didn’t believe in man-made climate change, I yelled at you and ended the conversation abruptly. By reacting this way, I wasn’t being open-minded or a true friend – I was acting in an aggressive, dismissive manner that isn’t characteristic of the type of friend or person I want to be.
I want to acknowledge now – because I didn’t when we first had this conversation – that there is uncertainty in climate science. Uncertainty is inherent in all science. The uncertainty scares me because it threatens the choices I’ve made in my life so far. Instead of being authentic and acknowledging the uncertainty, I purposefully diminished the value of what you were saying, asserting that I was right and you were wrong.
The way I reacted hurt our relationship and made everyone around us feel uncomfortable and distanced at a time when we should have been relaxing and enjoying our last few days together.
If I’d been speaking from a place of friendship and love, what I should have said is this: There is some uncertainty about climate change science, and I hope that the predictions about man-made climate change aren’t as bad as people say. However, I do think it’s important for us as humans to understand the impact we have and take countermeasures in case we are causing these changes in the natural environment, which is why I’ve chosen to work and study in this field.
I hope you feel comfortable telling me and holding me accountable if I flip out like that again – whether it’s at you or any of our friends. I know it seems strange for me to bring this up almost a month after it happened, but that exchange was one of the last ones we had before graduation, and I didn’t want it to be a lasting memory. I want to let you know I really value our friendship and I sincerely apologize for acting in a way that didn’t show you how much your friendship means to me.
Today, Laura shares a productive dialogue about climate change with her friend Nick and has learned that she can engage others whom nobody thought would be possible to reach.