Flying Monkeys, Climate Deniers, and Unicorns


I’m at a writer’s conference mingling during a social hour before the keynote speaker takes the stage. I’m standing with a glass of wine in one hand and trying to straighten my name tag with the other. A man with no name-tag walks up to me and asks me what kind of things I write about. That’s usually a precarious question. I answer cautiously.

“I write stories about unlikely climate change heroes. Ordinary people who take extraordinary action.” I say, girding myself for any number of inane responses.

“Oh, don’t you just hate those climate deniers?” The man with no name-tag says with a little jab in his voice. I’m sure he expects me to nod my head in vigorous agreement, letting him off the hook and opening a door to a more benign conversation. But that’s not what I do.

I take a deep breath, a sip of wine, and count slowly to ten. I do that to prevent myself from picking up the closest weighty object and heaving it.

When I’m good and calm, I say in my sweetest, most gentle of voices, “Hate climate deniers? No. I don’t hate them. In fact, I’m more rattled by folks concerned about climate change who point accusing fingers at climate deniers, yet take no action themselves.”

At about this point, I bet he’s wishing down to the soles of his shoes that he had sidled up next to someone who wrote about flying monkeys or unicorns. Someone who didn’t expect anything of him. But he doesn’t walk away. So I continue with my evangelizing.

“Sorry, if I barked at you.” I say, really meaning it. “I’m trying to be more patient. It’s just that I get frustrated with people who blame climate deniers for the mess we’re in, while they are all talk, no action.” As I look this man in the eye, my voice softens. “I’m guessing you’re worried about climate change, maybe you feel scared or powerless. You haven’t found a way to do anything that will make a difference, and it’s just easier to point a finger at someone else or change the subject.”

I can feel my jaw relax and my breathing deepen. My anger is dissipating. I’ve been in his shoes. Sometimes I’m still in his shoes.

“You’re right.” He says. “I want to do something, but I don’t know what or how. It all feels so big and overwhelming. So I do what’s easy—blame someone else.”

“Thank you for being so–well, vulnerable. This thing isn’t easy. But there are lots of things you can do. You can start by talking to your friends and family about what scares or overwhelms you, what you understand and don’t understand about what’s happening. It’s important that we get the conversation out of the closet. You can talk about how it has already had an impact on your life. You can get other people to start talking about climate change.”

A bell chimes and we are ushered into the next room for the keynote speaker. My new friend lets out a long sigh. Saved by the bell.

As I settle into my chair, I think about the ways in which I am a climate denier. Some measure of denial is what allows me to keep going. I’m afraid that if I really admit the magnitude and complexity of what is happening, I might explode. That’s why I look for ways to take action; to do the piece that is mine to do–the piece that is just the right size. Finding my piece diminishes my finger-pointing and serves as an antidote to my despair and denial!

As the room gets quiet, I turn to my new friend and say, “I hope you find that thing that is your piece to do, that is just the right size–something that empowers you and gives you hope and strength to move forward.”

6 comments on “Flying Monkeys, Climate Deniers, and Unicorns

  1. Excellent piece! I love how you think this issue through. What you say mirrors my reaction to climate change. I too am always looking to find the ways I can contribute. Among other things, I’m going to take my cue from you and start talking about it more with others. Thanks so much!

  2. I love that you express your frustration about others pointing the finger without doing anything about it themselves. Sometimes, I get frustrated because all of my friends thank me for taking up the issue but not ONE of them has joined me in the process to help out. It makes you feel sad in that way, but empowering in other ways because I give myself the hope I do not find in others.

  3. I love this blog. Davia uses her voice to build bridges and make connections – and to show us how it can be done. Engaging with one another’s ideas takes more than 144 characters or shooting off snappy sound bites. It takes patience and true willingness to listen. People don’t change their minds because we best them in written or verbal communications; they change them from their own experiences. And the experience of feeling heard and respected can go a long way towards softening animosity and cracking open the door to broader mutual acceptance. I know this, but fail to practice it often enough. Thanks, Davia, for inspiring me to do better.

  4. Such a touching story with a great learning piece. Thanks Davia for using your life experience to teach and inspire us all!

  5. It’s a constant struggle — how to share information without losing patience, blaming, acting condescending and how to invite others to participate in a way that makes them want to take part. Thanks for telling this story.

  6. I love these columns; I purposefully put off reading them until I can give them the attention they deserve as they are invariably thought provoking and beyond the sound-bite life I so often lead. I could be you in today’s column.

    As a follow on to your thoughts about the confrontation that was generated by your response, I am wondering if you considered asking a question of your “climate denier critic” For example, right away you might have asked if he is in action to address Climate Change. Or you might ask him about how Climate Change has already affected him?

    As I write this I realize that I am now a bit closer to being able to create relationship with anyone with any point of view and lead them towards CFD.

    Thanks Davia.

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