Bridging the Generational Gap: How to Talk to Your Grandparents About Climate Change

Art by Jasmin Small

Okay, maybe it’s not your grandparents. But Grandma sharing climate misinformation plastered over a deep-fried minion meme or pixelated sunset picture on Facebook has a certain je-ne-sais-quoi, don’t you think? 

In our ever-evolving world, climate change stands out as one of the most pressing challenges of our time. Engaging in dialogue about it can be daunting and potentially very stressful for many of us – especially with our families. 

Science hesitancy exists in all demographics, but its zeitgeist is often considered older individuals. Griffith University’s Climate Action Survey from 2022 supports this, showing that individuals of higher age and lower education are more likely to deny climate change. We can’t control the environment we mature in or the quality of education available to us; these are not value statements about someone’s character or intelligence. 

And these aren’t the only factors that contribute to this over-representation. Further aspects include media bias, personal values, religious beliefs, and political affiliations. Understanding every nuance of climate scepticism is impossible, but recognising potentially contributing elements can help us better engage with others. 

The Acceleration of Change 

Bias is everywhere. Many of us who grew up in the digital age expect media bias and seek multiple perspectives on a topic to form our opinions. However, the same magnitude of information was not readily available before the internet and the information age. 

Ray Kurzweil wrote in 2001 about the accelerating rate of change: “An analysis of the history of technology shows that technological change is exponential, contrary to the common-sense ‘intuitive linear’ view. So, we won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century — it will be more like  20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate).” 

Keeping up with increasingly rapid changes around us is difficult, if not impossible. Now, imagine that you’ve seen the first man on the moon and the invention of the computer, internet, car, phone, cell phone, and smartphone all within your lifetime. It’s hard to identify legitimacy when the world whizzes past so quickly. 

Granddad might be adapting well to having a smartphone, but that doesn’t automatically give him the skills to sift the wheat from the chaff in the internet age. And that’s okay. He probably showed you how to use a spoon; perhaps it’s time to return the favour of patience. 

Differences in experiences between generations can cause canyons between our worlds. Here are three facets where generational gaps may contribute to perspective differences. 

  1. Information sources

Research by market research company Flamingo for Reuters indicates that news habits vary significantly between generations, with older generations demonstrating far more loyalty to specific media corporations than younger generations.

Older generations typically stick to specific platforms of traditional news sources, such as newspapers and television. Before the rise of the internet, these sources were often trusted as primary channels for information dissemination. 

As with all forms of information delivery, traditional news sources may be heavily politically or ideologically biased. A news source’s editorial stance or political leaning can significantly influence the information presented to the audience. Fidelity to a narrow range of news sources may impact the audience’s own worldview. 

By contrast, the reduced loyalty of younger generations to traditional media allows access to a diverse range of perspectives. This does not safeguard younger individuals from misinformation, but varied exposure enables us to deconstruct our biases and construct our worldviews based on sound information. Media literacy and analytical skills are more important than ever when digesting information in the world of politically and ideologically driven interpretation, misinformation and disinformation. 

  1. Political or religious identity

Climate change has, unfortunately, become a polarising topic in many political and religious circles. Discussions around climate change often transcend scientific discourse and enter the domain of deeply rooted group affiliations. While political and religious identities are not generation-specific, differences in these values exist between family generations. 

Our affiliations with political or religious ideologies profoundly influence how we perceive the world around us. When our identity or group affiliation becomes intertwined with an ideology, it significantly increases the likelihood that we, too, may adopt the same ideology. 

Climate change discussions are just one example of how complex interactions between personal beliefs, values, and larger group identities can be. Age aside, it is difficult for people to question deeply held opinions, especially if doing so may risk social ostracism. 

  1. Emotional disconnection

The magnitude of climate change can be emotionally overwhelming. Many people have expressed sentiments like: “Well, I won’t be around for that, so I don’t need to worry about it.”

The enormity and complexity of climate change can cause us to disconnect from our emotions. A form of psychological self-preservation, it’s a brilliant coping strategy by our brains. 

This detachment, while momentarily shielding us from the emotional weight of crisis, comes at a cost. It closes our eyes to the tangible effects of climate change that we are already experiencing. To protect us from discomfort, our minds hinder the sense of urgency needed for collective action. Recognising and addressing our psychological defence mechanisms is an individual’s responsibility, and we cannot force anyone else to do so. However, we can increase our awareness of such factors and approach conversations with empathy and care toward others’ psychological well being. 

Engaging Empathetically 

Open dialogue between diverse perspectives is crucial to bridging gaps to address the challenges of climate change. By engaging empathetically, we can create an environment where others are more likely to feel safe to be open and honest. Here are three points to encourage a comfortable space for discussions. 

  1. Start with shared values

At the core, who really wants koalas to go extinct, the Maldives to become uninhabitable, and the global economy to be destroyed? Most of us want a better, more secure future for coming generations, but we disagree on how to make that happen. 

It’s not just about coal power vs solar power; it’s about livelihoods, homelands, ways of life and extinction events. Suppose we focus on the similarities of what we care about rather than what we disagree on. In that case, we can move on to discussing how to best protect what we all care about: a future to look forward to for ourselves and the coming generations. 

  1. Listen actively

People will have their nuanced concerns, but there are plenty of familiar talking points among climate change critics. Stephen R. Covey’s Habit 5 of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People summed up an effective way of establishing rapport well: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” 

Listening actively indicates to others that their concerns are worthy of answers, whether they reject them or not. If you set the example of active listening, you might find a more receptive ear when it comes to your turn to speak. 

  1. Respect their experiences

It’s easy to assume that education is the key to changing peoples’ minds about climate science, but this isn’t necessarily true. 

Understanding climate science is important for engaging in conversations about it, sure. But if someone is sceptical, reiterating something they don’t trust will only make them dig their heels into their pre-established ideas. 

Grandparents have a wealth of life experience. Whether or not we share worldviews, they have forged their opinions through many years of experience. Rather than trying to educate them out of their views, seek to understand and respect their experiences. That way, we can pave the way for meaningful conversations that transcend our generational differences. 


It is neither realistic nor ethical for us to try to mould the opinions of others to match our own. What we can do, however, is create a place for them to express their concerns without judgement or frustration and encourage them to think critically for themselves. Empathy and understanding are vital in bridging the gaps between us and our loved ones, be it generational, ideological, or something else entirely. 

Climate change is a complex, global issue, and every generation’s involvement is essential. By starting these dialogues, we can hopefully share understandings and foster connections to build a better future together.

We may not undo the damage we have already done to the climate in our lifetimes, but our input is essential. As Doctor Minnie Joycelyn Elders, former United States Surgeon General, beautifully put it: “Society grows great when old men plant trees under whose shade they know they’ll never sit.” 

We acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which Woroni, Woroni Radio and Woroni TV are created, edited, published, printed and distributed. We pay our respects to Elders past and present. We acknowledge that the name Woroni was taken from the Wadi Wadi Nation without permission, and we are striving to do better for future reconciliation.