The Sierra Club Holiday Dinner Conversation Guide

Many families and friends try not to discuss politics at the holiday dinner table. But sometimes hot button issues come up anyway. 

The Sierra Club’s Holiday Discussion Guide is here to help. Below are some topics that may come up during your holiday get-togethers. This list isn’t exhaustive, but we hope it’s at least a good start. Above all, we encourage you to stay patient, listen, and to continue to educate yourself (and your family and friends) on these important issues.

Several good “holiday discussion” guides have come out in recent years, so we encourage you to check them out as well. Here’s one from ThriveGlobal, another from the American Psychological Association, and a great illustrated tip list from political commentator Sally Kohn’s Instagram feed (Tip 1, Tip 2, Tip 3, Tip 4, Tip 5, Tip 6, Tip 7, Tip 8, and Tip 9).


These are important conversations to have with friends and family. As we’ve stated before (and will continue to state): “We believe that all people deserve a healthy planet with clean air and water, a stable climate, and safe communities. That means all people deserve equal protection under the law. We all have the right to a life free of discrimination, hatred, and violence.”

No one should have to tolerate racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, or transphobia. We encourage you to seek out resources from The Task Force and Showing Up For Racial Justice to help with these important topics if they come up during your holiday discussions.


While it’s true that Donald Trump denies the science of climate disruption, he’s the only world leader who does. Given the overwhelming consensus of scientists (more than 97% agree) and the impacts already being felt around the world, even conservative organizations like the US Chamber of Commerce are doing an about-face and acknowledging that the climate is rapidly changing because of human activity. According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, if greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate, atmospheric warming will reach 2.7°F around 2040—just 20 years from now. 

Under that scenario, many marine and coastal ecosystems will have crashed beyond the point of recovery. And the famines, floods, heat waves, polar vortexes, wildfires, hurricanes, and tropical cyclones that have dominated the news recently will increase in number and ferocity.

To stop that from happening, we need to reduce emissions very quickly by transitioning from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy sources. That’s a tall order, but it’s also an opportunity to create millions of good-paying jobs (see The Green New Deal).

Sitting across the table from a climate denier? Check out this FAQ from The Climate Reality Project.


The Green New Deal burst into the mainstream last November after youth climate activists occupied Representative Nancy Pelosi’s office. It quickly became a lightning rod for conspiracy theories and misinformation. So make sure your friends and family know the truth: The Green New Deal is a big, bold, hella exciting plan to tackle both the climate crisis and economic and racial inequality. It would create millions of good-paying jobs in renewable energy, green transportation and infrastructure, and revitalization of our wetlands and forests. It would clean up hazardous sites disproportionately sited in low-income communities and communities of color, and prioritize infrastructure and climate-resilient projects that benefit those communities. Unlike the original New Deal, the Green New Deal won’t leave anyone behind. The climate crisis and inequality are inextricably linked, and we won’t be able to solve one without addressing the other. 

As we said, the Green New Deal is big—so take the time to learn how it would create jobs, rebuild our infrastructure, and restore climate sanity.


Coal is not coming back, no matter how many times Trump tries to prop the industry up. Local grassroots community action has helped retire more than half of the remaining coal plants in the United States.

Meanwhile, clean energy use is growing rapidly, since in almost 75% of the country, it costs more to operate existing coal plants than to build new wind and solar facilities. Cities and companies are turning away from this dirty, expensive fuel—and turning towards 100% clean energy! The decline of coal has resulted in healthier communities, fewer cases of deadly asthma, and less mercury poisoning in our food. Even if we could stop coal's decline, why would we want to go backward on public health?


The fossil fuel industry’s insatiable drive for bigger profits is threatening our communities, coasts, waters, and public lands. Although President Trump and his cabinet appointees may love the idea of more drilling, more pipelines, and fewer, weaker protections for clean air and water, we the people have made our voices heard loud and clear. We want clean energy, not more fossil fuel drilling, fracking, and pipeline construction that virtually guarantees more spills, more poisoned waterways, more air pollution, and accelerating climate change. What our country needs is to reduce our dependence on dirty fuels and lead the transition to 100% clean, renewable energy. 


If you hear anyone talking about the EPA’s overreaches, remind them that EPA head Andrew Wheeler is a former coal lobbyist. For as long as he’s been at the EPA, he’s done the coal industry’s bidding by rolling back as many clean air, clean water, and climate protections as he can. So far he’s rolled back—or is trying to roll back—safeguards that protect us from lead, mercury, air pollution from cars and coal plants, and water pollution from coal plants. Wheeler doesn’t seem to realize that the EPA is charged with protecting our air and water and setting standards that defend public health—or that we’re already paying for fossil fuels with our health. We need the EPA to prioritize people, not the fossil fuel industry’s profits.


For many families and friends, a holiday visit will include some type of outdoor activity—maybe even visiting a national park. For anyone who may not know, it's worth noting that the current administration is engaged in the largest attack on parks and public lands in our country's history. President Trump and Interior Secretary Bernhardt continue to undermine protections for national monuments by downsizing them—sometimes drastically—and by opening up millions of acres of lands to oil and gas drilling. It’s the opposite of what the science tells us we need to do: Keep natural places wild, so they can be part of the solution to climate change instead of part of the problem. It’s more important than ever that we stand strong for the preservation of public lands and for everyone's ability to enjoy them. 


It may be hard for some members of your family to not bring up Trump’s frantic rush to build a wall along the US-Mexico border. But why should you, as an environmentalist, jump into the fray?

Because the pro-militarization, anti-immigrant agenda is one that inflicts irreversible harm on communities, lands, water, and wildlife. Construction in the borderlands prevents the protection of land and water that sustains communities and wildlife. Border wall construction also means waiving bedrock environmental and health laws—safeguards that protect people and the planet. These waivers include but aren’t limited to the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, which protects Indigenous cultural sites. Border walls block the natural flow of water and can cause catastrophic floods of the kind we’ve already seen kill people and protected wildlife. 


The impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump’s questionable dealings with foreign officials and domestic coconspirators likely to come up at this year’s dinner table! There is overwhelming evidence that the president has abused his power for political and personal gain instead of acting in the best interests of the US or upholding his oath to the Constitution. 

If our democratic norms and the rule of law mean nothing to our elected leaders, then the legal and democratic tools we use to protect clean air and water, public lands, and a safe climate could become meaningless. The president is threatening the legal infrastructure that protects our lands and communities, including the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species acts. These all could be rendered meaningless if Trump continues to be allowed to ignore the law. Trump must be held accountable for his corrupt acts, or the consequences for our country and our democracy will be dire. 


Catastrophic storms, heatwaves, flooding, drought, desertification, wildfires, sea level rise, and other climate-change-induced extreme weather events are increasingly forcing people to leave their home region due to sudden or long-term changes to their local environment that threaten their health, their well-being, and their ability to secure a livelihood. Climate refugees—also referred to as environmental migrants—may choose to flee to another country, or they may migrate internally.

The communities most affected by climate disruption are often those that contribute the least to the problem—in other words, poorer people who consume relatively little and have a small carbon footprint disproportionately bear the brunt of climate disruption and are more likely to become climate refugees. There are more people displaced today than any other time since World War II—one person every second. Because the number of extreme weather events is increasing exponentially, this number is likely to increase commensurately. Studies show that by 2050, as many as 250 million people could be displaced by climate change worldwide.


When your cousin says they’re “just not really into politics,” spare them the lecture on why the personal is political. You can honor their feelings by steering them toward individual actions they can take to go green and make a difference. Sierra magazine’s lifestyle section features tips, advice on sustainable food & drink, and green crafts. They also have a great column, Ask Mr. Green—soon to be Ask Ms. Green—where people can submit tough questions about green living. And if they like to cycle, run, dance, or hike, they can put their passions to use in fundraising. Check out Team Sierra to see some awesome ways they can raise money for the Sierra Club!


So, you’ve convinced your family that coal isn’t coming back, we need a Green New Deal, and all forms of oppression are interconnected. Good job, you won Thanksgiving! But now that they know about all the problems in the world, what are they supposed to do about them?

It’s pretty easy to start by taking online actions—or they can recruit people to come to events and take collective action by joining our texting team. Once they’re out of their food coma, they could try attending some local environmental group meetings. They’ll meet other like-minded people who will inspire them to keep working for positive change (and with whom they can commiserate)!