How to Talk to Climate Skeptics – and Understanding Who They Are

It feels really good to have people agree with you. In fact, it feels so good that we tend to only surround ourselves with people who have the same viewpoints as us. But when we come across someone who doesn’t agree with us, our natural instinct is to become immediately defensive and double down on our own opinions. It’s challenging to have conversations outside of our comfortable social bubbles, but to fight climate change, we need support from more than just the people who look like us and talk like us. In this article, we hope to provide you with a better understanding of why people think the way they do and equip you with some tools to engage in a constructive climate conversation. 

We all agree with each other more than we think.

Most people generally do believe in climate change – that fact probably isn’t very surprising. The data actually tell us that only about 16% of Americans don’t believe in climate change. Right now you might be thinking you’ve got a pretty good idea of who to blame for that 16% (other than Obama; thanks Obama). But as it turns out, we’re pretty bad at trying to predict who the climate believers and skeptics are. Us believers might assume that skeptics aren’t as highly educated or informed, but that’s not the case: general attitudes about global warming are unrelated to scientific literacy and education. You might be thinking, “what about… Republicans?” Wrong again! Data from multiple surveys actually show that the majority of Republicans believe in climate change. 

Why are people resistant to climate change policies even if they believe the science?

If majorities of both Republicans and Democrats believe in climate change, then what’s holding us back from coming together on climate issues? The answer, per usual, is each other. Republicans might not be skeptical of climate change, but they are skeptical of Democrats – and Democrats, in turn, are skeptical of Republicans. Psychologists have repeatedly shown that individuals tend to favor party over policy. That is, voters are more likely to support policies that are put forward by their own political party and reactively reject policies that are put forward by the opposing party, with little regard for the policy itself.  Unfortunately, these partisan allegiances seem to extend to climate policies as well, with Republicans opposing climate policies in large part because they are often proposed by Democrats. 

But there’s hope in this big ol’ mess. People cannot and should not be reduced to simply “Republicans” and “Democrats” – we are all so much more than that. And a path forward is right in front of us: if we’re able to distance ourselves from political labels and traps, we can uncover our commonalities and focus on solving this gigantic problem together. Of course, this is easier said than done. But a better understanding of the human mind and motivations for why people oppose climate policy can help us empathize with others, and offers us a much better chance at a constructive conversation.

Cognitive dissonance and the psychology of climate policy resistance

Now for the fun part: Let’s learn about a neat little psychological trick that, if you’re like me, will have you questioning nearly every decision you’ve ever made and shake you to your core: cognitive dissonance theory! 

Let’s unpack this theory with a simple example: Chiara’s a huge BBQ fan. She loves herself a fat slab of ribs with a side of corn dogs. As a scientist, she’s well aware that the meat industry is a huge contributor to climate change, but every week she heads to the butcher anyway. That mental discomfort she feels when a belief she holds (knowing that eating a lot of meat is bad for the planet) contradicts her actions (eating meat anyway) is what we refer to as cognitive dissonance. And people hate being in a state of dissonance. It’s sort of like being super hungry. It’s uncomfortable, we hate it, and the longer it persists the more motivated we are to get rid of it.

So how can Chiara reduce her dissonance? She can either change her actions to align with her beliefs, or she can change her beliefs to align with her actions. The first option means she has to quit eating meat, but she really doesn’t want to do that. The second option requires her to change her underlying beliefs about eating meat. To justify her actions, she can tell herself things like “my meat consumption won’t make a difference in the long run” or “I drive a Prius to work so I don’t need to stop eating meat”. If she’s feeling a particularly large amount of dissonance, Chiara might even seek out information that claims the meat industry isn’t contributing to climate change, or even that climate change itself isn’t real. By altering her beliefs about climate change, Chiara can keep eating meat without experiencing dissonance. And just like that, we’ve taken one of the authors of this article and turned her into a climate change skeptic (don’t worry, she’s not). 

This theory is powerful because it not only explains why Republicans are more likely to oppose climate change policy but also why anyone else whose values or actions are discordant with climate policy proposals might oppose them. For example, consider the case of Frank, a landowner in northern Texas who’s fallen on hard times. He’s approached by an oil and gas company to install a natural gas well on his property in exchange for royalties that will allow him to provide for his family. Though he was previously sympathetic to climate policy, Frank now finds himself in an elevated state of dissonance, where his family’s livelihood is intimately tied to the fossil fuel industry. To reduce his dissonance, Frank will likely start to downplay his beliefs around climate change.

An important takeaway here is that people who are acting to reduce dissonance by justifying their actions or a choice they made aren’t intentionally lying to you. Rather, they’re lying to themselves. This can all come off as very condescending, so it’s important to keep in mind that we are all guilty of this same conduct. For instance, you might really care about a farmer’s ability to support themselves, but then find yourself in a state of dissonance when that farmer’s choice to frack on their land clashes with your stance on environmentalism. To reduce dissonance, you’ll recharacterize the farmer as an ignorant and greedy opportunist. This doesn’t mean that you don’t understand the farmer’s financial motives, it just means you’re making it easier for yourself to sleep at night when you later vote to remove his access to that type of revenue. 

Now that we can understand a bit more about where people are coming from, and recognize what we have in common, what are the key ingredients to a constructive conversation?

Do it face to face. People have better first impressions, less conflict, feel more emotionally connected, and are more vulnerable when having conversations in-person rather than online. 

Paint a picture of a more positive future. Most narratives around climate change solutions paint a painful picture of a difficult future that will require substantial individual sacrifices. But if we do things right, the changes we make to address climate change could lead to a healthier, less expensive, more equitable, and guilt-free future. And while we understand why you want to convince Uncle Joe that climate change is scary and real, focusing on positive solutions is more effective in engaging people. It’s also critical in breaking down the cognitive dissonance that arises when we tell people that if they care about climate change, they’ll have to settle for a lower quality of life. Instead, focus on how policy and economic shifts could give us a better life even in a world undergoing climate change. We highly recommend listening to Ezra Klein’s conversation with Saul Griffith on this topic.

Leave party politics at the door. Like we said above, people tend to interpret information as positive or negative depending on which party presents it, so the less political you can remain the better. Further, using language like carbon “offsets” instead of carbon “taxes” can make people more amenable to your argument.

Use personal anecdotes and story-telling. Using stories, anecdotes, or narratives is an effective way of communicating science with non-experts, and local stories can make people want to engage more. Content presented in this format is also easier to understand.

Demonstrate vulnerability and show that making mistakes is okay. We need to do a much better job of normalizing the idea that it’s okay to make mistakes and change our minds – we’re all human! Most importantly, we must learn to forgive people when they do admit a mistake, and allow them space to change their minds. Attacking others for their views will only cause them to become more entrenched. Be vulnerable yourself; maybe share a story about a time you experienced dissonance and justified a poor choice, but were later were able to admit to yourself that you were wrong.

Show empathy and actively listen. Remember that you need to have a conversation with this person rather than direct your best monologue at them. Take a breath and prepare to actively listen. Remember that you have other things in common with them and that you both have reasons to hold the opinions you do (see all of the above). Going on a tirade that makes the other person feel steamrolled, misunderstood, or patronized will not be productive. People typically stick with the common opinion of their social group, so to reach someone, it’s important to maintain a positive relationship with them. Treat them with respect and kindness and show gratitude when they are willing to engage in a conversation with you. 

Talk about how strong of a consensus there is about climate change among scientists. Simply talking about how almost all climate scientists (97% to be exact) agree that climate change is real, pressing, and human-caused has been shown to increase climate change acceptance across party lines. 

Provide a brief mechanistic explanation of the greenhouse effect. Giving a brief explanation of the greenhouse effect increases climate change acceptance. You can even show them a fun video with Bill Nye. If you want to explain it yourself, here’s our two-liner: We’ve thrown our carbon cycle out of whack by burning fossil fuels, which means that we are now releasing more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Excess CO2 in the atmosphere traps heat from the sun — instead of heat from the sun bouncing off the Earth and back out of our atmosphere, it bounces right back toward us, which causes global temperatures to rise. Check out our Climate Science 101 article for more, or if the person you’re talking to has misconceptions about the science of climate change, check out our article on addressing specific climate change misconceptions

<strong>Shane Schwikert</strong>
Shane Schwikert

Shane is a teacher, researcher, and data enthusiast at the University of Colorado in Boulder, where he wailed his way to a PhD in Psychology, Neuroscience, and Cognitive Science. His hobbies range from dirt biking to backcountry skiing to gold panning, and he is an avid rock collector known for assembling his treasures in strategic piles throughout his apartment.

Chiara Forrester
Chiara Forrester

Chiara is happiest when she’s in the mountains on skis, a bike, or running. She also loves Ariana Grande (117 hours this year, thanks Spotify), making dinner with friends, and laughing too loudly at her own jokes. An ecologist who’s passionate about science communication and increasing diversity in STEM, Chiara is currently a PhD candidate in Boulder, CO, studying alpine plant ecology, undergraduate education, and the use of science in federal land management.

NOTE: THIS IS A LIVING RESOURCE! As with all resources on Outdoor Advocacy Project, there is always room to continue the conversation, add a new perspective, bolster the resources, and share new findings. Got something you want to add, change, challenge or amplify? Let us know in the comments, or e-mail to write your own.

ED-OP: Staying Resilient + Hopeful in a Time of Climate Crisis

It’s a daunting task to find the right words to fit our current moment in ecological history. Never before have the joint fates of humanity and the natural world been at higher risk. Never before has the discussion around climate action and our relationship to nature changed so rapidly in the face of such immediate risk. We grasp for poetry, prose, or politicians who can give us a sense of hope and security moving forward, but, increasingly, it feels that words are a shout into the void of our collective crisis. 

Forgive me — I haven’t gotten off to a very empowering or inspiring start. Allow me to say, rather, that it is the greatest challenge of our generation to contextualize and combat the climate crisis – to put it into words that move masses, to pass effective policy, and to, one day, re-order our socio-economic and political structure in the hopes of healing our broken relationship with the land. We have been entrusted with a responsibility to notice what has been neglected, connect with what has been overlooked, and return to the roots from which we have grown so distant. 

Photo by Julentto Photography on Unsplash

The arc of humanity’s course hasn’t always been bent towards destruction. Indeed, for most of our history, our relationship with the land was a reciprocal one, with an intrinsic appreciation for the beauty and value of nature and a sense of gratitude for what she has given us. How, then, did we stray so far from the path? At what point along our journey did we lose sight of our obligation to protect and preserve the natural world? Many forces can be argued to be at fault: capitalism, western religion, patriarchy, industrialization, and globalization to name a few. These institutions have rooted themselves in the bedrock of our human identity, and, although certain brave activists and intellectuals attempt to chip away at them or abandon them entirely, they have had an irreversible effect on how we identify ourselves and what we owe to the natural world. 

This, therefore, is my thesis. To remind you, and to constantly remind me, how much we owe to the natural world. Indigenous cultures in North America, such as the Ojibwe and the Potawatomi, base their relationship with the environment on reciprocity; nothing is taken without permission, and everything that is taken is a gift that is owed gratitude, stewardship, and respect in return. It’s a simple premise, that we cannot take without asking and we cannot accept a gift without an act of gratitude in return. In native communities, this act of gratitude is often an offering of tobacco, a holy plant. The concept, a plant for a plant, a gift for a gift, is sacred in its simplicity. It is this concept that I cling to as we plunge deeper into our shared ecological fate. 

Humans, for all their faults, have always been quick learners. 

We must relearn this essential act of reciprocity, in whatever form it takes. Whether spiritual or physical, there is something we can offer the natural world in exchange for what it has given us. Gratitude and reciprocity are often forgotten as central tenets of environmentalism, but it is through these practices that we can heal our broken relationship with nature. This takes many forms; from cleaning up the parks and green spaces in which we play to paying a carbon tax, we are slowly relearning the practice of giving back in exchange for what is taken. The oldest and most essential of these practices is the planting of trees – thinking ahead for a future we may not be alive to see. The planting of a tree is an almost selfless act, as it asks an individual to give water, light, and sun to a being that will be standing long after we have fallen. 

When I’m asked to describe how I feel about the climate crisis, many negative words spring to mind. Afraid, disappointed, and anxious, my mind often screams, terrified of our spaceship earth going down. But, more than any of these things, I am grateful. 

Grateful for the opportunity to heal and to mend, and to relearn what we’ve so long ago forgotten. I am grateful for everything nature has given me so far and grateful to devote myself to the work of giving back to her. It is gratitude – deliberate, reciprocal gratitude – that will guide us as we look to save what has been overlooked for so long. 


To keep from losing hope and remaining grateful in times of crisis, I prescribe the following remedies:

  • Community: there are groups in almost every town and county designated to bringing people together in appreciation for the natural world and the fight to protect her. In urban places, I urge you to seek the groups focused on preserving and maintaining local parks and gardens – access to natural spaces in urban communities is an essential aspect of rebuilding our relationship with nature. 
  • Local Advocacy: Often, it can feel like too much to try to carry the greater national and global fights of climate change on your shoulders. If you’re passionate about doing the work of outdoor advocacy but feel too overwhelmed to start, look to local groups working to protect and preserve the green spaces in your own community. It can be uplifting to see the effects of the work you’re doing in your hometown and to connect with other locals about what common ground you share and work to protect. 
  • Literature: so much of what we read about the environment these days is disheartening, exhausting, and depressing. There is an important place for this literature; it agitates us into action. However, to reconnect more peacefully and resiliently with this fight, check out the following books! 
    • Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer – a story of the nexus between indigenous tradition and scientific knowledge, and how we can bring the two narratives together to create a reciprocal relationship with the natural world. 
    • The Overstory by Richard Power – a gripping novel chronicling the lives of several different individuals as they had been impacted by and guided by trees, and how they ultimately came together in the fight against deforestation of America’s old-growth forests. 
    • We Rise: The Earth Guardians’ Guide to Building a Movement that Restores the Planet by Xiuhtezcatl Martinez – Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is a 19-year-old climate activist, hip-hop artist, and powerful new voice on the frontlines of a global youth-led movement. In this book, he and his group the Earth Guardians share stories and resources to guide regenerative, restorative climate action and activism. 
 Priya Subberwal
Priya Subberwal

Priya is a 20-year old climate activist currently studying Environmental Studies at New York University. She grew up hiking and skiing in the Rocky Mountains and is passionate about preserving our public lands for posterity. She can often be found outdoors protesting, photographing, or simply photosynthesizing. 

NOTE: THIS IS AN EDUCATED OPINION PIECE. As with all resources on Outdoor Advocacy Project, there is always room to continue the conversation, add a new perspective, bolster the resources, and share new findings. Got something you want to add, challenge or amplify? Let us know in the comments, or e-mail to write your own ed-op on this topic.

How to Talk to Your Family about Climate Change

We’ve all experienced it. Maybe you’re in an Uber making small talk with your driver, out at a bar talking to new friends, or at the dinner table with your family. The conversation is running smoothly, and then they say that they don’t believe in climate change. As someone who understands the realities of climate change, what do you do next?

First, and most importantly, remember that you need to have a conversation with this person rather than direct your best monologue at them. Take a breath and prepare to actively listen. Remember that you have other things in common with them and that you both have reasons to hold the opinions you do. Going on a tirade that makes the other person feel steamrolled, misunderstood, or patronized will not be productive. Research shows that people typically stick with the common opinion of their social group, so to reach someone, it’s important to maintain a positive relationship with them. Treat them with respect and kindness and show gratitude when they are willing to engage in a conversation with you. 

Now that we’ve gotten that jargon and gibberish out of the way, here are some ways to respond to common misconceptions about climate change with scientific accuracy: 

They say: “Climate change models are possibilities, not realities.”

You say: 

Some models you may know (besides Kylie Jenner) are the Netflix algorithm that helps you find your new binge favorite, the weather app on your phone, and the distance that Google Maps calculates to help you find the ice cream store that’s open the latest. 

Here’s how climate models are created and why we can trust them:

  1. Data on factors like CO2 and temperature can be related to one another mathematically – you’ve done this with equations like the Pythagorean theorem (a2 + b2 = c2) when you relate the sides of a triangle to each other.
  2. These mathematical relationships can be used to build a model that describes complex situations between things like human population growth, land use, economics, and atmospheric conditions. Each factor used in a model has been created and refined by groups of informed scientists; they are very much not wild guesses.
  3. After a new model is created, scientists test it by first using it to “predict” the past. The results of the new model are then compared to previously collected data. If the model results are pretty dang close to the actual historical data, then we can assume that the model will be pretty dang accurate predicting the future.
  4. After checking that we can trust it, the model can then be used to describe *big booming movie voice here* the future
  5. Models, and results from these models, are sent to multiple scientists (who are not related to the project) who then anonymously evaluate whether the model is accurate.

And it works–models from as long as 50 years ago accurately predicted today’s climate!

They say: “There’s no consensus among scientists that climate change is human-caused.”

You say: 

97% of publishing (that is, actively working) climate scientists agree that climate change is being caused by humans. Additionally, scientists with more climate expertise are more likely to agree that climate change is human-caused. Those with low expertise (i.e. non-scientists or scientists who don’t typically publish on climate research) are less likely to agree. Also, just saying, 97% of people who are all trained to constantly say “it depends” agreeing is pretty damn high.

They say: “The climate is cooling.”

You say: 

This comes down to the distinction between climate and weather. The simplest way to describe this difference is that the climate is like your closet and the weather is your clothes that make up that closet. Weather refers to short term events, like cold snaps, hurricanes, and monsoons. Weather events vary by location, and different areas have features that alter how the weather is experienced there. For example, morning fogs in the Bay Area of California would never occur in the plains of Wyoming because of the unique topographic/ecological features that cause the fog to be generated and trapped. 

Climate, on the other hand, refers to overall trends and patterns. Therefore, climate change describes increases in global temperature. So, while your city may have a cold snap or not be experiencing as dramatic of temperature increases, the global average temperature is increasing. The ocean is also soaking up a lot of the heat that’s being trapped by greenhouse gases, which means that air temperatures aren’t reacting as quickly as we might expect – but this is still a huge issue as warmer oceans will lead to ocean acidification and sea-level rise.

They say: “Animals and plants can adapt so why does it matter?”

You say:

Resilience is rad, and there are definitely animals and plants that can adapt. A lot can’t though. There are a few reasons for this:

  1. Adaptation takes a lot of time. Adaptation requires many generations, because it is driven by the survival (and reproduction, wink wink – pass down those traits honey) of individuals that live through harsh conditions. Climate change is happening very quickly, and changes are more dramatic than populations have experienced before. If individuals of a given species have a long life span, that species is going to take a very long time to adapt to global change because makin’ those babies take a hot minute. 
  2. Climate change has both speed and scale on its side. If harsh conditions are only occurring on a local scale, then populations can migrate to buffer the effects on total species survival. For example, trees might move to cooler places (higher latitudes and elevations) to escape warming, but this takes decades and they are in a race against climate change. While there are areas that will experience less climate change that will hopefully provide safe spots for species, the pace and scale of climate change would require species to adapt at a rate that is not possible for most species.
  3. Warmer temperatures aren’t the only thing stressing out plants and animals. Species are up against a whole host of tough new conditions. These include rising temperatures, habitat loss, and habitat fragmentation, invasive species, overexploitation, and pollution. These threats play off of one another and make it extremely difficult for species to move or adapt. If you only have one problem, it’s easier to find a solution than if you’re inundated with multiple problems that all exacerbate each other. 

They say: “We don’t know that climate change is human caused.”

You say:

This is getting to a key scientific concept that is completely fair to bring up: causation versus correlation. For example, you can often find a relationship (correlation) between unrelated factors, like rock music quality and US oil production – we can all agree that these two factors are not related, but they show extremely similar trends over time. We don’t have another planet where we’re not adding CO2 at unprecedented rates to see if it affects the climate, so how do we know for sure that COis what’s causing temperatures to rise?

The amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is tightly related to increasing temperatures and has been for a very long time. We also understand on a fundamental level how the two are intertwined physically and chemically. There is no question that we are pumping more CO2 into the atmosphere, and there is no question that this will cause the Earth to warm. 

Lastly, other factors, like energy from the sun, have been ruled out as driving factors of temperature increases here on Earth. The energy coming from the sun has remained constant since 1750, and warming is happening only in the lower parts of the atmosphere and at the Earth’s surface – both pointing to the fact that changes in solar radiation cannot explain rising temperatures. 

They say: “The climate has changed before.”

You say:

Totally! The difference is that the climate is now changing much more, and much more quickly. The fluctuations that have occurred over the past 1,000 years were much slower and far less dramatic than the fluctuations we see now. We are now seeing the highest temperatures and atmospheric concentrations of CO2 that we have ever seen. So, while the climate has changed before, it is truly incomparable in scale and magnitude to the changes we are now seeing.

Rapid climate change is already happening in multiple ways

  1. Global temperature rises – almost 2 degrees F since the late 19th century, with most warming occurring in only the past 35 years, and the warmest 5 years on record happening since 2010.
  2. Warming oceans – oceans are trapping the heat that’s bounced back by greenhouse gases, which has resulted in a 0.4 degrees F increase since 1969. This has caused the global sea level to rise 8 inches in the last century. The rate of sea-level rise has nearly doubled over the last two decades, with that rate becoming faster each year.
  3. Ocean acidification – CO2 emitted by humans is being absorbed by the upper layers of oceans which causes acidification, in turn negatively impacting ocean life.
  4. Shrinking ice sheets – the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have decreased significantly in mass, with the rates of Antarctic ice mass loss tripling in the last decade alone.
  5. Decreased snow cover – the amount of snow in the Northern Hemisphere is decreasing, and it’s melting earlier in many locations.
  6. Extreme events – there have been a rising number of extremely hot days and of intense rainfall events.

They say: “The climate is changing, but it won’t be as bad as scientists say it will be.”

I say:

Scientists don’t like to be wrong. Because it’s a scientist’s actual worst nightmare to publish something that is later found to be incorrect, we are very conservative in what we state to be true. For example, reports published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have been found to actually underestimate how bad the effects of climate change will be. Further, there is a high degree of agreement among climate change models created and tested by multiple independent researchers, leading to a high degree of certainty among the scientific community.

Now that you’ve got science to back up your next challenging climate conversation, let’s revisit those basics. Remember this:

You need to have a conversation with this person rather than direct your best monologue at them. Take a breath and prepare to actively listen. Remember that you have other things in common with them and that you both have reasons to hold the opinions you do. Treat them with respect and kindness and show gratitude when they are willing to engage in a climate conversation with you. 

Chiara Forrester
Chiara Forrester

Chiara is happiest when she’s in the mountains on skis, a bike, or running. She also loves Ariana Grande (117 hours this year, thanks Spotify), making dinner with friends, and laughing too loudly at her own jokes. An ecologist who’s passionate about science communication and increasing diversity in STEM, Chiara is currently a PhD candidate in Boulder, CO, studying alpine plant ecology, undergraduate education, and the use of science in federal land management.

NOTE: THIS IS A LIVING RESOURCE! As with all resources on Outdoor Advocacy Project, there is always room to continue the conversation, add a new perspective, bolster the resources, and share new findings. Got something you want to add, change, challenge or amplify? Let us know in the comments, or e-mail to write your own.

Say Hello to the Outdoor Advocacy Project

Hola advocates,

The outdoor community has a deep responsibility to take care of and give back to the land–and each other. This is the truest thing I know. So, I dreamed up the Outdoor Advocacy Project.

It’s more of a commitment, really–to stewardship, sustainability, political action, community, public and tribal lands.

The outdoors are at a crux moment. There are more visitors to public lands now than ever, and with each new pair of boots on the trails comes a greater impact on the outdoors. So how do we turn each new outdoor enthusiast into an advocate?

The resources needed to empower the outdoor community on these topics are largely already in existence–built by non-profits, policy wonks, scientists, conservation organizations, and community leaders. For many, it is our life’s work.

But there is also an undeniable gap between these crucial resources and the hands of the outdoorists who need them most. Outdoor Advocacy Project seeks to shrink that gap, collecting all the tools scattered around our industry and digesting them into accessible resources that prioritize scientific data, inclusive perspectives, and actionable learning.

This will be our life’s work, and it will never end. But perhaps in an endless pursuit of inspiring a movement to do good, we’ll leave it better than we found it.

I hope you’ll:
– Poke around the website, and let us know what resources you want to see brought to life next!
– Connect with Outdoor Advocacy Project on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook
– Spread the love and share the launch!

I believe the outdoor community has a deep responsibility to take care of and give back to the land–and each other. I believe we have the power to do good, and to demand better, together. Let’s do this, y’all.

Gracias familia,

Katie Boué
Founder, Outdoor Advocacy Project

Guide to Allyship: Compiled by Pattie Gonia

We all want to do good within our community, but what does it mean to show up as an ally? Our friend and advocate, Pattie Gonia, compiled, designed, and illustrated this helpful guide to help you understand what allyship is and how we can show up for each other. Big thank you to Pattie for sharing this resource with us.

View the original guide here.


ED-OP: Let’s Talk about Geotagging

Note: This piece originally appeared here on on 5/6/19. Since writing this educational opinion piece, writer Katie Boué has expanded her writing on geotagging to an informative piece you can read here on the REI Co-op Journal.

Photo by Oscar Sutton on Unsplash

First, I invite you to check your current opinions (read: ego) on geotagging. Just shelve ‘em for a moment, hit the pause button, give yourself 10 minutes of reading and considering before you interject with a “well, actually…” Here’s the thing about this post: you aren’t going to leave with a solid answer of to geotag or not to geotag.

So what is geotagging? According to our friends at Wikipedia,

Geotagging or GeoTagging, is the process of adding geographical identification metadata to various media such as a geotagged photograph or video, websites, SMS messages, QR Codes[1] or RSS feeds and is a form of geospatial metadata. This data usually consists of latitude and longitude coordinates, though they can also include altitude, bearing, distance, accuracy data, and place names, and perhaps a time stamp.

For our purposes, we’re mainly talking about the geotag feature on Instagram (and social media at large). According to SproutSocial, “an Instagram [geotag]  is the specific location, down to the latitude and longitude, of where you’ve stored your Instagram content. Geolocations are gathered from the physical location of your mobile device, which allows users to store or tag their content to those coordinates.” Geotags are a way to gain visibility amongst like-minded communities, a way to give mountains back their Indigenous names, a little digital log of the places you’ve been from restaurants and cities to trailheads and summits.

The idea of imbalance between public lands and visitors isn’t new–rewind to the 1940s and you’ll see reference to the same idea of “rapid growth in the number of Americans hitting the trail” (source). If you’re reading this, you’re probably an outdoorist, so you get it. The great outdoors is, well, great, so it’s no surprise that more and more people want to get out there.

Here’s the thing, more than 500 million people visit public lands annually (source), with over 330 million visits to national park sites in 2017 (source)–and blaming Instagram and geotagging for an influx of people at trailheads isn’t going to solve the accompanying issues of overuse. To blame a geotag is to eschew the deeper, critical issues our lands are facing right now. To say “Instagram is ruining the outdoors” is to water down our current environmental crisis with cheap sentiments of bitterness and old guard. Is social media playing a role in the current issues we’re facing? Absolutely. But it’s just one teat on an udder full of problems that need solutions (like the crisis happening at climbing crags across the country).

Further, I wondered: do we have any data or research that indicates geotagging and social media as the root of all outdoor evil? The short answer is: no. There is a distinct lack of science behind all of this, though I did find a few studies that surprised me.

Here are the results from a hiker survey conducted by the Adirondack Council, asking folks on the trail “why did you decide to hike today?” Note the least popular response:


The debate around geotagging has reached every corner of the internet from National Geographic to the New York Times. The Leave No Trace center issued new guidance specifically addressing social media. This is a topic that deserves nuance, as is seen within this Outside Magazine article that both cites Instagram as a reason folks fall to their death at Horseshoe Bend and also recognizes that “the best way to protect public lands is to have advocates. Often the best advocates are the folks taking photos and sharing them on Facebook and Instagram.”

Either way, I wonder: why are we blaming Instagram solely for the popularization of the outdoors? It’s not just Instagram y’all. The outdoors are being promoted in film, guidebooks, through e-mail newsletters, by tourism groups, by motivational speakers, in commercials–it’s everywhere. Is it just easy for us to scapegoat Instagram instead of taking the energy to consider how big and complex this beast is?

During a coffee date with my dear friend Bri Madia, who is infamous for her strong stance against geotagging, she posed a question I hadn’t fully considered: “What I want to know is, why do people geotag?” So, naturally, I asked my community–on both sides of the aisle. First, I polled on Instagram stories, do you or don’t you geotag (including general/regional tags)? There was a fairly even split erring on the side of ‘do’ with 1107 vs. 825 ‘donts’.
*note, this is not intended to be deep scientific findings, just a pulse of my community, don’t get it twisted.


The overwhelming sentiment in the pro-tagging camp was around the idea of sharing the experiences we have with others. “To share with the community” and “to encourage, to inform, to let people know about the amazing places right in their backyard.” Folks from places like the southeast, Kansas and Texas expressed a desire to help their neighbors discover that they’ve got rad outdoor spaces they might not know existed (“Coming from Ohio, most Ohio folks have no idea how much great hiking there is!”). Some do it to provide updated imagery of trail conditions.

Karen Ramos (@naturechola) summed up the pro side eloquently:

“Because I don’t believe in using conservation as an excuse for exclusion.”

Folks cited Instagram as a resource they used when they were first exploring public lands and planning trips, and use geotagging as a way to pay it forward. Heck, I just searched Placencia, Belize geotags last night to vibe out my trip in a few weeks. While Instagram provides a pinpoint on a map to a place that’s been geotagged, I wonder how many people simply drive straight there vs. how many use that as a starting point to begin their research on a place. I found no conclusive data on this topic, despite many strong opinions.

Many people also ‘fessed up to doing it for self-serving purposes, to remember the places they had visited, to get more likes, or “to brag about the hard hikes I accomplished.” An interesting note is that many folks acknowledged having small platforms or private accounts where their tags had less visibility.


I’ll start with the legitimate responses–and this one I personally identify with: “because I don’t need internet strangers knowing where I am.” I had this conversation again and again with women in my community. I travel solo often, and usually haunt the same spots because they are safe and comfortable for me. So, I don’t geotag those areas, and if someone asks me about it, I’m honest about that. As Bri Madia puts it,

“I grew up in a time when you didn’t tell strangers on the internet where you were. I’ll recommend guidebooks, map apps, and resources but I’m not going to draw you a map on how to find me in the middle of nowhere.”

I personally have had a number of creepy run-ins with folks who ‘found me’ via Instagram, so I’m careful about sharing my location (I don’t post IG stories until I’ve left a location now).

There are the other, more dire instances where geotagging is undeniably harmful too–like when it can endanger rhinos being sought by poachers. I also spoke to a woman in Big Cypress, Florida who cited orchid poaching as an issue perpetuated by geotagging. A number of scientists and ecologists chimed in with similar thoughts about needing to protect certain flora, fauna, and archeological sites.

From there, the responses devolve. The anti-geotagging responses echoed ideas of “to keep it a secret, not everyone deserves to know,” and “can’t trust the general public with wild, untouched places.” There was also “I want to keep my special places secret,” and my favorite for honesty, “I hate people.”

Folks, if you are “protecting places from people who don’t deserve to go there,” you are engaging in something called gatekeeping. (Please see Melanin Basecamp’s #1 reason why they are pro-geotagging.) Gatekeeping is a self-appointed decision on who does or doesn’t have the right to access information, community, or identity. And I pose this question to you: what exactly qualifies you as the person who gets to decide who is or isn’t deserving of ‘your’ outdoor spaces? At what point did you graduate from average outdoorsy person to almighty keeper of nature? Did you forget that there’s no such thing as “pristine, untouched wilderness” because as my friend Dr. Len Necefer reminds us: Indigenous people have been moving across, living on, cultivating, and celebrating that land way before settlers forcibly removed Native people from it and declared it wild.

Gatekeeping isn’t cool. It isn’t okay, and if you’re feeling a little uncomfortable because you realized maybe you’re being a gatekeeper–I invite you to consider changing your mindset around how you “protect” the places you love. I don’t always tag the specific locations I’m in, often opting for the general park or forest name–but I will always engage in a conversation and share my resources if someone DMs me about a place. The outdoors is not mine to keep (nor is it yours).

Aside from the exclusionary bullshit behind being anti-geotagging, my number one qualm with folks who gripe about Instagram ruining the outdoors is a lack of solutions for the problem. A lot of “get off my lawn” and not enough “here’s what I think we can do to make it better.” Scroll down to the 4th point in Melanin Basecamp’s recent geotagging article, and bam, solutions. Whether you’re for or against geotagging, we can all agree that there is a massive influx of people getting outdoors, and we lack the infrastructure to accommodate the boom.

Do I think everyone deserves access to the outdoors? Hell yes. Do I also believe that once we hit carrying capacities for trails and ecosystems, we need to start implementing permitting systems and quotas? Absolutely. Back to that study from the Adirondack Council, dive into page 2 and you’ll see that hikers largely support management intervention, trail closures, etc.

After all of this, my thoughts on geotagging evolved and I realized: the problem isn’t that geotagging provides too much information, it’s that geotagging doesn’t provide enough. My original sentiments erred on the side of “geotagging shortcuts the educational aspect of learning about a place” – so what if geotagging supplemented that? What if, at the top of public lands geotag pages was a quick wiki-style bite of information that could offer information about whether a spot is illegal to access, if there are sensitive cryptobiotic soils not to step on, whether an area is prone to flash floods or avalanches, if there’s an archeological site it’s illegal to disturb, a warning not to crush the wildflowers. What if the users aren’t the problem, but the system of geotagging itself is what’s broken?

Further, if used well, geotagging can be a tool to promote advocacy and spread information. If you do choose to geotag, I believe the onus is on you to provide resources and education. When tagging a spot in Moab (whether you tag Grandstaff Trailhead or just Moab), include a quick blurb about how delicate cryptobiotic soil is and why it’s important to stay on the trail. Offer a quick ‘and remember to practice Leave No Trace!’ or remind folks “this spot is 30 miles down a dirt road with no access to water, and you have to carry your poo out!” You hold the power to spread advocacy, and you have the power to use an Instagram post to spark positive stewardship amongst your community.

Instagram and geotagging are what you make it. Are there “influencers” out there who make a profit off public lands without stewarding them, or taking any action to give back to the places they benefit from? Absolutely. Who has the power to support that or demand that they do better? You do. (Oh yes, this idea of the ethics of being an outdoor professional/influencer is a topic I plan on traveling down the rabbit hole of in the future…)

And folks, I do truly understand that there are some places that are so special, so spiritual, so personally sacred that we (read: our egos, and that’s okay) truly can’t bear the thought of sharing the location with the internet–so, don’t post pictures of them online. If it’s truly about the sanctity of the place, and not about your ego, don’t post it.

In a report by the Center for Western Priorities, the group concludes a study on public land visitation by saying “Policymakers should steer clear of policies that limit public access to U.S. public lands. Instead, America’s elected officials should look for ways to maintain and expand outdoor opportunities by boosting budgets for land management agencies and guaranteeing permanent funding for conservation and public lands access. Hundreds of millions of visitors each year depend on it.” Replace ‘policymakers’ with ‘Instagrammers–and social media haters’ and you’ve got my feelings on this whole debate summed up.

NOTE: THIS IS AN EDUCATED OPINION PIECE, NOT AN OBJECTIVE RESOURCE. As with all resources on Outdoor Advocacy Project, there is always room to continue the conversation, add a new perspective, bolster the resources, and share new findings. Got something you want to add, challenge or amplify? Let us know in the comments, or e-mail to write your own ed-op on this topic.

Katie Boué
Katie Boué

 Katie Boué is a Cuban-American outdoor advocate, writer, communication strategist, and founder of the Outdoor Advocacy Project. She believes that every outdoorist has a responsibility to serve our public lands and protect our planet.

Q&A with Katie Boué: Solo Travel as a Womxn

This piece originally appeared here on on 11/19/18 after author Katie Boué completed traveling, primarily via road trip, to all 50 states.

Since my first 33 day cross-country solo trip after a bad break-up, traveling alone has been one of my favorite ways to adventure. I’ve slept in gas station rest stops, remote forest campsites,  cheap motels, KOAs off the highway–you name it, I’ve stayed there alone. Most recently, I hit the road to tick off my last 8 states on my quest to hitting all 50–my first solo trip with a dog in tow. You all had a lot of questions about traveling solo, so I wanted to create a resource to answer ’em all.

Before I dive into the nitty gritty of solo trips, dealing with anxiety + safety, finding places to stay, and more, I want to address my privilege as a solo female traveler. I am a queer Latinx, but I am totally white-and-straight-passing–and that creates an ability to travel with a level of inherent ease that is not a given for solo women of color. That said, if any non-white women have specific advice for solo travel for WOC, please leave a comment and I will add it to this guide as a resource.


I received this question in every iteration possible, especially in regards to overnight stays alone and hiking alone. There are many steps I take to prioritize safety when I travel, but the most important idea is: I always trust my gut. It doesn’t happen often, but when I get a bad feeling, I boogie, no questions asked. It doesn’t happen often, but if my gut tells me to go (which is very different from my general this-is-scary anxiety, which I’ll address later), I go. While Spaghetti and I were hiking on a paved path at Sleeping Bear Dunes, we heard a pop! pop! pop! in the near distance, and I remembered that it’s hunting season. We weren’t wearing any bright colors, and I felt uncomfortable, so we left.

I make a habit out of being hyper observant. At a trailhead, I scan all the cars in the parking lot and totally judge them based on bumper stickers, etc. On the trail, I keep mental notes on the folks I pass and sometimes tag along behind other groups to feel an added sense of security. In cities, I avoid dark streets, and prefer to be in my hotel at night. When I camp, I prefer to do so in places where I have cell service–or I’ll bring a satellite phone in case of emergency (most in case of car trouble vs. ‘safety’). Also when camping or sleeping in my car, I always have my car keys within reach and a clear path to the driver’s seat so I can hop in and speed off if I need to.

I turn on ‘Find My Friends’ on my iPhone and allow both parents and my partner to see where I am at all times. This makes them feel better, and it makes me feel better too. And when it comes to social media, I only post content that shares my location after I’ve left that place.

Get yourself some pepper spray. I also always carry a Buck knife my dad gave me many years ago on my first solo trip, and often sleep with it under my pillow. I chatted with a few women who have taken self-defense classes, and I highly recommend that path if you want to cultivate confidence in your ability to protect yourself. As for guns, yes, I did once consider getting one before my four-month solo road trip–but quickly realized that guns make me uncomfortable and I didn’t have confidence that I’d be able to use one to effectively defend myself.



An uncomfortable subject to address because I am not asking to be harassed when I wear make up, nor is any woman who chooses to wear whatever she pleases, but: I also often don’t wear make-up while traveling alone. Men tend to see any solo female traveler as an invitation for suggestive comments, so I often find myself not presenting myself the way I want to be while traveling solo, purely in an attempt to deter men who apparently cannot control themselves in the presence of women. Men, do better so I can comfortably wear my eyeliner and leggings while traveling solo kthanks.


Both. I spend a lot of time on Google Maps figuring out the drive times to various distances, scope out options for where to stay in each spot, then I’ll either settle on a destination for the day, or just start to wing it. I always try to keep it flexible so I can go with the flow depending on how tired I am, how much time I spend at pit stops, etc. Giving yourself options and knowing that you have ’em helps cultivate that solo traveler confidence.


I want to do a dedicated post on my must-have road trip essentials, but briefly:

  • A paper map. Technology will fail you, so I always road trip with my trusty road atlas.
  • My use-less-plastic kit: a giant Hydroflask water bottle, a Hydroflask growler that is always full of water for back up, reusable utensils + straw, a tupperwear for leftovers when eating out, and a few different sized zip-lock bags that I wash + reuse.
  • My go-to Ursa Major skin care kit: their balm, face wash, and wipes for when I can’t wash my face.
  • My ‘tech’ kit where I keep: all my device cables + plugs, my Garmin watch, a collection of Goal Zero mini chargers, etc.
  • An iPhone tri-pod so I can take selfies. No shame.
  • Blankets, all the blankets. And a full-size pillow.
  • Whatever creature comforts will make you feel more comfortable and confident on the road. It’s a road trip, so you don’t have to pack light. If it makes you feel better, bring it.


I love driving solo–I used to want to be a semi-truck driver. As long as there’s light out, I can drive forever. I listen to podcasts, livestream my local NPR station from home, jam to the trashy Miami music I don’t usually get to listen to, and use the time to reflect.

I find that once I hit a groove of driving, the time flies quickly. I also stop whenever I want to, and try to break up long stretches with short hikes. When I stop for gas or to pee, I always do a little lap around the car doing knee-highs and shaking my arms above my head like a wild person to keep the blood flowing.

As for staying awake: I have realized that I don’t do well driving at night, primarily because I’m night-blind and can’t see super well in the dark. So, I don’t drive at night. The beauty of solo travel is, you’re running on your own agenda, so you can stop whenever you want. When I get tired on the road, I stop.


I don’t. The chaos tends to spread quickly on a road trip, so I use a pitstop a day to reel it in and clean up the mess. I use a lot of Topo Designs travel bags in various sizes and try to have a place where everything belongs.


It’s expensive. Traveling with a partner means  gas is split, park entry fees are split, hotel rooms are split, everything is a bit more affordable. When I’m solo, all the costs are mine to bear. Since I stayed in hotels each night of this trip due to the snow and winter conditions, I made peace with the reality that it was going to be way more expensive than my usual camping + dirtbaggin’ trips.


Solo travel is lonely, but I love it for that. I am an introvert, and thrive on alone time. Lean into that idea, and fully embrace the spirit of solitude. Knowing that it’s for a finite amount of time really helps me dig into the rad feeling of being alone. As for missing my partner, I of course miss him, but he travels so frequently that we’re both used to be apart. Plus, time spent apart and focusing on our independent pursuits only strengthens the relationship.


To be honest, traveling with Spaghetti doesn’t make me feel significantly more safe than just purely traveling alone. She’s a 25 lb. muppet with a soft bark and a tendency to get really scared, so it’s not like she’s going to attack anyone. She does provide excellent company and make me feel less alone.

Solo travel with a dog is harder than I expected, especially during this most recent winter trip. All outdoor seating is closed for the season, so there wasn’t a single restaurant I could eat at with her. Instead, I ate most of my meals in the car or in our hotel rooms. And since we weren’t camping, I had to find dog friendly lodging each night. Pro tip: Motel 6 allows dogs and doesn’t charge an extra fee for ’em! 

When I had to leave Spaghetti in the car (never for more than 30 minutes on this trip), I made sure all food was packed away. The one time I didn’t, she stole a slice of pizza. She has separation anxiety we’re still working on, so having to stay with her all the time did impact my ability to do a lot of things. And traveling with a dog completely changed my relationship with National Parks. They’re inherently not-dog-friendly (for good reason), so I found myself spending less time in them.


Yes, many times. Ladies, I prefer to pee into something like a large yogurt container because my aim is not very good. You can also get a device like the She-Wee to pee with, but I get fussy about the idea of needing a penis-mimicking device to complete a function my vagina is perfectly capable of handling on its own, so I pee into yogurt containers instead, ha!

NOTE: THIS IS A LIVING RESOURCE BASED ON PERSONAL EXPERIENCE OF THE AUTHOR! As with all resources on Outdoor Advocacy Project, there is always room to continue the conversation, add a new perspective, bolster the resources, and share new findings. Got something you want to add, change, challenge or amplify? Let us know in the comments, or e-mail to write your own.

Katie Boué
Katie Boué

 Katie Boué is a Cuban-American outdoor advocate, writer, communication strategist, – and the founder of the outdoor advocacy project. She believes that every outdoorist has a responsibility to serve our public lands and protect our planet.