Conversations about climate change can be difficult. But they’re important, and we need to have them if we want to make progress on this critical issue. Here are some tips for having better conversations about climate change.
Why talk about it?
Writing letters or speaking directly to elected officials that have the power to vote on climate policies can feel daunting. If we get in the habit of talking with friends and family more about climate change, we build confidence in speaking up to those we don’t know personally.
Beyond civic engagement, talking about a subject helps keep it front of mind. When we are more aware and in tune with a subject or issue, we are more likely to keep shifting our habits and lifestyle to align with the issue.
What are we doing wrong now?
Before we cover how to have better conversations, let’s take a minute to tune into what’s wrong with the conversations we are having now. After talking with those in the Tiny Planet community we see a few key problems
On social media or in real life, we often talk in terms that feel disconnected from our day-to-day lives. Often we are trying to convince someone of the problem or keep signaling to those that share our values we still care about the problem. Data or faux data is referenced to support an argument. Extreme impacts that don’t feel immediately or personally relevant are cited.
Spiraling into cynicism
Whether someone shares concern for the planet or not, it’s easy for conversations to spiral into hopeless cynicism. The opposition feels too impossible to work with on solutions. Even talking with people you agree with can result in spiraling into how devastating the problem is or how frustrating those that don’t agree with you are in trying to convince. Or the focus can devolve into why those with the greatest power to change course, fossil fuel, various industry executives, and elected officials, are so unlikely to do so without a movement of change from everyday people.
Awkward to start
While extreme events and some holidays make it easier to start conversations about climate change, it is not often something that feels natural to bring up. And the severity of the situation can add another layer of challenge to engaging in the subject.
How to have better conversations
- Regularly read or listen to stories about climate issues. Whether reading written news stories or podcasts, create a weekly list of places to engage in new climate news or stories. This presents a more natural way to start conversations. “I just read something interesting…” or “A heard this moving story from….”
- Think about why you want to talk about climate change. Are you looking to relieve stress or anxiety? Feel more connected to friends or family? We feel more hopeful when there are ways we can impact our future, so keep questions about what (else) individuals can do to help. Feeling connected can mean setting aside data in favor of what people are worried about or hopeful for. Keep questions about what people want life to be like in 10-20 years. What are they worried about, and what gives them the most hope? Sometimes what is good for the planet and climate change is aligned with our highest hopes.
- Ask more open-ended questions, especially related to personal experiences. What’s been your experience with… How might we… When you think about ___ what comes to mind? Questions that avoid requiring technical know-how and invite experiences and perspective-sharing are easier to answer, and more likely to lead conversation both get something out of.
More resources to help you have better conversations on climate change
Katherine Hayhoe has a compelling Ted Talk on this very subject. Especially useful when talking to family or friends that may not share your values or concern about climate change. Video is around 17 minutes long.
Here’s a great resource from communications strategist John Marshall to have conversations that help people better understand and be compelled to take action with you. Our language can make a big impact on how clearly people understand and care about climate change. Video about 7 minutes.
More than climate news, climate perspective:
Non-partisan climate news source: Inside Climate News
Stories on climate solutions and a just future: Grist
Compelling podcasts include:
How to Save a Planet: a show about climate change that will leave you feeling energized, not hopeless.
Yikes: a show that leans into the overwhelming intersecting issues with climate change to break it down in a way that guides listeners to action.