The Do's & Don'ts of Talking About Climate Change
Climate change is here. It's not some abstract problem for future generations to solve. In order to save the planet, it's going to take everyone's help to fight climate change. We need collective action, governmental intervention, and individuals like you stepping up to make a difference.
Most importantly, we need more people to believe that climate change is real and understand the extent of the problem.
We totally understand why people might want to ignore climate change. After all, it is an incredibly stressful topic. But ignoring or flat out denying that there's an issue is no longer an option.
Because we need everyone's help to fight climate change, we need to be strategic and thoughtful when discussing the issue. Empowering yourself with tools to successfully address the elephant in the room can help make climate change a more accessible topic and, ultimately, drive people to action.
Here are some do's and don'ts for having productive conversations about climate change with another adult. Whether the individual is fully versed in the issue or a climate denier, these tips are good for any conversation. If you’re looking for tips on how to talk with a child about climate change, check out this great guide from NPR.
Start with a question. Rather than starting the conversation by talking about your agenda, start by trying to understand where the other person is coming from. You can do this by asking questions like "What do you think about climate change" or "Did you hear about the new climate legislation? What do you think about it"? This will help the other person feel like you are interested in their perspective and be more open to the discussion.
Stay calm. Climate change is an existential threat that many people have trouble emotionally processing—and stress is contagious. If someone you're talking to sees that you're stressed about it, they will likely engage in a similar psychological response, which could shut down their ability to hear you out. People are more likely to hear the content of your message if you speak calmly about it.
Listen. In order to have a productive conversation, you'll need to understand where the other person is coming from. Be open-minded, listen, and reflect back what you heard. This will help build trust and increase your chances of having your message be heard later in the conversation.
Ask if they want to hear your point of view. This might feel uncomfortable, but asking the other person if they want to hear about your perspective on climate change basically guarantees you a captive audience. If they say yes, they are admitting interest and agreeing to listen to you. If they say no, don’t take it personally! Try to be empathetic. Climate change is, after all, a pretty overwhelming thing. Some days it's hard to feel ready to tackle the problems of humanity. And that's OK!
Make it personal. When sharing your perspective on climate change, making it about your personal story (and less about the science) will make it more relatable to the listener. Consider telling the story of when you started to care about climate change. Or talk about the thing that made you feel passionate about fighting for the planet—be it polar bears, ocean acidification, deforestation, or even how climate change impacted your everyday life through something like forest fires, drought, hurricanes, etc. This could help the listener relate or better empathize with your message.
Use plain, obvious, and universal language. If you want to talk about the science behind climate change, make sure you use language that every person can understand. One of our favorite Ted Talks is "3 strategies for effectively talking about climate change" by communication strategist John Marshall. In it he explains that a lot of the language surrounding climate change can cause confusion and hopelessness. Marshall suggests that you use vivid language and simple metaphors to describe things so that the listener fully grasps what is happening and isn't emotionally triggered.
Offer simple solutions. The size of climate change can make anyone feel powerless. But as individuals, we can do small things every day that can make a big difference in the long run. If the person you're talking to seems overwhelmed by it all, kindly suggest simple solutions that they can do to help. Things like recycling, becoming a CarbonForest member, and using a reusable water bottle are all easy things one can do. Plus, they can save the person money and help beautify our country. Win-win.
Point fingers. Let's be honest: there are probably a handful of decision-makers who could have been more productive and proactive about climate change. But is this conversation the time and place to point fingers and assign blame? Probably not. Try to keep the discourse focused, clear, productive, and positive.
Insult or call names. The best way to shut a conversation down is to make someone feel attacked. Healthy communication is dependent on a respectful atmosphere. Being rude or aggressive will make it impossible for the listener to understand your point of view.
Interrupt or argue. This conversation shouldn't be about proving your points but finding common ground and offering another perspective. The goal is to build trust through listening. Don't try to convince the other person that they are wrong, and you are right.
No matter what, believe in yourself! You're just as capable of inspiring action from your family, friends, and community as anyone else. Be kind. Be calm. Be respectful. And be a leader! Remember that you're speaking with another human being who has had a completely different life experience than you and approaches the climate change topic from their own unique viewpoint. Try to find common ground and be patient. It will likely take more than one conversation to change a person's perspective completely.