Do you find it difficult to communicate about climate change or talk about social movement towards sustainability?

Do you know one of the most important things we can do about climate change is to talk with our family and friends about it?

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Communicating Climate Change to people you know

According to the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication’s Six Americas recent survey, the number of people in the US who are cautious, concerned, or alarmed about climate change is over 70%. Yet, most of us avoid discussing with the ones we love, the most important topic affecting our families and the children yet to come.

Like me, you might ask, “Why?”

Is it because we don’t know how to talk about difficult subjects with our loved ones? Is it because we’re afraid of the consequences of speaking about challenging topics? Are we afraid of losing those loved ones?

From my perspective, as a climate change communicator, may I suggest, if you care deeply about the future of your family, your children and their children, the holidays are an excellent opportunity to speak to your loved ones.

Of course, you might ask, “How can we bring up such a divisive subject?”

In my years of speaking to diverse audiences, my strongest recommendation is to first, simply ask a question. For example, “What do you think about climate change, Uncle Joe?” This simple question asked with true authentic curiosity will let you know how charged the subject is for him. Respect his opinions and feelings, by offering sincere listening using your body language. Sympathize by nodding, reflecting on his words by asking him for clarifications, in short, hearing and acknowledging his concerns. By all means, don’t get sucked into a “He said, she said, I’m right, you’re wrong” argument.

Studies have shown that arguing about anything makes us more entrenched in our opinions. This approach only widens the gap between us. However, asking a simple question, and then really listening to the response, whether or not you agree, can be amazingly disarming. For example, “Why do you feel so strongly about climate change?” might be another simple question. You will learn so much from these curious questions and your Uncle Joe will feel as if he has made a connection with you. He might then be willing to listen to your opinions.

I once was asked, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to have a relationship?”

This question shows us we all differ in our opinions, yet, in order to have a relationship, we must allow for differences. In the long run, people in relationship learn from each others opinions and often come together in agreement, but only after trust is respected and acknowledged. So, why not build trust with friends and family—first, when talking about difficult topics like climate change or politics.recycle-1000785_1920

And, most folks objections to climate change, don’t really have anything to do with the science. Often the real objections may not be to the science, but to perceived political solutions, for example, carbon taxes or increased regulations. It’s may be much easier to repeat something heard from friends, like “it’s a natural cycle,” or “scientists are faking it,” than to acknowledge “It’s real, and I still want nothing to do with fixing it.”

But, you might ask, “if we can’t talk about the science, then how can we continue the conversations we’ve started by asking questions about climate?”

There is one easy choice – talk solutions. There are plenty of awesome feasible solutions everyone, even Aunt Emily, can agree are worth talking about with her favorite niece.

Here are several to try talking about (via Katherine Hayhoe):

  1. Did you know there are 20 cities and towns in the US that are going renewable, to save money? St Petersburg, Florida is the latest. Even Disney is installing a mouse-ear-shaped solar farm.
  2. The biggest army base in the US, is installing wind and solar. Why? To save taxpayers $168 million dollars.
  3. Have you heard of Elon Musk’s new solar shingles? He says it will be cheaper than regular shingles to grow your own energy on your own roof.
  4. Did you know China has cut its coal use for nearly three years in a row, and now they’re even shutting down half-build coal plants? They have more wind and solar energy than anyone else in the world. Do you think we should just stand back and let them win the clean energy race?
  5. Looking for more? Here are some tips from the new Global Weirding series. It is all about starting and continuing climate conversations.
I must warn you, there are people who simply don’t care and it is up to you to find out if they do care before engaging in a conversation about climate change. Once I asked Malcolm McDowell, the actor, “Would you like your grandchildren to be able to visit a wetland park to explore Nature, experience great blue herons, open sky, and endangered life?” His surprising answer dropped my jaw to the floor of the Mann Chinese Theater. He replied, “No.”
After my jaw returned to it’s normal spot, I asked, “Why not?” He said something I’ll never forget. “Because I’ll be dead. I won’t be around so I don’t care.”
From his response, I was able to understand that there are some folks who just don’t care about the future, their children or other forms of Life.

Another example, if you take an “I’m right” attitude out of the conversation, it becomes much less confrontational and allows for friendly conversations to evolve. Listening to the other, whether or not we agree, is essential to understanding the differences and diversity existing within our families and friendship circles. It draws us together, it does not divide us. Whether or not you are right, means little if your loved one is estranged.

But the most important thing to remember is often the most difficult, to begin and end our conversations with respect. We do that by listening for the needs of the person with whom we are attempting to connect and remember we are learning from them, too. When it all comes down to it, we share MUCH more in common, than what divides us.

Check out the links in this post and dare to begin to ask simple questions of your family and friends. You’ll be glad you did.


For those answers and more, look for more posts by the author.
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