How to Talk About Climate Change
Updated: Nov 5
Two thirds of Americans want to find out more about it. 70% of Americans never talk about it with their families. But as ‘talking about climate change may be the single most important climate action’ that you can take, it’s clear that we need a little extra help when breaching the topic…
In this article, we share top tips from climate scientists including Professor Katharine Hayhoe, to help us understand the ‘spiral of silence’ that many people fall into when it comes to having important climate conversations. These conversations, when had, can create a positive feedback loop of change within your social circle, and far expands your impact for change beyond individual actions alone. Yet the climate crisis is not something you can casually go changing people’s minds about over lunch.
But perhaps… the aim is not to change their minds?
Many experts say that the current challenge with climate change is not the lack of awareness, but action. According to the World Economic Forum, ⅔ of the American public and ¾ of the UK already express significant concerns for environmental problems.
‘Talking about climate change may be the single most important climate action that you can take.’
Considering this, it might be wiser to shift your rhetoric from doomsday statistics and hard facts to painting a brighter picture of what the future could look like. It boils right down to psychology - being optimistic releases dopamine, the chemical that sparks motivation and creativity. In contrast, feelings of fear and doom shuts down the prefrontal cortex, which could result in the loss of 30% of our cerebral brain function, making it harder for us to come up with better solutions for our planet. Environmental engineer Katie Patrick shares more about how optimism and creativity will save the planet in this TED Talk here!
Try to have a conversation, not give a lecture.
This might sound counterintuitive, but one of the best ways to get anyone to be more receptive of your opinions is to first LISTEN. In the context of climate conversations, it is important for us to make an effort to understand the other party's resistance to climate action in the first place. Shower them with lots of empathy through these simple steps:
Ask them for permission before bringing up a possibly heavy topic
Make it about them, not you
Paraphrase what they’ve shared to communicate that you value and understand their beliefs
Thank them for sharing something possibly very personal
Once you’ve made the effort to connect to their values, you might be positively surprised that these might reveal common grounds that you can use to better relate to them.
“Doom creates paralysis, but it is creativity that inspires action.”
For example, they might have to prioritize profits if they are running a business, in which case you could link them to our recent article on why more and more businesses are embracing sustainability for their own benefit ;)
Round it all up with a call to action.
Even the most hardcore climate warriors might struggle with translating their climate worries into action… check out our Instagram for our series on climate confessions if you want some proof!
Empower them with a good breadth of options to take. Small steps like phasing out plastic straws can be less daunting, but it can trivialise both the problem and their agency. Systemic support, like researching the environmentally-friendly politicians to vote for might be more empowering and effective, but could be more intimidating. Inspire them with a balance of individual and systemic actions, so they can choose which resonates with them best.
Remember, when people's beliefs are challenged, it understandably threatens their sense of security. Be patient with cognitive dissonance they might be facing (that uncomfortable contradictory feeling we get from time to time... like eating a cake whilst dieting) and understand that it might take a while for them to start embracing the identity of a climate ally.
To sum it up...
The above pieces of advice were a compilation of suggestions from experts in the field, we hope that they were as thought-provoking for you as they were for us! If you would like more tips, we highly recommend this short video.
After reading this article, what’s one thing you will change when talking to people about climate change? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org, and download Capture via the App Store or Google Play to take your planet-friendly journey to the next level.