Four Tips to Improve Your Next Climate Change Conversation
Do you care about climate change but don’t know how to bring that up with your friends, family, or colleagues? Climate change is already happening, and many of us have experienced its impacts on our daily life. Despite the growing scientific literature on this global crisis, we often struggle to just talk about it.
Successful climate communication requires courage and strategies. In her book “Saving Us,” Katherine Hayhoe shares her experiences and tricks on having effective climate change conversations with diverse groups. The other day I tested how effective those strategies are by talking with my friend Vivian, and they worked! In this article, I will summarize the takeaways from “Saving Us” and reference back to my conversation with Vivian.
Begin with who you are
Katherine emphasizes the role of personal identity and values in climate change communication. She suggests starting with who we are when we begin a conversation: places we come from, our interests, passions, concerns, beliefs, etc. As mutual trust and respect are fundamental when it comes to climate communication, sharing our backgrounds and experiences in a genuine way helps open an effective conversation.
Since I was talking to my friend Vivian who knows where I come from, I jumped directly to talking about my hobbies and passions. I opened up myself genuinely, as I want Vivian to feel a sense of trust in our conversation. Things I shared here will help establish common ground between us, which will be discussed in the next section.
Establish common ground
The next step in the conversation is to ask the person to share their values, and from there, we seek common ground – mutual interests or concerns. The common ground helps us direct our conversation to convince why someone needs to care about climate change. This process, called “connecting the dots” by Katherine, is essential since people don’t always know how things they value are and will be impacted by the climate crisis. So, it’s our job to help them make those connections and realize they have a reason to care.
After sharing my story, I moved on to ask Vivian to share her passions and concerns, and I listened very carefully as she talked. It turned out that Vivian and I shared a common interest – food. Vivian studies food science and deeply cares about hunger, but she didn’t know what climate change has to do with that.
I knew it was the perfect time to help her “connect the dots”, so I moved on to share how climate change has impacted crop production in the US, such as how drought harms crop survival and how rising temperatures increase pests and crop diseases. In doing this, I helped Vivian connect the dots between climate change and food and allowed her to understand that the issue is not as distant as she may think.
Below are some additional scenarios mentioned by Katherine about how you might help people connect the dots:
- If skiing is the common ground, then we may talk about how snow cover has reduced over time in the US due to warmer temperatures. We may also mention how some ski resorts are closed with snow declining or disappearing earlier every year.
- If the common ground lies in the health and wellbeing of children, we may share the importance of creating a safe and sustainable world for children and future generations.
Avoid extensive facts
The IPCC predicts that average global temperature may reach or exceed 1.5°C over the next 20 years. While facts like this are important in explaining how the world functions under climate change, Katherine argues that they are not enough to change some people’s minds on the issue. If people don’t understand the real connection, they may ignore or dismiss the facts entirely. However, our own personal stories and lived experiences are far more compelling to people than are facts.
Focus on hope and solutions
We might be tempted to use news or data that can be intimidating to illustrate how serious climate change is. While this might grab people’s attention and convey urgency, Katherine says it may actually induce fear, anger, or regret that impedes further actions. At the end of the day, we want to empower people to take real actions and feel hopeful of their efforts, so we want to focus on the positive side and introduce practical solutions.
For example, Vivian was surprised but glad to learn about some local charities that accept food donations and ways to reduce food waste at home. Alternatively, if we are talking to a winter sport lover, we may mention organizations such as Protect Our Winters which gathers skiers and outdoor enthusiasts to take climate actions. Or, for people who care about their kids, we may introduce ways to improve sustainability in their households.
An effective climate conversation is about discovering what’s important to people, seeking common ground and connecting it to climate change, avoiding extensive use of facts, and being hopeful and solution driven. By using these strategies, I let Vivian know that she has a reason to care and that she can help slow down climate change in her daily life.
Grab a friend, test these strategies, and enjoy a more productive climate change conversation!
- Saving Us by Katherine Hayhoe
- 15 Steps to Create Effective Climate Communications
- Let’s Talk Climate: Messages to Motivate Americans
- Climate of Hope: How cities, businesses, and citizens can save the planet by Michael Bloomberg and Carl Pope
- The story of more by Hope Jahren
- A field guide to climate anxiety by Sarah Ray
After an official stint as a UC Davis Writing Program intern this year, Jenny Zhong is now contributing to our Household Engagement Campaign community research effort with invaluable perspective and assistance. Jenny graduated this past week in Environmental Science and Management and Cool Davis congratulates her on her acceptance by the University of British Colombia in Vancouver to their Masters of Business Management program. Jenny aspires to become a sustainability consultant or corporate sustainability officer in the future. She’s currently studying for a LEED certification.
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