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How to have a climate conversation

climate conversations help
Person holding 'there is no planet' b poster

It can be difficult talking to other people about climate change. Our house is on fire and yet it can feel like people haven’t noticed. So how do we go about changing that? By using REAL TALK.

“I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”

Greta Thunberg

You’re worried about the state of the planet. Climate change is going to affect you, your future and all life on this planet. And while this is one of the most pressing issues of our times, it can feel like people aren’t taking it seriously. Having climate conversations can change that.

Talking about climate change is not easy. You can quickly jump into a scenario where you get frustrated or call the person out for their inaction. You may have tried telling people how important it is, or about the science. And the more you seem to try, the harder it seems to get, making them become defensive and driving you apart.

Whether we're climate activists or climate deniers, who we are has been shaped by our experiences. So it can be easy to become angry or annoyed with people who think differently from ourselves. But having a conversation can be a way to bridge this gap.

So what’s the best way of having a climate conversation?

Real Talk. According to Climate Outreach and the EIT Climate-KIC, that’s a good start.

Respect the other person and find common ground

Enjoy the conversation

Ask questions

Listen, and show that you’re listening

Tell your story

Action makes it easier

Learn from the conversation

Keep going and keep connected

two woman chatting at a table and chairs
Climate conversations don't have to be complicated

Respect the other person and find common ground

Start off finding common ground and finding mutual respect between yourself and the person you’re talking to. Most people will have topics in common, it’s just a case of finding it.

It’s also likely you’re talking to friends and family around you, who you have a connection with already. Remember, all of us do what we do because we think it’s best for ourselves or our family. Our differences in how we do that come from the different experiences we’ve learnt throughout our life.

So go into the conversation without judgements or preconceptions. And allow the other person to voice their thoughts. You might disagree with them, and that’s ok, as long as you keep treating the other person with respect.

Enjoy the Conversation

If you’re having a climate conversation with someone you know, then it’s probable that you like the person and would like to talk to them anyway. You would want to enjoy your conversations, and talking about climate change shouldn’t be any different.

When we have conversations with people, we’re connecting with them. So take this time to find out how they got to the views they had and why they are important to them. Perhaps they’re worried about what this means for them and how it could affect their lives. Or maybe they have become overwhelmed, depressed or nihilistic. You might learn something new about your friends and family, or even the climate crisis itself.

Question mark neon sign
Discuss things like green energy with your loved ones by asking questions

Ask Questions

By asking questions you give time for the people around you to express their views. Ask open questions that don’t have a yes or no answer and without leading the direction of the answer. You could ask them what they think about the flooding or forest fires that have happened.

What have they heard about climate change? How does it make them feel? What impact has the climate crisis had on them? Do they do any activities to support the environment at home?

Give the person space to reflect on their own thoughts, what they might be worried about, and what solutions they think might be good. By asking questions you create a shared space, where both of you are thinking, rather than lecturing.

Listen and show you’ve heard

Pay attention to what the person is saying and try not to jump to conclusions, jump in or judge them. Take a moment to simply listen to the other person, and then relay what they’ve said back to them to show that you’re listening. We all hold onto different opinions, and it's key that we feel we can express them and have our voices heard. Only when we feel safe and respected in our views, will we be able to move past them.

person in black long sleeved shirt holding mug talking to woman in beige jumper holding a mug
Climate conversation can spread across communities and address many important societal issues

Tell Your Story

Unless you’re an expert in climate science, it can be easy to think you don’t have the knowledge to have climate conversations. Luckily, you don’t have to be. People aren’t motivated by statistics or science. They are motivated by stories. Think about the power that films and books have; as soon as we side with a character, we’re on their side. Even more so if the journey they’re on is similar to our own.

When telling the other person about your experiences, tell them how you got there. Was there a time when, just like them, you didn’t care about climate change? What changed for you? Why is climate change so important to you now? Are you looking to help the world globally or make a positive impact on your local community?

People react best to how it makes them feel. Take them on a journey with your climate conversation. Perhaps you felt really despondent, that people in power were letting you down. So you decided to take things into your own hands and make a difference. You now feel empowered and it’s given you the opportunity to face other obstacles. Perhaps it’s made you healthier, as you walk instead of drive and have taught yourself how to cook plant-based meals.

Show that you’re living in line with your values. People can be turned off if they think someone is being hypocritical or inconsistent. If someone can see that you practice what you preach, they’re more likely to trust you and see your point of view.

'What is your story' neon sign in office window - viewed from a dark urban street
Discuss your own journey to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Action makes it easier

The climate crisis can sometimes feel big and overwhelming, and there are some people who feel it’s pointless to try. But this attitude is set up to fail. As the saying goes “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”.

Taking action on climate change, no matter how small, is not only a step in the right direction but can make us feel happier. Not only this, but people make decisions based upon the thoughts and actions of people they trust. So your one small change can help snowball into many good deeds, as other people take the same action.

Learn from the conversation

Every conversation you have about climate change is a chance to learn how to have better conversations in the future. You can also make a greater connection with the other person, as every conversation is a time to find out about their thoughts and where their views are coming from.

Keep going and keep connected

We are all affected by each other, and just by reaching out and having conversations with each other, we can make a difference.

For more information visit Climate Outreach, a useful website to support you in having a climate conversation.


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