Although it’s well documented that most Americans worry about the effects of our climate crisis, few talk about it with friends and family While we may be in good company keeping our concerns/fears to ourselves, according to stellar climate scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe “There is one thing that everyone can do, and we’re not doing it. Talk about it. If you don’t talk, why would you care? And if you don’t care, why would you do anything about it?”
But how do we talk when doing so only creates conflict? Dr Hayhoe suggests (and experiments pretty much confirm) that we would be best served by avoiding talking about the climate crisis at all. Instead, come at it sideways. Everyone has been impacted by our climate crisis but they may not acknowledge it directly. And most people trust their senses. Your opportunity is to discover what changes they are noticing. Who hasn’t mentioned our dense air last summer as the wildfires were raging? Or how much longer our summer drought lasts? Or how our hemlocks and cedars seem to be dying more than usual?
You might start with “Is it my imagination or has our weather been weird?” Or “How is this drought impacting your garden?” Or “Are you noticing fewer birds this year than 10 years ago, or are they just avoiding my yard?” Talk about those impacts they observe.
So, no more facts and data. Envision your child with fingers in their ears singing “la, la, la” as you tell them the benefits of a clean room. We can have a loving, compassionate, enlightening conversation with friends and relatives without so much as one word uttered about the climate crisis. Doing so, we find common ground, opportunity for learning and collaboration. The “cause” isn’t so important as keeping the communications channels open and safe. No need to look back. Instead look forward together. “What should we be doing about the loss of birds? How do we protect their habitat?” Talk about their observation that rainfall is becoming more erratic. Focus on what we can do: Make smart water choices, plan ahead, prepare for a water-scarce future. People are willing to make all sorts of changes if they’re convinced it will make a difference for something they care about. Especially when those changes are their own ideas!
Historically, major changes are the result of ground-swells, not the leadership of politicians. Women didn’t get the vote because the president awoke one morning inspired that “women should have the same rights I do.” Civil rights didn’t happen because Congress spontaneously recognized the error of our ways. Same with gay rights. ALL these changes came about because one person after another after another realized something was wrong and demanded change. We can, too.
If you want more ideas, check out this handbook for talking climate from the Nature Conservancy. Their document will remind you to:
Meet people where they are.
Your connection outweighs any facts you would present.
The goal is conversation, not conquest.
Focus on the person across from you.