Real talk: 5 steps to climate conversations

Belinda Hu
August 5, 2020

Climate change can be a confusing topic to navigate. From scientific jargon to policy to news articles, it can feel like you need a PhD just to understand everything.

As someone who has always cared about sustainability, I’ve often felt intimidated by climate conversations. Do I know enough? Can I communicate my thoughts clearly?

This summer, I joined the Joro team as a Content Marketing intern. I’ve focused on understanding how Joro can tell empowering stories and build meaningful connections with users. Here are some of the communication tips I’ve learned that I’ll take with me into the future.

Breaking the silence is one of the most effective actions we can take.

Researchers at the Yale Program for Climate Change Communication (YPCCC) found that 67% of Americans believe global warming is happening, but only 36% of Americans regularly discuss climate with their friends and family. This discrepancy is called climate silence - people hesitate to talk about a topic that is potentially controversial and thus remain quiet.

Yet, research shows that Americans are much more likely to take action if convinced by someone they know, like a significant other, close friend, or family member. In fact, through discussion, people can engage their friends and family in a positive feedback loop that promotes deeper engagement with climate change. Having conversations, albeit difficult, is an important precursor to climate action. 

Step 1: Understand your reasons.

So how do you start? The first step in having a climate conversation is to understand why you want to have it in the first place. 

What do you hope to achieve? Maybe you want to convince the other person to make a change, better understand their convictions, or just expand your own thinking. Having a clear purpose will help guide the conversation.

Step 2: Connect the other person’s experiences to climate.

Science is important, but a growing majority of Americans already know the climate crisis will harm plants, animals, and future generations. Often when someone says, “I don’t believe in the science”, what they really mean is, “I cannot relate the science to my own experiences and values”. 

Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe suggests that a more successful tactic is to get to know the person you’re speaking with and try to understand what makes them tick. Do they have kids? Do they love the outdoors? Do they work in the fashion industry? 

From there, connect the dots between the values they already have and how climate change impacts those values. Climate change affects everything; relating it to individual experiences creates a common understanding for people of different backgrounds to relate to.

Step 3: Emphasize rational hope.

It’s important to acknowledge our current reality, but this doesn’t mean succumbing to doomsday scenarios. Katharine Hayhoe speaks about the importance of rational hope - acknowledging that there is a lot at stake, but envisioning a better world and the steps needed to achieve it.

Especially now, as bad news bombards our inboxes and feeds, positive stories provide much-needed relief. These stories don’t deny our reality, but rather demonstrate the positive potential of taking action. Seeing what the world could look like in the future or watching  inspirational climate action stories provides hope and empowerment to continue taking action.

Step 4: Highlight the power of personal action; avoid guilt & shame.

At the same time, it’s important to acknowledge that everyone has their own experiences and lifestyles. It’s easy to assign guilt and shame, especially when talking about the environment. Doing so is often counterproductive. Instead, try to understand the deeper reasons behind their lifestyles and frame the conversation as an opportunity to do better.

Providing next steps allows the listener to hear the direct application of what you just told them. Recommend a few documentaries, books, or podcasts to learn more. Share some plant-based recipes to try. Suggest reading more on environmental justice or following BIPOC environmentalists on social media. Each small action leads to a larger collective impact - you don’t have to be a tree hugger to do your part.

Step 5: Lead by example.

Role modeling is critical. Whether it’s tracking your carbon footprint, flying less, or eating less meat, demonstrate through your actions that climate action is for everyone.

Being a part of the Joro team has helped me realize the power of personal climate action. Looking ahead, I’m excited to apply what I’ve learned this summer to have more climate conversations and engage in new perspectives.

And lastly, thank you to everyone at Joro for being such supportive, open, and motivating teammates - it’s been an awesome summer :)

A climate action practice is the daily exercise of bringing awareness and intention to reduce the carbon emissions within your control.

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