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How to Talk about Climate Change

Climate change is low on the priority list for many American voters - currently, Americans think about 16 other issues first when they cast their ballots. But there are steps you can take to inspire people to start caring about climate change, and a great place to begin is by talking to family and friends. They care about you, and will be more likely to consider climate change an urgent issue if you communicate your concern about it.

Still, talking about the climate crisis can be hard. If you are intimidated by the prospect of talking about climate change, this article is for you! Here are some tips to keep in mind during those difficult conversations.

First, though it may seem counterintuitive, do not enter the conversation with the intention of proving that climate change is real and demands urgent action. People often become closed-off when they are argued with; remember that it is not a debate. A conversation goes two ways—which means that it requires you to do some listening in addition to speaking.

So let the other person speak first about their perspective. Gain an understanding of why they think the way that they do. You might discover shared values that you can later use as a point of connection when it is your turn to speak. However, while they are still talking, show that you are listening to them with affirmative words and follow-up questions.

Only after they have shared their point of view should you speak about your own - but do not try to correct them, no matter how outlandish or extreme their beliefs might seem to you. Instead, you may disagree politely. While you do so, avoid scientific explanations; long speeches about greenhouse gasses and rising sea levels can cause people to tune out. Rather, appeal to their emotions by sharing personal stories concerning why you care about climate change and how it affects you or people you know. If you feel lost, you can speak more generally about how it could affect public health and the economy, but try to return back to personal experience when possible.

If applicable, you can also segway into talking about something the other person cares about that is affected by climate change, or even better, something you both care about. For instance, if you both enjoy skiing, you could talk about how warmer temperatures are affecting snowfall in your favorite ski spots. A shared passion can help you relate and make them more willing to listen to what you have to say.

However, remember that though it is important to talk about the negative impacts of the climate crisis to emphasize the seriousness of the problem, it is equally necessary to be optimistic that we have the ability to make positive changes. Some people might simply be unsure what they can do about climate change. Talk about why you are hopeful, as well as what you are currently doing to help, and invite them to join you.

Remember, it takes courage for people to admit when they are wrong; it is much easier and simpler for them to stick to their original ways of thinking, especially in the case of those who do not consider climate change a problem. With acknowledging the validity of climate change, they also must face the fact that they will have to make a conscious effort to take action for the situation to be improved. So if they do eventually come around, instead of feeling superior or blaming them for not realizing sooner, be gracious.

Afterwards, thank them for speaking with you! It may seem obvious, but showing your gratitude is important to make the other person feel valued and willing to have more chats with you again.

You may not feel as if you have persuaded your subject to change their mind, or turn them into a passionate environmental activist by the end of your conversation, and that’s okay! Change happens gradually. One exchange, in which you made the other person feel supported and listened to, can lead to future discussions. They, in turn, can have their own conversations with family and friends.

Lastly, give yourself a pat on the back for your efforts!


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