I sometimes find myself wondering if anything I do to try to help stop climate change makes a difference. So it got my attention when the Yale Program on Climate Communications reported recently that having more frequent conversations with friends, neighbors, and relatives about climate change really does make a difference. These conversations shift people’s perceptions – to greater understanding that there is scientific consensus that climate change is human-caused, and to seeing climate as a real problem. There’s some evidence that these conversations can also move uninvolved supporters to take action.
If that’s true, then we should probably all talk and listen more – especially to those whose climate views we don’t know and those not yet taking action. The same study found that while 69% report that climate change is somewhat important to them, only 37% discuss it at least occasionally. My own experience is that bringing up the topic of climate change, and then doing a lot of listening, (maybe occasionally adding small bits of information) is the most effective approach.
How Many People Agree that Climate Change is Real?
Research also shows that the majority of us have more trouble speaking up when we think the topic is contested or controversial. That’s why it’s significant that the Yale Program also recently discovered that people in the United States consistently underestimate how many people think climate change is happening and is an important issue. The average person estimates that only 54% of the population believe climate change is real. In reality 69% do. There’s more consensus and less controversy than we’ve been led to believe. The same study found that liberals tend to estimate the level of climate agreement higher than do conservatives, but that every demographic underestimates the actual extent of the consensus.
So we can start by telling everyone we know that almost 7 in 10 people think climate change is a real problem; and that more talk can increase that number. Having 69% in agreement is good, but a higher level of agreement would help us move much more rapidly toward public policies that address the problem. For those who are climate skeptics, it’s important to communicate that 97% of climate scientists are sure that climate change is human-caused and accelerating dangerously.
The fossil fuel industry and right-wing forces have spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to sow doubt and shut down talk about climate change. President Trump is still trying to shut down this discussion. Let’s resist by talking about it everywhere!
You Don’t Need to Know More to Begin
If you feel you don’t know enough about the topic, don’t let that stop you. The remaining paragraphs in this post provide all the information you need to start useful conversations.
Four Ways to Start These Conversations – Four Roles We Can Play in Them
Any of the four below can be used as conversation starters. These also are four significant roles you can play in a conversation. Sometimes you can play all four in the same conversation.
1. Asking Questions and Listening
Starting with a question often works best. It gets the other person’s mind working on the topic without having to debate or disagree with you. I sometimes start with, “It seems like a lot of people don’t want to talk about it, but I’m really curious what you think about the situation with climate change?”
Then it’s important to listen with respect; maybe even ask more about their views before you say much. Especially if you disagree with what they are saying, it’s important to hear them out, before you offer a different perspective or information. If they feel heard, they are more likely to be able to consider what you have to say. The listening may be the most important part of this whole process.
Even if you don’t say anything else, it’s important to say that you care about the issue. “It breaks my heart that we are losing snow caps on mountains and corral reefs.” “I hate that black and brown people in other parts of the world are suffering the most when so many of the emissions have come from the United States.” “I want all children to have a livable future.” Just communicating any of these, breaks the silence and gives the other person important information.
In an earlier blog post “Two Things People Need” I reported that those who study these things have found that the two things people need to get more involved in climate action are 1) hope and 2) something they can do about the problem.
When it comes to offering hope, I think it’s really useful to have memorized a couple of hopeful facts. For example: The cost of the whole world transitioning to clean, renewable energy by 2050 fell by $10 trillion dollars last year due to lowered costs for building solar and wind farms. Furthermore, the total cost of the global transition is less than the amount we will save in improved health outcomes and avoiding greater damage from the results of climate change. You can find one or two hopeful facts, write them down, and re-read them every morning so you have them ready for your next conversation.
Many people will avoid an issue if they think there’s nothing they can do about it. Try saying something like this: “I always wonder if there’s anything I can do, but I just saw a list of four things that all seemed pretty manageable. Maybe we could pick one to do together.
- We could each have conversations like this with 2 other people then get back together and talk about how they went.
2.We could go to a meeting of a local climate organization. If you’ll agree to go with me, I’ll find out the time and place.
3. We could pick one of the posts on Russ Vernon-Jones’ blog, each read it, and then get together to talk it over. I don’t think I agree with everything he writes, but it’s usually pretty accessible and interesting. OR
4. We could find a list of ways to lower our individual carbon footprints and be accountable to each other for picking one and acting on it. Would you do one of those with me?” There are many lists online. For example, look here.
I was at a workshop last weekend where the song leaders got us all belting out a pop song called “Brave“. The words and the video are moving. (You can read the words by clicking on “Show More” below the video). The words begin: “You can be amazing. … you can start speaking up.” This song is not about climate change, but I find it helpful to have, “I wanna see you be brave” playing in my head. “Honestly, I wanna see you be brave!”
Let’s all support each other to be brave and talk with everyone about climate change. It matters!
Russ Vernon Jones blogs regularly on climate justice at www.RussVernonJones.org .