How to Talk About Climate Change in a Way That Makes a Difference – Rebecca Huntley

I picked up this book because, although I am a very passionate about addressing climate change, I struggle to have face-to-face conversations about it with those that are less engaged than me (except online). But this is such an important part of addressing the problem. Engaging and encouraging people to take action.

And then when I do find myself in a conversation with someone who does not hold the same views, someone who is leaning towards the state of denialism, I find the words get all tangled on my tongue and I become frustrated and flustered because they can’t see my point of view. I feel exasperated.

Aside from how egotistical this sounds, as Anais Nin states, “we don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are”, the assumption my point of view is the only point of view is a very unproductive way to communicate. So, I turned to Australian researcher, Rebecca Huntly, to guide me through the process.

The book is divided up into chapters based on emotions and how to address those emotions that manifest when talking to people. These include: guilt, fear, anger, denial, despair, hope, loss and love. I found this a very helpful way to digest the information within the book and breakdown communication barriers. It opened my mind to seeing the topic from many angles and points of view.

I recommend this book, not just to those wanting to spark conversations around climate change, but as a generalist communications book for anything you’re passionate about and want to advocate for.

I read this book a while ago and when I went to look over my kindle highlights there was a myriad of them! Here are some of what I think are the most important (these points are paraphrased directly from the book):

WHY WE NEED TO STOP ARGUING ABOUT THE SCIENCE

  • Communication has undermined the progress of the climate movement (namely massive disinformation campaigns by fossil fuel companies).
  • In saying that, there has been no fundamental change in climate physics since 1979, only refinement. Meaning, we have known about the consequences of burning fossil fuels – that being climate change – since 1979 and we are still debating the science of it, even though this hasn’t changed in over 40 years.
  • The main challenge now is not to unearth more facts about climate change but to find a way to make all of us messy, clever and contradictory humans act to save our planet.

THE IMPORTANCE OF FEELINGS OVER FACTS

  • Before you even think about what to say, you have to ask yourself who you are talking to and what you want to get them to do.
  • We have to create a positive, alternative view of the future that is different from the doom and gloom scenario we are so commonly presented with.
  • Conservatives that oppose action on climate change love telling people that environmentalists want to take away your house and your car (your privileges) and leave you shivering in the caves. The y get away with it because we don’t have an alternative vision.

GUILT

  • Looking at climate change as unintentional harm is important given humans tend to place huge moral significance on whether someone causes harm deliberately or not.

FEAR

  • When it comes to fear, worry is a more productive emotion because it doesn’t hijack our cognitive abilities as much as fear does.

ANGER

  • Think of your advocacy as a game rather than a battle. This way you’ll avert the feeling you’re always heading to war, you’ll be more creative and you might actually enjoy it (no one wants to be around the angry one).
  • Use your anger as ‘rocket fuel’ for action and couple it with other emotions.
  • Being a keyboard warrior isn’t going to change people’s minds, only reinforce the views you already hold.

DENIAL

  • If we understand climate denial not as a rejection of the science but as a response to a threat to identity (whether that be political or societal etc.), status and power. Having this understanding, we can then see climate deniers are therefore not stupid or unable to understand the information, but their identity is more threatened by the climate message.

DESPAIR

  • Professor Tim Flannery put it bluntly in these terms: ‘Despair is the lazy man’s option’ (he’s much more interested in rebellion).

HOPE

  • Functional hope is believing that change is possible while being fully aware of whatever adversities one might be confronted with today and yet being so focused on investing all the effort necessary for a better and brighter future.
  • There is a fine balance in having hope, on one side false hopes are worse than no hope at all, on the other, no one will join a movement that doesn’t have hope.

LOSS

  • Humans are far more sensitive to losses in the present, which feel more certain, than losses in the future, which feel less certain. This explains the difficulty in action today on climate change for effects in the future.

LOVE

  • It’s not that useful getting too bogged down in the science or requiring people to share all of your values and beliefs is unlikely to get them to act. If you can find something that matters to them and then connect meaningfully with climate change, that’s a critical first step. Avoid or sidestep some of the aspects of the climate discussion they dislike that would shut the conversation down, then you can keep the conversation going.

TALKING ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE

  • Breaking the climate science is critically important to helping circumvent some of the cognitive biases and psychological barriers.
  • In talking to people about climate change you should always try to keep an open mind, be alert to your own biases and be prepared to learn from others.
  • Greta Thunberg said in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, “The coronavirus is a terrible event… but it also shows one thing: that once we are in a crisis, we can… act fast and change our habits and treat a crisis like a crisis”.

How has reading this book affected my conversations?

Well, it’s made me less judgmental on climate deniers and climate inactors (yes, that’s a made up word but I like it). I still get tongue tied however, I find it easier to talk about climate change without getting overwhelmed and angry. I find myself using humor more often as well as talking about the topic more often without feeling like I’m bringing something taboo to the table.

Talking openly with people about climate change is a constant work in progress for me and I know I could be advocating and sparking conversations more than I have been. Writing this post is a reminder of the power of conversation and especially being open minded and interweaving love into our words.

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