Over 27 million Americans (65% of the population) rarely — if ever — talk about climate change.* This jaw-dropping number of people choose not to mention climate, when it is impossible for me not to talk about it. I talk about it over margs with friends and over cake at my cousin’s wedding; I also let my senators know what I think they should do about it.
But I get it. I too had a list of excuses why I shouldn’t broach the topic. Who wants to be the wet blanket bringing a side dish of gloom and doom to the table? I don’t like conflict, and don’t want to start arguments with friends and family who hold different views than me. And, although I work in the climate field, I’m not a scientist.
Good news: none of those things matter. Ditch the excuses and get the conversation going, starting around the Thanksgiving table.
What I’ve discovered is climate change doesn’t need to be a controversial or polarizing issue. If you approach the conversation as a dialogue — rather than an argument — focused on shared values, personal connection and hope, everyone wins.
Here are my tips and conversation starters:
“Don’t start with the science. Instead start by connecting.” Atmospheric scientist Katharine Hayhoe studies climate models. But she doesn’t lead with statistics and facts, she leverages shared values. Find your authentic connection and points of agreement.
Here’s what I say: My friends and I used to ski every Thanksgiving but the last few years the snowpack hasn’t been very good. This unpredictable weather means we need to let go of favorite traditions.
Talk about the weather. I know, climate isn’t weather. But talking about crazy weather is an easy way to make the impacts of climate change personal and to see how receptive someone is to talking about the climate.
Here’s what I say: Last summer’s nagging layer of smoke really irritated my nose and lungs. But more than that, the charred hillside above Basalt is a regular reminder of how scary wildfires are. And while we live in the a fire-prone ecosystem, climate change is contributing to hotter and drier conditions, which can make wildfires more frequent and intense.
Hope > despair. You can acknowledge that climate anxiety is real but try to inject positivity and optimism into the conversation. One way to do this is by talking about solutions that work and the benefits of action. Turns out we all want a lot of the same things.
Here’s what I say: My home and office are in Carbondale, which would be better called “Solar-dale” because it is a hub for solar and energy companies. I’ve seen first hand how more solar PV installations mean more good, local jobs.
Don’t shy away from climate change. Acknowledge what it means to you and share that with someone else. While there are no magic words or one-size-fits-all approach, once you start talking and I promise you’ll find your groove.
Here’s what I’ll say: This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for all of you who start talking about climate, because we know dialogue is a key first step to effect change.