(Originally written by Anja Semanco, edited for POW UK by Róisín Moriarty)
Ah, the holidays, Christmas, a time of hope, understanding and goodwill. Of shared food, drink and merriment among our loved ones. Oh yeah, and do not forget the most enduring of Christmas traditions, uncomfortable conversations. We all know how it goes. While you’re deflecting the awkward ‘When are you going to settle down?’ questioning and avoiding the triad of politics, religion and sex, you witness a casual comment from old uncle Peter across the table about how it has been colder than ever this winter, proof that climate change is not real.
While your first instinct might be to keep your head down and let it pass you know how important the climate emergency is. These are the people most important to you in the world. If they do know about or understand the climate emergency they need to know. This is something that will affect us all. That we all have a part to play in solving.
Even though it might feel uncomfortable, talking about the climate emergency is one of the most important ways we can make a difference on the issue. Around 70 percent of British people say they want faster action on climate change but only a small share of those people say they have talked to friends and family about it.
So gather yourself, take a deep breath, it is time to fight the good fight on the home front. Protect Our Winters UK have your back! Here are our top tips on talking climate and a family fallout-free zone:
- Your climate story
People love and understand stories. Before you can talk climate with someone else, you need to figure out your climate story. What is your experience of climate change? Why do you care? Often the answers to these questions seem obvious until you have to say them out loud and explain what you mean.
So why do you care about climate? Have a couple of lines ready and rehearsed (I know that works for me when I am put on the spot!) at least you have somewhere to start. Use real world examples, like photos from your adventures, that help you tell your story.
Get to know your personal connection with the climate emergency. Craft your story. Build your foundation. If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that you love the outdoors and it is a big part of what defines who you are. Talk about the impacts you are already seeing, experiencing in the outdoor places you love––like shorter ski seasons, extremes in daytime temperatures and snowfall, rivers flooding in seasons when they are usually running low. Keep it local, make it real for those around you.
If you have kids, talk about your fear of them growing up without access to the same outdoor opportunities that you had. Taking the time to understand your connection to the climate emergency and crafting your climate story is a good way to start a connection on this even with the most argumentative individuals. Stories bring people in rather than push them away. Bring your sense of adventure, the majesty of the great outdoors, sense of loss to the story and share it.
People are often surprised that not everyone agrees with them and might be curious as to why you disagree. Starting the conversation is key and knowing your own answers to these questions gives you a good foundation for a conversation like this. Remember the personal approach is important, craft your real world story and tell it.
2. The science
So, now it’s time for the back and forth. Remember the spirit of Christmas. Goodwill and understanding go a long way especially during difficult conversations. These are your family and friends, the people you love most. Remember that. Be kind. Foster that connection.
Research shows that when presented with facts that contradict our beliefs, we cling more tightly to those beliefs and turn away from logical reasoning and turn instead toward turn towards emotional arguments that are difficult to argue against, especially if you try to use the facts.
Understand the science and the climate emergency is great, we should all do our best to increase our knowledge of this important issue. There are lots of great resources, like this one from NASA out there on documenting the evidence, explaining the causes, impacts, explaining how best to talk to others on this topic, the level of action we need to take and the strength of the scientific consensus.
If you still need a little help crafting your quick science one-liners, Yale Climate Connections offers some helpful climate comeback strategies for those especially frustrating questions.
So have the science in your back pocket, but remember that stories, your story is much more powerful. The personal connection and appealing to the emotional beings around you is your goal. The science is not a problem. Making the climate emergency an issue that everyone, including your friends and family, wants to engage on is the battle that is being fought here.
3. Avoid repeating denial arguments
If you do find yourself sat across the table from a denier, do not despair! Remember Tips 1 & 2 above and try to stay on safe ground. Stick to your story and your experiences. Appeal to their curiosity and your shared love of those around you.
If you can, and this is difficult, try not to repeat their arguments back to them. This only helps to strengthen their argument. Refute what they say, argue your side, absolutely just remember you can make a much better rebuttal when you avoid repeating their arguments back to them.
We have talked about using stories above, try and keep the framing of the conversation on your personal experiences and why the climate emergency matters to you. Using ‘climate emergency’ instead of ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming’ is also a type of framing. It is a powerful way to get the conversation focused on what is happening and the actions we all need to take rather than the old tired arguments ‘sure climate is always changing’.
4. All is calm
This is your opportunity to have the calm and memorable climate conversation with those you love. Bring them in out of the cold on this one.
So, when things start to get a little heated resist the urge to go to the science or repeat their arguments.
When it comes to what people think about the climate emergency often it is tied up in opinion, which is based on values and beliefs. People hold on tight to their values and beliefs. It is what makes them who they think they are. This means emotions may run high when you are challenging something extremely personal to them.
Leaning too heavily on the facts makes it seem like it is a cut and dried issue when this conversation feels more like it is challenging values and beliefs, which is something else entirely. It can seem more like a personal attack. Voices start to rise and it starts to get emotional. If the conversation is starting to become a yelling match it is definitely time to diffuse things a little.
How do you do that? Well, it is important to listen, to be sincere, sympathetic and sensitive to those involved in the conversation. You must be prepared to listen. Resist the instinct to immediately start crafting your response. Often, all it takes to diffuse the situation is that other person feels like they are being heard. Concentrate on your listening. Hearing what the other person has to say, letting them know, “I’m hearing that you are sick and tired of being pigeonholed as a bad person because you drive an SUV, is that right?”. Ask them why they feel the way they, try and identify the need behind that feeling, behind all the emotion that is being brought to this conversation.
Today may not be the day that you convince them, but it is important to start the conversation. Show them you are willing to talk about this issue in a calm and compassionate way.
5. Stay positive and humor is key
The climate emergency is no laughing matter. But sometimes we have to step back and laugh at ourselves. Laughter is the best medicine as they say.
Christmas is a time of renewed hope and hope is a powerful thing, it has the power to unite people and there are reasons for hope. More people than ever are engaging with the climate emergency, especially young people and children. Electric vehicles are becoming more commonplace, solar and wind power is growing every year. Businesses are starting to realise that they cannot go on the way they have before. Things are starting to change. There is so much more to be hopeful for and climate is starting to get the attention it needs, but there is still a long way to go.
So there you have it, five tips for talking climate this Christmas.
Finally, the impacts of climate change are already affecting and will continue to affect everyone around the table. Try to convey scale and the urgency of climate emergency, but also try to understand where the people around you are coming from. Addressing the climate emergency is the biggest issue we face. It is going to take the combined will of all people, all around the world, including your family and friends, to make change happen and happen fast.
We need to have the climate conversation. We need to bring hope and understanding on the issue to the fore. This is just the beginning of our journey together to tackle the climate emergency.
Here at Protect Our Winters UK we hope you enjoy some downtime over the holidays, get offline, get outside and go and do what you love – see you out on the hills!
We would like to take this opportunity to wish you and yours a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.