It’s lockdown. We’re stuck at home or walking laps around our local park. So here at Curious.Earth we’re not going to preach about how you can reduce your carbon footprint from travel – unless you’re an Instagram influencer your footprint is probably negligible right now. So instead, this week we’re offering some useful insight and tips on how to positively impact an activity we’re all doing a lot of at the moment…talking. Zooms, phone calls, socially distanced in-person conversations (oh those fleeting moments….), we’re all trying (or trying to avoid) conversations with friends and family as we ‘check in’ on one another. 

We at CE are also aware of the increasing news coverage of environmental issues, both positive and negative.  There is a real opportunity to positively engage others with issues we care about. Hey! It beats analysing the cultural development of Bridgerton or attempts to describe ‘that pretty bird’ you saw in a tree to your bird-enthusiast friend. You may have seen Oatly’s new campaign focussed on this exact action. The reference to ‘Dad’ may not be to your taste, but the sentiment resonates with us all – we all have that person who is climate skeptical, and sniggers as you diligently wrap your leftovers in beeswax wrappers. 

But how do we approach this complex issue without preaching, screaming, arguing or leaving the other party feeling more despondent and sad than before? How do we show that friend that thinking about the carbon footprint of their travel/food choices/purchasing habits is important? How do we relate small actions to a wider, planetary goal?

Its not easy, and hey, it may not work for all. But here we’ve compiled some academically-rigorous, verified tips on how to engage in a positive discussion with your loved ones about issues relating to the environment [even if they didn’t realise it]! Let us know how you get on….

Some guidance for engaging in a positive climate conversation:

  1. Use facts, but not alone

Our climate is changing. Fact. The good news is that most of us agree with this, so it’s unlikely you’ll have to convince your mate that it’s not a myth. A couple of nuggets in your back pocket are useful, but do not think that they will be good enough on their own! To be geeky about this stuff, there is an important behavioural model known as information-deficit model that hypothesises that people will change their attitudes and behaviour when provided with more information. SPOILER ALERT! – it’s not that simple for climate issues! Therefore, keep information succinct, real, immediate and tangible. Use it to create urgency, but don’t expect facts to change opinions in isolation.

  1. Combine facts with emotion, make it personal

We live in a post-truth world. Flat-earthers will believe the earth is flat even if science proves this is false. Therefore, facts are most powerful when combined with personal stories that are relatable and understandable. Think about how you can relay the experience of climate change and climate action in a way that is compelling and relatable to your audience. Connect on shared values e.g. future generations, health, equality, and relate issues to local stories and experiences. 

  1. Avoid the blame game

Try not to focus on the individual and try not to blame the person’s actions on the climate crisis we are witnessing. They are part of a wider system, and blaming can lead to feelings of uselessness and powerlessness, that in turn make the individual more likely to switch off and disengage from the problem entirely!

  1. Ask questions rather than give answers 

Ok so they say that drinking oat milk is for a bunch of losers. Rather than simply disagreeing – ask them why? Ask questions about how they would like the problem solved, sharing the problem and asking them for help in finding an appropriate solution. This will also help them to understand how difficult these issues are, and ultimately, that there is no right solution, just lots of ‘better ways’ of acting. Try not to fill questions with answers, which tends to make the issue seem like only yours, and your friend/family member take the role of denier/devils advocate. 

  1. Listen. Really Listen.

Don’t talk over your friend or family member, don’t shout them down, instead listen and try to understand why they might hold the opinion voiced. What is their motivation, underlying feeling, concern and priorities that drive this view? Show you are listening and it’ll build good will. Frame your response within their world view – for example if they are against the new cycle lane because it’ll increase congestion, acknowledge their frustration of how difficult to get around the city, and consider discussing solutions to this wider problem. You’d be surprised what issues you end up agreeing on! 

  1. Allow difference in actions, and different reasons for action

We are all different, and we all have different motivations to act in a climate-friendly way. You may be reusing your coffee cup for environmental benefits, they might be as it looks really cool. Communicate the benefits in terms they’ll relate to and understand. But also make sure you reiterate the benefits to the environment, it may not be their prime motivation but realising the additional benefits helps to raise overall environmental awareness. 

  1. Don’t feel too despondent if the conversation doesn’t end as positively as hoped

People are stubborn. If you’re a stubborn environmentalist, likelihood is your friends and family may exhibit similar traits, but that doesn’t mean your words haven’t had an effect. Change comes on our terms and in our own timeframe. You have been an aid in helping someone on what is ultimately a journey to environmental consciousness and subsequent action. Don’t be afraid to revisit the conversation in a non-judgemental, inquisitive manner. Make the aim of the conversation to end with the door open for further talk on the topic another day.  

Climate Outreach have helpfully summarised these hints and tips in a mnemonic, REAL TALK:

Be.Curious

Curious to learn more about constructive climate communication? Here’s some links to some extra reading:

And finally good luck! Keep talking and feel free to let us know how you get on!

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