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How Do We Talk About Climate Change?

poster: "one world"Now that the holidays are upon us, many of us are probably talking with our family and friends more (albeit virtually). Often, that means more conversations about current issues and important topics. Climate change is an important topic to discuss with family and friends, but it can be rife with challenges, like many current science centered issues. However, you don’t need to be a scientist or climate expert to talk to friends and family about climate change. In fact, as we try to make progress towards tackling climate issues, it is critical to spend time learning and discussing the real human caused consequences climate change has and will have on the planet without mitigation. With that in mind, here are some general things to keep in mind when talking about climate change. 

Framing and Audience

The first step to communicating about climate is to think about how you are going to frame it. This involves thinking about how you are going to present your ideas and the knowledge you do have about climate and how you will react to other’s opinions. Science communicators have shown that connecting climate change to people on a personal level is more effective than using statistics and abstract concepts. In a report by the IPCC they suggest thinking more about your discussion as telling a story and creating a narrative that connects with them on an emotional level rather than a logic level. Part of framing is also knowing your audience. Are you talking to an older relative who enjoys gardening? Discuss with them how climate change will affect the soil health, plant growth, and nutrient density of their gardens. Talking about how climate change is now affecting all of us can be a lot more productive for both parties than complicated graphs and quoting statistics.


Climate Justice

When communicating about climate change, it can be important and useful to refer to scientists and activists who are more experienced and knowledgeable. Sharing credible information on social media from these experts is a great way to help reach family and friends, for example. However, climate change and environmental issues are a complex intersectional array of problems. As such, there is a strong intersection of structural racism, oppression and marginalization both in how climate change issues are communicated and in those who are suffering its most devastating effects. Racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected by climate change, are more likely to support environment and climate friendly policies, and have made huge contributions to climate science, advocacy, etc. Among these scientists and activists of color are, also, incredible youth activists of color fighting for evidence informed climate policies. Keeping racism, climate justice, and the expert voices of color front of mind when talking about and sharing climate change information is crucial to the climate movement. 


Scientific Consensus

Currently there is over 97% consensus among scientists that human-caused climate change is occurring. However, the extent of consensus on a climate related topic or issue varies based on the body of research and other contextual factors. It’s important to keep this in mind when discussing different areas of climate change and try to stick with points that have well-documented scientific consensus. This does involve making sure you are broadly staying up to date on climate change research. Ultimately, you want to ensure you have a solid knowledge base about the current state of climate change research and consensus before going too deep into a conversation on the topic. The  Rutgers-New Brunswick climate change research guide might be a useful resource for this. 


Beyond Politics

While there is no denying that politics plays a role in climate change, particularly regarding policies and regulations, when discussing climate change with friends and family, bringing politics into the discussion will likely result in more defensive and less productive conversations. Thankfully, there is a lot about climate change that isn’t political. Contending with climate and environmental issues is a global issue, thus, we can have these conversations with anyone anywhere and it will always be relevant, regardless of political affiliation. If you are having trouble keeping someone focused on science and not politics, remind them of this. Even though climate change affects us all, each person will have been affected differently and may not even be aware of it; focus on personal values (which may inform partisanship) not politics. We can use that as leverage to communicate and share the ways they will be impacted personally by climate change. You don’t need to be a politician to help make changes, so generally speaking, when you talk to others, keep it personal not political. 


Focus and Action

There are many intricacies and nuances involved in climate research, changes will need to be made across a wide variety of sectors, and the breadth of climate change is only growing. The point being, there is a lot to know about climate change and there is no way to keep up with all of it. Instead, try finding a particular area that interests you and focus on that. For example, if you love going to the beach, try focusing on ocean health and its relationship to climate. More than that, get involved in helping keep oceans clean through initiatives like beach clean-ups. A great way to communicate to others the need for environmental action is by doing. Getting involved in the community, documenting it on social media, and sharing your experiences with family and friends is a great way to demonstrate in real life the need to make changes. It’s one thing to talk about all the trash impacting the oceans, it’s even more convincing to share a picture of yourself next to the pile of trash you’ve collected during your beach clean-up efforts. 


beach clean upThe good news is that many Americans now understand that human-caused climate change exists. Unfortunately, in some ways, that was the easy part. What comes next is trying to determine how to make changes in industry, public policy, lifestyle, and other areas to mitigate the harm and improve our environment. That will require even more input from researchers and activists, as well as community action from people across the globe. First step? Talk about it! Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what your role is in tackling the impacts of climate change, discussions and sharing information is something we can all do to help mobilize our communities to create positive impacts.