Krista Kurth, Ph.D.
How to Tell Compelling Climate Stories
Updated: Sep 10, 2020
10 Tips for Talking with Family and Friends about Climate Change
When was the last time you talked with your friends, family or colleagues about the climate crisis?
If it’s been a while, you’re not alone. A 2017 survey found that only about 20 percent of Americans hear someone they know talking about the climate crisis at least once a month.
Yes, these days we all have a lot of challenges on our personal plates. And it’s not always comfortable raising the topic with people who may see things a bit differently.
But some issues are too urgent not to discuss–and the climate crisis is one of them. If we are going to reach net zero before 2050, we have to keep the conversation going on climate solutions. One of the best ways to do this is to talk with those we interact with regularly. We have more impact than we know, when we engage our friends, family, and colleagues around the urgency to take action together now.
Yes, it's tricky to elicit a change of heart and inspire action in others. We’ve all experienced eyes glazing over as they listen to us or someone else talking about the scientific facts of climate change. We can easily lose people in too much information or scare them with the immensity of how bad things are and the size of the task ahead. Or we get caught up in disagreements with others who have differing values and worldviews, leading us to avoid raising the subject again.
Fortunately, there is a lot of information available on how to talk successfully with others about climate change. Various climate focused organizations, like the Climate Reality Project, Climate X Change, Climate Generation, World Wildlife Fund, and the UN, have conducted research and published articles, blogs and guides on how people best receive information, what inspires us to act, and how to tailor our messages to resonate with different audiences.
Below are eight tips, culled from various sources, to help you have engaging and accessible conversations with those in your close circles. It all begins with telling compelling stories.
“Stories are how we, as people, make sense of the world. They help us remember things, and they’re really how we think.” Josthna Harris, Community Engagement Manager, Climate Generation.
8 Tips for Telling More Compelling Climate Stories
People respond best to messages that touch them emotionally. Because our brains are wired to listen to and for stories, when we hear one, we more easily absorb the information, it stays with us longer, and calls us to action. Storytelling also puts the science around climate change into a human context, which makes it more approachable and understandable.
Use the following tips to guide you in making your climate conversations more engaging and impactful.
1. Be Personal.
Draw on your own experience and values. Share your feelings about why taking action is important to you, specifically. Discuss how it affects you and those you love. To prepare, take some time to reflect deeply about why you care about this issue and how it affects both you personally and the community and world in which you live. (In an upcoming blog post, I will share a process for creating your own personal climate story and share mine with you.)
2. Be Relatable.
Since you know your audience well, select stories that connect the dots on the things your friends/family care about. Speak about how climate change affects their everyday lives. For example, when talking with my friends in the Bahamas, I can talk about the increasing strength of hurricanes and the sea level rising. They are intimately familiar with both trends and have personally felt their impact. Research shows that when people learn how taking climate action, like signing up for clean energy, can benefit their wallets, they are more likely to act.
3. Be Human-Centered.
Enhance your personal story by adding a complementary climate story from the media. If you don’t have any yet, or if your stories are from a previous year, scan the media for current stories that pull on your heartstrings and/or motivate you to take action. Look for stories that tell about the impact in your local area, and overseas.
4. Be Hopeful.
Research shows that when people feel more hopeful, they are more deeply interested in wanting to keep our planet safe. Interject inspiring climate stories into your conversations. Provide a vision for the future and give examples how we are well on our way to creating a more sustainable future. If you are looking for climate stories to share, check out the solutions in Project Drawdown or read Climate Reality’s list of 99 reasons to keep fighting for our future.
5. Be Inspirationally Urgent.
Share why you are making climate action a priority amid all the many current challenges in the world. Many people don’t understand the urgency of what’s happening to our planet. Briefly bring up real, immediate, and tangible examples, like the increased severity and frequency of hurricanes, that show how crucial it is to take action now.
Remind them that the scientists say we can turn the crisis around if we take significant action this decade. Our choices now will determine the future we will inhabit.
6. Be Socially Just.
Share stories that link climate change to other social issues. The climate crisis is intricately connected to social, racial and gender injustice. We can find inequities can in every sector that climate solutions touch: transportation, housing, urban planning, and access to clean air and water, to name a few. Because we now are looking to transform these systems to make them resilient to climate change, we can implement collaborative solutions that create equity at the same time.
7. Be Visually Interesting.
Complement your story with a few carefully chosen pictures, graphs, or select facts. As you know, images can speak more than a thousand words. They can also provide some relevant facts. Check out these animated charts of global temperature over time or these seven charts, pulled together by BBC, that show where we were in January 2020 re climate change facts. Or check out Pinterest for more possibilities.
8. Be Action-Oriented.
Talk about some actions you are taking. Science shows that people are more likely to take action on climate if those around them are doing the same. If your loved ones are ready for action, ask them questions about what they most care about and make suggestions on what they could do to take action. There are many things they can do on a small scale at home, let them know about the more high-impact actions, like eating a plant rich diet, driving less, and buying green energy. Direct them to resources like the NRDC article, How You Can Help Fight Climate Change. Share information with them about local action and solutions in their community. This year, if you live in the United States, try steering them towards voting for environmentally committed candidates.
9. Be Ready to Answer Questions.
Know the facts about climate change so you can respond to people’s questions or direct them to a place where they can find answers. The findings showed that how much we understand climate change makes a big difference in how likely we are to take action. You can find the latest information on climate change on the IPCC website. You can read a summary of the 2018 report here.
10. Be Prepared to Talk with Climate Deniers.
If you have any climate deniers in your circle, then you may need to change your approach. The goal is to avoid overt expressions of anger and partisan bickering, both of which shut down honest conversations. Start by staying calm, being vulnerable, asking questions and listening. The process of simply hearing what another person says is enough to defuse any emotional charge in the conversation.
Focus on climate solutions to find common ground. It is likely that you will agree that something like improving pollution and transportation systems would be beneficial. If you would like more resources on this subject, check out this YouTube video on How to Talk with Climate Deniers, or the Climate Reality Project’s article on The 12 Questions Every Climate Activist Hears and What to Say.
If the conversation breaks down, then retreat and hone your skills. Learn more about and apply Non-violent communication (NVC), which focuses on bridging communication divides using an understanding of universal human needs. It is an effective tool that involves listening, repeating, asking questions, and thinking about what needs are being expressed.
The key thing is to keep trying.
When will you have your next climate conversation and who will it be with?
I’d love to know what’s grabbing your attention or what questions are running through your mind. Let me know in the comments section. I’ll respond in one of my blog posts.
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All the best,
Krista / Eco-Omi