In early May, the Lilja office held our annual Earth Day cleanup – no typo there! The prolonged Minnesota winter pushed back our plans by a few weeks, but we were happy to have a beautiful day to get outside, roll up our sleeves and clean up our little corner of the planet. And it got me thinking again about conservation and sustainability, and how we can communicate effectively about this scientific yet emotional topic.
Recently, I attended Climate Generation’s Talk Climate Institute to learn more about how to talk about climate change. What I quickly realized was that it’s not about how clearly you communicate the facts or how you get the information across, it’s how well you listen and how you craft your own climate story that really matters.
What’s your climate story?
We all have one. It might not be momentous, it may have affected you personally, or it may have impacted your whole region – the degree of impact may vary, but we’ve all been touched by climate change. For some of us, routines and daily life have not changed dramatically, so we might think we don’t have a climate story to share. But we are all eyewitnesses to the effects of climate change, and we all have a story to tell. And when we focus on our own stories, we are the experts. When you find yourself in a conversation about climate change, share your experiences and the emotions you felt – build a connection with the people you’re talking to, and share why action on climate change is important to you personally and to the people or places you’ve seen impacted.
Focus on the “movable middle.”
My favorite part of the workshop was a lecture from Macalester College assistant professor Christie Manning on the psychology of sustainable behavior. For many, climate change is a psychologically distant event – imagine a polar bear floating on an ice floe. But as we know, it’s a much more immediate and local threat, so we have to bridge that gap. Professor Manning spoke about the widened divide between the ends of the climate change spectrum – between believers and deniers. Both ends are unlikely to change their minds, so we must focus on the “movable middle.” Focus on conversations with those who are reachable and who might already care a bit. They need support – to connect climate change to everyday life, to feel hope about solutions, and to see social norms change. What keeps people involved is the feeling that their participation matters, that it wouldn’t be the same without them.
Engage in conversation.
Notice I didn’t say “talk to someone about climate change.” It’s just as important, if not more so, to listen and digest what you hear as it is to share your own story. Ask permission to talk about climate change, ask open-ended questions that let the other person open up, and listen. Repeat what you are hearing and then share your climate story, grounding it with a few facts. Establishing a personal connection around this topic allows the other person to be heard, share their fears and concerns, and ask their questions. Connection is how we’re going to make a difference and effectively fight climate change.
So, as summer kicks into gear and you spend more time outdoors, think about what your climate story might be, practice your listening skills, and engage with someone in the “movable middle.” You never know what kinds of conversations you might have!
For a taste of the workshop, enjoy these graphic recordings illustrated live by Drawn Well artist Lisa Troutman, and read this op-ed to learn more about how to talk climate from the Climate Generation organizers of the workshop.
Posted by: Claire Lukens