Everybody has a hard time trying to talk about difficult topics with their family members over the holiday season. But yet, we also know that it’s increasingly important to talk about issues such as climate change and raise awareness about them. So, how exactly do we broach the subject of climate change this Christmas?
We asked our friend Chris from Climate Conversations to help us out.
Wait, what? Didn’t I co-found a non-profit that advocates for people to have Climate Conversations?
We advocate for people to have effective conversations, and research shows that trying to change the mind of people who are strongly against caring for our life-supporting-natural-systems isn’t effective or necessary. Often the question of conversations at Christmas comes up because people are thinking about their Uncle Scrooge. You know, the uncle who thinks that coal and nuclear are the energy of the future and that climate change is some conspiracy uncovered by a group of plucky oil barons.
Sorry, Uncle Scrooge isn’t changing his mind any time soon, but thankfully, we don’t need him to. Successful movements are ones that engage with the people who are passively supportive, or on the fence, and move them to action.
Our energy is much better spent on family members who are quiet in such discussions. The majority of the population is actually quite worried about climate breakdown, but feel too nervous to talk about it, so getting Uncle Scrooge involved is not going to help. Conversations with them might be better done one to one (or inviting them to a climate conversation) rather than around the dinner table where Uncle Scrooge can sing the praises of digging up dead dinosaurs and setting them on fire.
So before jumping into that, er, “discussion” with Uncle Scrooge, it’s worth keeping in mind what that discussion does for your other family members who are genuinely interested and concerned about climate, and how our brains process such discussions.
If they see a heated debate about the breakdown of our climate, it’s going to reinforce the view that climate discussions are uncomfortable and discourage them from talking about it. What’s more, our brains latch on to the things we hear the most about. If you get into an extended debate about whether climate change is happening, people will leave that conversation thinking that’s the most important question they should be asking, instead of the much more important question, “What should we be doing?” Or the even better question, “Just how wonderful is being a part of a community that advocates for our earth and our future?”
“But, won’t people just listen to Uncle Scrooge if I don’t challenge him?” Again, the possible outcomes of that conversation can be surprising. Uncle Scrooge’s conversation is sustained by argument; If you don’t argue with him, but instead move the conversation on to something else, you’d be surprised how few people remember it later.
For those family members that are quietly concerned or on the fence, here’s how you might discuss the breakdown of our climate with them:
1. Start with common interests and connect them to nature
The joy of living in an interconnected world is that everything is connected to our natural world- it’s just that sometimes, we forget. You both love food? Think about the farmers who grew it, picnics, that episode of Masterchef in the Japanese cherry blossom orchard. Sports and the outdoors? Enough said. Tech? Did you hear Microsoft are dropping their data centres into the ocean? You get the picture.
Start with a common interest to ground the conversation in things that we love and the joy of those things. The things and people we love in the world are always a good reminder of why it’s worth saving. Don’t lean too heavily on the doom and gloom though, they probably already know about it- 2018 has been a rough year for the climate. Instead, let’s talk about the joy of climate action.
2. Talk about how climate action brings joy
Talking about climate breakdown can’t be all doom and gloom (who wants to come back to that conversation a second time?). Have you volunteered or contributed to caring for our natural wonders? Have you met great people doing the same or joined a community?
By now, many of us (even those who never say it) know that something is seriously wrong with our relationship with the Earth and the toll it’s taking on our society and our future. Sadly, though, far too few people know about the amazing communities here in Singapore and around the world that are coming together to care for our society and our future, and how climate action makes our society better.
Even with the release of the IPCC special report, which actually contains a scenario for positive action humanity could take, most of the focus was on how bad it would be if we just sit on our hands and do nothing. Sharing about the joy and beauty that climate action creates is a powerful alternative narrative that people need to hear to be inspired to act.
3. Talk about your bank
Speaking of conversations that move people to action, one of the greatest ways to influence climate solutions is through how our banks use our money. Did you know that this year Standard Chartered has adopted a no coal power policy? They won’t finance coal power anywhere on the planet. While many banks committed before them, Standard Chartered’s decision is significant because they are the first such bank with a major presence in South-East Asia, where a significant number of coal stations are planned. A decision by other banks to join Standard Chartered will be a deciding factor in meeting our goal of limiting warming to 1.5ºC.
So leave the debates with Uncle Scrooge to someone else this year.
Take some time this holiday season to recharge, and reconnect with what’s wonderful about caring for our environment, and share those joys with others. Still unsure? At Climate Conversations we train volunteers to guide structured, positive conversations about climate breakdown and climate action for circles of friends and family.
Host one, invite your friends or family, and let our facilitator do the rest. One of the joys of working with all our volunteers is hearing the stories from hosts about how positively their friends reacted to the conversation, and how much more open they are to talking about climate after the conversation. I’d love to hear a story like that from you too.
And your journey to living more consciously doesn’t have to end with just conversations- why don’t you also check out how to have a Zero Waste Christmas, a Vegan Christmas, or even our Conscious Gifts under $50 guide to help get you started on your journey? You can even take our little quiz to help you figure out what to get your BFFs, too!
Chris is the co-founder of Climate Conversations. We know that many people are concerned about climate change, and that for society to deploy climate solutions at the scale and speed necessary needs widespread community support. Our conversations build that support one circle of friends at a time.