Trying to Talk to Family about Climate Change? Here's How
It’s important to talk about climate change. But how do you talk about it with friends and family who don't believe it's real, or don’t think we can do anything about it? We hear from a father and son who successfully navigated this conversation, and we bring you step-by-step tips from an expert on how to have a conversation where both sides actually hear each other. Maybe try it out this socially-distanced Thanksgiving!
For more details, sign up for our newsletter.
Here are the six steps outlined by Steve Deline with the New Conversation Initiative on how to have difficult conversations about climate change.
Step 1 – Set realistic expectations for yourself!
Your initial goal should be to lower the temperature around this issue. Even if you just succeed in attempting to talk to them one on one, or expressing a DESIRE to do so, that’s an important step forward! Do NOT set yourself an expectation that you will change how they feel about climate all in one go!
Step 2 – Find a buddy!
Find someone you trust and feel comfortable with who’s down to be your support before and after having a challenging conversation with a friend or family member. Talk to them about what your fears are, and name some goals for what you’re doing to make this one go different.
Step 3 – Find a quiet moment to talk to your family member
Ideally do it when you can be one-on-one, NOT surrounded by the whole family at the actual Thanksgiving table! Be direct and say “Hey, I’d love to find a time to talk more about this.” So that they have a chance to opt in.
Step 4 – Listen!
When the time comes to talk, start by letting them know that you really want to understand how they feel about climate change. Listen, and ask follow up questions “Tell me more? Why do you feel that way?” But importantly, DON’T RESPOND. Don’t engage with the parts that you disagree with. Just give them a chance to talk it out and be heard, you want to let them get the crux of their feelings on the subject off their chest.
Step 5 – Acknowledge that you disagree
Let them know what you think. For example “Got it. So you’re probably not surprised to hear it but I think climate change is real and human-caused.” But then most importantly, say “BUT I really want to find a way to talk to you about it openly, and better understand what each other thinks, even if we don’t agree.” In other words, name the elephant in the room – that you disagree – and name it without being upset about it!
Step 6 – Make it personal.
Turn the conversation away from dueling facts, and towards life and experiences. For example, I might share a story about my friend Laurel, whose sister lost her home to a wildfire in Paradise, CA, and how hearing her story was the first time I felt a knot of fear in my stomach, that my own community could be in danger of the same thing. The key here is to share vulnerably, and then talk about how it made you FEEL. And then (most importantly) invite them to do the same – bring emotion explicitly into the conversation.
Some more resources that we recommend:
The Secret to Talking about Climate Change, from the Alliance for Climate Education
How to Talk About Climate Change at Thanksgiving Dinner feat. Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, by Young Evangelicals for Climate Action
Bob says to send your conservative family members to RepublicEN.org, where they can talk to them in the language of conservatism
A few of the research papers telling us that climate conversations matter:
Discussing global warming leads to greater acceptance of climate science
Children can foster climate change concern among their parents
The influence of personal beliefs, friends, and family in building climate change concern among adolescents
If you have a conversation about climate change, do us a favor and tell us about it! We’d love to hear how it went and what it felt like. Record a short voice memo on your phone and send it to us at email@example.com. We might use it in an upcoming episode.