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Navigating the ‘Not-So-Difficult’ Climate Conversation

By: Connor Vago

November 20th, 2023

The following is a piece written through the perspective of ClimateActionWR volunteer and graduating university student, Connor Vago. We know that it feels intimating to talk to your peers about climate change, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Using different tools as ways to integrate talking about climate everyday to normalize it, helps it becomes easier to discuss. We hope that this piece can give some inspiration as you continue to live sustainably.

You may think that talking about climate change is not the easiest task. In fact, you may unknowingly avoid charged topics such as climate change. But I do not want anyone to feel like that is the case. There is so much power in your voice, so much power in your conversations. More than 7’000 languages are spoken globally, compiling billions of different voices, unique to each speaker and listener alike. Not all conversations are simple. Because of this, you may view climate change as a difficult topic. Just because it appears difficult does not mean it has to be avoided. Let’s discuss some techniques for making the climate conversation a ‘not-so-difficult’ one. 

It’s important to remember, and more important to believe, that your voice is your superpower. You probably won’t stop climate change all on your own, but you can directly influence the world around you by speaking to it. Learning to navigate the climate conversation starts with normalizing the topic in your day-to-day life. Normalizing climate conversations in your immediate circle (friends and family) and practicing having them, is a great way to inspire, support and discover new avenues for change. 

A group of people talking

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Photo credit; University of California having better conversations

Daryl Chen writes that most groups (families, teams, etc.) have one: an uncomfortable, charged, or complicated conversation that needs to happen but does not. Increasingly, the most complicated and charged conversations are involving something along the topic line of “what do we do about climate change?”. Climate change may not be the first and last thing you think about every day, but it is important to normalize its discussion. It is also important to note that you do not need to be an expert to engage meaningfully in good conversation. Good conversation is not just about the exchange of information and it should not be mistaken as a debate which you can win or lose. 

Conversations can allow for connection, intimacy, and emotion. As humans, we are blessed with the ability to feel strongly and feel freely. We are also blessed with the unique ability to express these feelings in a multitude of ways, including but not limited to expression through our words. Climate change is one of those topics that can bring up a variety of emotions. As its effects become more obvious, we should make sure to actively create safe spaces for people to express their feelings and thoughts. Not only will this help people process the realities of a changing climate, but it may in turn provide you with new and more accessible avenues for talking about it. Introducing, or making room for emotion, will take some of the weight off of the technical aspects of the climate conversation. 

A person with a butterfly and a turtle around her

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Climate justice starts with the individual. 
Photo credit; ClimateFast

It’s the everyday conversations about climate change, those within your sphere of influence (being groups; friends, family, and colleagues) that allow you to practice conversations. Private Actions that are made up of individual efforts geared toward spreading information and acknowledging emotion inspire some of the most meaningful change. Simply talking about the issue, can and will make a difference. Talk Climate To Me, which received a Clean50 Top Project award for 2023, is a great resource to help you better approach climate conversations.

Another great resource, The Talking Climate Handbook, provides practical advice for navigating your climate conversations. The handbook follows the principles of REAL TALK which highlight suggestions or action items for better participation in good conversation. 

REAL TALK acronym. Photo credit; Climate Outreach Talking Climate Handbook – how to have a 
climate change conversation

One of these principles that has worked for me is listening to and showing those you are engaged with that they have been heard. Remember when I mentioned conversation is more than the simple exchange of information? Well, good conversations are a two-way street. REAL TALK requires Real listening and a genuine desire to hear and understand what the person you are engaging with thinks and feels. This is a thoughtful engagement. This will ensure you are speaking with someone and not at them. This will help reduce how difficult your conversations feel. And this will help you create a safe and approachable environment.

There is no script for how to perfectly approach these conversations, and it was not my hope that I could create one for you. But it is my hope to help anyone who thinks they cannot engage with this topic to believe that they can. You can do anything you set your mind to, that’s the beauty of having a voice. If no one ever spoke up, then nothing would ever change. 

Simply allowing the conversations to flow freely takes some of the difficulty away from the topic. Normalizing those conversations in turn makes it seem less intimidating and foreign. Again, there is no ‘one right way’. To inspire public action, we must first practice private ones. Conversation is one of the powerful actions you can engage in, the beauty of conversations is that the stakes are so low. A private action isn’t just a drop in the bucket if it creates ripples, and even the smallest drops have this power. Your voice and ability to speak up, both directly and indirectly, have the power to create these ripples. Afterall, you never know how far they might reach. 

A close-up of a water drop

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Ripples in a pond, an expression of action and effect. 
Photo credit; ScienceABC

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