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How to talk to your family about climate change

So you want to talk about climate change? While it may seem simple enough to start the conversation, climate change is a multifaceted issue which is often not presented in mainstream media. It is also one of those hot topics that people across the world are divided on, which can bring in a lot of opinions. It can be a tricky topic to discuss with people around you, but it is also very necessary so we can break the climate silence! 

Having a climate conversation is important because we need people to be thinking about it. Due to the polarity of the topic, it is often avoided. There are many barriers that people face including that it is intimidating to talk about, they may not have all the answers or they simply don’t want to start a fight.  But can you imagine if it was as common as talking about the latest episode of your favourite show, imagine the impact it would have! To get you started we’ve compiled a guide of sorts to help you open that door and start making an impact.  

  1. Don’t wait for someone else to bring up the topic, break the silence. If you feel that someone you know does not understand the issue of climate change fully, try bringing it up. Again do it conversationally and casually to avoid the myriad of emotions that can come with such a contentious issue. It doesn’t always have to be an in-depth conversation or emotional debate. Mentioning it in passing or having an informal, light conversation is a great step towards breaking down some barriers 
  1. When approaching the topic of climate change, I find it best to approach it as a simple conversation, not a debate or argument. Debates and arguments tend to get heated with both sides ending up getting frustrated and even more polarized from each other. Going into the conversation with a level head and acknowledging that you are having a conversation will help keep emotions level and create a productive environment. 
    1. Using humour can be a great way to temporarily let our guards down. This makes it easier to be open to new thoughts and ideas. It also gives our brain a break from our emotional mind, so we can avoid becoming too emotional in these conversations
    2. Try to avoid the blame game as that is a sure-fire way of getting emotions riled up and having someone dig their heels in on their side of the issues. Climate change is a very complex issue with many sectors contributing and no one person to blame. 
  1. Before you spout facts, find some common values between the person and how climate change would affect those. Katharine Heyhoe has a great TED talk on climate conversations. Creating the connection between climate change and personal values is often the missing link for some people. A lot of focus in the media is on the polar bears in the arctic or the rainforest in Brazil, both of which are important issues, however living in Southern Alberta we have no connection to polar bears or rainforests. Tell a story to connect with the other person. Personalizing the issue makes it more relatable and feels more real. 
    1. Focus on the rewards and opportunities that come from taking action on climate change, like good health or jobs in the future. Stay away from the sacrifices that may need to be made, as most people don’t respond well to doom and gloom. 
  1. While you don’t need to be a climate data scientist to talk about climate change, it does help knowing some facts beforehand. Educating yourself about how climate change works and the effects that are most noticeable in your area, is a great start to get you talking. Here are some of the basics to help: 
    1. Humans are causing an amplification of the natural climate change that occurs. If someone counters that the climate changes naturally through varying cycles, they are correct. However, human activities are causing these changes to be amplified meaning natural warming is increasing because of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the growing season is lengthening each year by days, forest fires are burning but for longer and often hotter due to drought like conditions.   
    2. Climate does not equal daily weather. Weather is the current conditions or conditions of the atmosphere over a short period of time. Whereas climate is how the atmosphere acts over a relatively long period of time, usually 30 years. Climate change is the changes in the long-term averages of daily weather. 
    3. Extreme weather events are a by-product of climate change. Yes, extreme weather events have happened for thousands of years, however the frequency, duration and severity of these events is what is being caused by human-created climate change. 
    4. The greenhouse effect is caused by greenhouse gases being released into our atmosphere in large quantities. These gases trap the heat that is released from the earth and hold it in the atmosphere, blanketing the earth with higher temperatures. Like when you have a steaming hot bath, put on your fleece pyjamas, hop into bed and end up sweating for the rest of the night.   
  1. Be open to the idea that some people are not going to agree with you, no matter how hard you try. Each individual has different opinions, beliefs and experiences that shape their view of the world and how it works. Be a good human and respect that they may have different beliefs than you, agree to disagree if you can seem to sway their mind. 

Always be respectful when having these conversations. We all have topics and passions that we care about. We all have different reasons for thinking the way that we do and we are all different. While it may be frustrating not being able to sway someone’s mind, think about how they may be feeling the same way as you. Sometimes the point of the conversation is not to change someone’s mind, but to simply add a new perspective that they may not have heard before. Remember that big changes can come from small talks and by starting the conversation, you’re doing one of the most important things you can do.

For a more in depth guide to climate conversations visit the Environment Lethbridge webpage.