3 good reasons to overcome your fears and talk about climate change

Does the idea of talking about climate change with someone who might not share your views make you feel a bit sweaty? You’re not alone! But if we’re going to increase support for climate action in our communities we need to engage as many people as possible. Here are some great reasons to get chatting…

By Claire Brown — 31st Jan · 5 min read

Did you know that people will willingly give up the chance to win money rather than listen to someone with a different viewpoint on a debate they care about?

This is how so many of us have ended up in echo chambers, surrounded by a comfort blanket of righteous voices who wholeheartedly agree with us. 

These chambers can be safe, and even nurturing places, where we don’t have to confront those who annoy, frustrate or anger us – but by definition they also exclude, which doesn’t make sense when we want to build an inclusive climate movement that reaches out beyond those who already agree. 

In fact, research tells us that the UK has the least welcoming climate movement in Europe, so if you agree that this needs to change, then join us as we step out from the comfort of our chambers and start making connections with people whose views may not always reflect our own. 

To get you started, here are three good reasons to start talking about climate change:

1. You can create space for people to think

How often during a busy day have you said to someone, “I just don’t have time to think”? Many of us lead frantic lives filled with responsibilities that demand most of our attention, and if we do have time to check in with the news there’s a constant stream of war, injustice, and human suffering that can leave us craving an escapist Netflix binge instead.

By being accepting of people who don’t have the climate crisis on their radar we can create a little bit of breathing space for them to consider it without feeling under pressure or judged. 

By asking open questions and patiently listening to their answers we can help people to work out what they think about a particular issue. For example, how do they feel about their level of access to nature? Or what alternatives would need to be in place for them to use their car a bit less?

One of the other benefits of this approach is that it takes the pressure off – it doesn’t require us to be an expert on climate change or have facts and figures in our heads because we’re not debating, we’re listening. We’re not even trying to persuade people, we’re just being attentive and asking questions to help us find out more about them, what they think and why. 

Which is really important because…

2. You can help people to listen by helping them to feel heard first

Change is a two-way street. If we want people to make adjustments to how they think and act to address the climate crisis, a good place to start is by being open to thinking and acting differently ourselves. 

We don’t mean that by speaking to people with different viewpoints that you’ll suddenly stop recycling or pick up a habit for fast fashion, but perhaps you’ll have your assumptions challenged or you’ll learn something that helps you to see the world in a new light. Being open to seeing things a little differently helps us to reshape and reframe messages about climate so they mean more to the people we need to reach. 

We can perhaps describe this as conversational humility. 

As Dr Emily Chamlee-Wright describes in this video, humility in this context is knowing that we see the world from a particular point of view and respecting the fact that others might have a different vantage point and therefore know things that we do not. As she puts it: “The world is an incredibly complicated place. None of us can ever have the full lock on truth.”

A great climate conversation is one in which we listen and discover a truth we might not otherwise have known, and, through feeling heard and respected, this happens for the other person too.

If this all sounds a little daunting, don’t worry, these are skills you can practise by having lots of conversations and treating each one as a mini experiment. They don’t have to be perfect, just have in mind that each one is an opportunity to hone those important listening skills. 

3. You can help to normalise the issue

We talk about what’s important to us. The recent Post Office scandal is a great example of this. The facts of the story have been known for many decades, but it was only after an ITV drama sparked a huge public conversation that politicians decided to act to address the injustice. 

And though we might feel that the climate crisis rivals this scandal (and most others) in its scale and potential consequences, research shows that this isn’t reflected in our living rooms. In fact 55% of us rarely or never talk about climate change so just speaking up is pretty radical right now. 

You don’t even need to address climate change as a whole, in fact we think it’s better to speak about issues that people can better relate to like local flooding, warm homes, reliable public transport or clean air around schools. 

If you raise these topics, it invites people to recognise their importance to you and the community you share. Someone might not share your passion for acting on climate change, but they may still help you to collect signatures for a petition to increase the frequency of the number 89 bus. 

Don’t forget, conversations aren’t a one chance saloon. If we help people to think through the issues for themselves, listen to what they have to say and try to understand their point of view, we’re building the foundation for a number of great climate conversations over time. 

So good luck! And let us know how you get on. 


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