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What Can I Say? Tips for Talking about Climate Change
Written on: March 7th, 2018 in Outreach
Guest Writer by Caren Fitzgerald, DNREC Division of Energy & Climate
Odds are, you already have thoughts and feelings about those words. You may know people whose thoughts and feelings about climate change differ from your own. But our thoughts and feelings don’t change the truth: that climate change is happening now, that it’s dangerous, and that human activity is largely responsible for causing it.
We can’t change the facts, but we can change how we talk about them. Here are four quick tips for talking about climate change—with a coworker, a family member, a friend, or even someone you just met—that can help ease the polarization around climate change, and pave the way for action.
- Don’t panic. Climate change is scary. Rising temperatures and sea levels are already threatening our communities, health, and economy. It’s natural to rush toward dire language, but study after study has shown that scare tactics and sensationalizing don’t work when it comes to motivating positive behavior change. Invoking fear or guilt often has the opposite effect; people become overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem and shut down. When talking about climate change, focus instead on opportunities and solutions, like cool new technology, healthy communities, and reliable, clean energy sources. This provides a platform for discussion and gives people the motivating understanding that solutions are possible.
- Find common ground. Climate change means different things to different people. Are you talking to an avid hunter or hiker? Higher temperatures and longer warm seasons mean more bugs and ticks that carry diseases and can complicate outdoor recreation. Are you talking to a farmer? Changing climate means erratic weather patterns that affect crop growth. Everyone has something that matters to them, and odds are, that thing is or will be affected by climate change.
- We can find common ground on solutions, too. When it comes to lowering climate-changing emissions, maybe we can’t all agree on what’s happening to our planet, but most would agree that cleaner air and fewer asthma-triggering pollutants are good things. Energy efficiency, renewable energy, and electric vehicles lower our emissions, and they also save money, reduce our country’s reliance on foreign oil, and provide opportunities for innovation and job growth in new fields. Focus on common benefits and solutions that move us forward together.
- Keep it local. You don’t need to travel to the Arctic to see the effects of climate change. Right here in Delaware, we’ve seen more than a foot of sea-level rise in the last century, and expect several times that over the next. Ask people what they’ve noticed around them. Areas that once rarely experienced flooding may now flood on sunny days during high tide. Temperatures have shattered record highs across the U.S. Climate change seems far away when we picture polar bears and melting ice, but there is evidence of climate change in our hometowns, state, and region.
Fact-check yourself. There is a ton of information about climate change out there, ranging from verifiably accurate to completely false, and anywhere in between. Do your research and check your sources before sharing information so you’re sure it’s accurate. Resources on climate change include de.gov/climatechange and climate.nasa.gov.
Bottom line: Climate change affects everyone. Positive, solution-oriented, and tangible discussions connect climate effects and solutions to the things people care about, making the problem more real, and also more manageable.
For more information, including what you can do, visit de.gov/climatechange.
Sources include Creating a Climate for Change: Communicating Climate Change and Facilitating Social Change (2007) by Susanne C. Moser and Lisa Dilling.