How we say things is often just as important as what we are saying. Climate change is an issue that is often fraught with anxiety, emotions, and fear – but by reframing the climate conversation, we can inspire more climate action. Below are seven tips for productive climate conversations on your campus. This research aligns well with our own communications strategies; to see more please download our latest research report.
1. Avoid the “denier” label. When it comes to climate change, “denier” is often used in a pejorative context.
2. Frame climate change in relatable context. Our health is a great place to start; people care about their health. When climate action is closely linked to health benefits, people may be more inspired to act.
3. Appeal to self-interest. By positioning climate action in terms of a jobs boom (the clean energy sector, for example), it makes financial sense to get involved.
4. Acknowledge problems (our reliance on fossil fuels), and then move quickly to a solution (clean energy).
5. Paint a bright future. No one wants to hear the depth of our problems or how much work we need to do to solve them – people want solutions.
6. Emphasize hope instead of optimism. Hope is not based on the expectation that things will happen as we want them to; hope acknowledges that things are difficult but we can solve them.
7. The future is uncertain – and that’s a good thing. There are many things to celebrate in our journey to sustainability, that would have seemed impossible just a few years ago (the Paris climate talks, China’s decreased coal consumption). We can continue to make important climate progress.
People are not very good at talking about climate change, not even climate activists — or so says Norwegian psychologist and economist Per Espen Stoknes. Understanding the science of climate change isn’t enough. We also need to understand the social science of how people react to certain messages.
Stoknes’ book What We Think About (When We Try Not To Think About) Global Warming is a manual for telling better climate-change stories. With chapter titles like “Stand Up For Your Depressions!” and “Make It Simple To Choose Right,” it distills a great body of social science to a handful of accessible lessons. From why we’ve traditionally gotten stuck when we’ve tried to talk about the climate to what we should actually do about it, Stoknes provides clear examples with a healthy dose of psychotherapeutic understanding.
Stoknes came by the Grist office to share some of what he’s learned. Here are our favorite takeaways:
1. Don’t use the word “denier”
“I think the words ‘denial’ and ‘deniers’ are overused. The original psychological concept [of denial] goes back to Sigmund Freud and the discovery of the unconscious, starting with how the Viennese people were repressing their sexuality and coming [up] with diseases and symptoms due to that. Now it’s being used as a pejorative, a synonym of being ignorant, stupid, and immoral. Using it is counter-productive.”