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Eco-Explainer: How to talk to your friends & family about the climate crisis
Lifestyle

Eco-Explainer: How to talk to your friends & family about the climate crisis

Here’s a conversational guide for a greener future

When you’re making an effort to live an eco-conscious life, it can be disheartening to see those around us not participating in sustainability. It can even make the work seem pointless. What’s the use if we are not in this together?

We need to be making a collective effort to have a chance at saving our ecosystem. But how can we help?

The easiest and most important thing we can do is to talk about the climate crisis, according to climate scientist Dr. Rachel Valletta. Simply starting the conversation is the first block in a domino effect of systemic change. It’s not always easy: talking climate can be polarizing in the era of Fox News. Despite the uncomfortable political tension that may arise there are ways to have productive and engaging conversations with those who are not interested.

Four tips to talk about climate change

1. Make it personal to your “audience”

The data backing climate science can feel abstracted and unrelatable, especially to people living in urban settings. For example: an atmospheric increase of 2.14 degrees means nothing to people without the proper background knowledge.

Valletta suggests approaching conversations in relevant and personal contexts that everyday people can understand. Namely, we are already experiencing that climate change is making Philadelphia wetter and hotter. This consequence is immediate and affects us in a palpable way. In June, the last few days have been over 90 degrees in Philadelphia, and we can agree that extreme heat is not pleasant.

Equally, finding common ground with your audience is an effective way to relate the importance of sustainability. Say you enjoy hiking and your father enjoys hunting, the commonality you can both agree on is our woodlands must be conserved. 

2. Understand the barriers of sustainability

Living sustainably has varying degrees of accessibility for people based on their resources, location, and energy. For example, sustainable products, organic produce, and electric vehicles often come at a higher price and are not a viable option for everyone.

Valletta suggests turning the conversation to ask: why aren’t sustainable options more widely accessible? What can we do to make sustainability not just an option for everyone but the baseline of our society? The intersection of social issues with climate change means we must check our privilege before speaking and make space for marginalized people in these conversations.

Dr. Rachel Valletta

3. Stay solution-oriented in the conversation

 It may be hard to stay positive when talking about the negative impacts of carbon emissions, but pessimistic conversations will blind us from seeing solutions. “When we’ve heard about climate change in the past, it’s been about polar bears, and that is neither personal, nor relevant, nor does it feel actionable for individuals here in Philadelphia” said Valletta.

Instead, we should talk about the actionable solutions we can immediately take to make a positive impact. Changing our consumption habits, organizing within your community, and voting on climate-friendly policies are a few actionable solutions we can take. 

 4. Lead by example

Actions generally gain traction among like-minded people, so sustainable habits can spread by imitation alone. So if you bring reusable bags to the store or suggest taking SEPTA, your friends may catch on by default.

On the other hand, not everyone wants to talk about the environment, and your unwanted advice could deter someone from taking action. Valletta reminds us to ask ourselves before starting a conversation, “am I the right speaker to be doing that?” The answer may be no, and that’s okay! 

Ultimately, practicing these uncomfortable conversations will persuade others to participate in sustainability and lead us to a greener future.

For more information on Dr. Rachel Valletta’s efforts in Philadelphia, see the CUSP Project.

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Annadore is a journalism student at Temple University with a passion for creative problem solving and storytelling. She is currently an editorial intern at Green Philly and producer with the Alternative Blacks Podcast. Her interests include roller skating, ghost stories, and sustainability. View all posts by Annadore Himmelberger

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