Let’s Talk About It: Climate Change & Thanksgiving

Hi, all.

It’s a much-touted statistic here at On the Level that while a large majority (70%) of Americans are either “somewhat” or “very” worried about climate change, only 2% have reported taking action. (Data from Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.) Imagine what could happen if even just a tiny fraction more of those concerned Americans took action! 

However, moving from being worried to actually taking action is often a really big step for folks. The Climate Action Explorer is one way we’re working to close that gap and make taking action easier, but just talking about climate change with people you know can be a great intermediary step between being worried and taking action. As of September 2021, 61% of Americans say they “rarely” or “never” talk about climate change with family or friends, so we know there’s a lot of opportunity for growth here, too. And this week, as family and friends gather for Thanksgiving either in-person or virtually, is a great time to start a conversation about climate change. 

As a country we tend to emphasize the “act now, talk later” approach, but there’s a lot to be gained from having conversations about climate change. Most Americans’ default setting on climate change is to ignore it–whether that’s because the situation seems so hopeless in general or because it feels like one person can’t make a difference or because the impacts are far off into the future or for any other reason–and that’s a problem because it means we end up doing nothing about it, from an individual level all the way up to the federal government. Having a conversation about climate change with someone else puts it back on the front burner (or at least on the stove) for both of you, which, yes, might be a depressing conversation, but not as depressing as doing nothing and watching the world burn (not to be too dramatic). 

Here’s an excerpt linking it all together from climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe’s new book, Saving Us, that was published on Earther a few weeks ago:

“Our speech is the television screen of our mind, so to speak. It displays what we’re thinking about to others, which in turn connects us to their minds and thoughts. So if we don’t talk about climate change, why would anyone around us know that we care—or begin to care themselves if they don’t already? And if they don’t care, why would they act?”

Read the rest of the excerpt here.

Some tips for talking about climate change:

  • Make it personal: Real stories and experiences tend to be much more impactful than statistics. (Hmm… Maybe I should have started this post with a personal anecdote…)
  • Listen: Stick to your guns (science! facts!), but also make sure to listen to what others are saying and be respectful of this person you likely know and love. Be open to learning new things as well!
  • Locate some glimmers of hope: It’s possible, I swear, and research has shown having hope is vital to taking action. So, whether it’s some new local program to help install solar panels or this great experience you had at a climate protest the other week or this super interesting and inspiring article you read, try to find a bright side. 
    • On that note, read hope-expert Rebecca Solnit’s recent article in The Guardian!

A note about talking to climate deniers: Statistics show the vast majority of Americans both believe in climate change and are worried about it, and I see my biggest impact happening with getting this population to take action rather than using my limited time and energy trying to convince a belligerent minority that climate change is real. Nevertheless, if you’ve got a climate-denying family member or friend that you want to have a conversation with, The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has got a guide for you: “Thanksgiving advice, 2021: How to deal with climate change-denying Uncle Pete.”

So folks, that’s the #1 recommended action this week: talk about it! And feel free to keep talking about climate change–our voices, whether at the dinner table, over a family zoom, in an online message to a lawmaker, or at a protest, are the most powerful tools we all have. 

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