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Do Something Important on Climate: Talk about It

Hard Sell Alert: Maybe the most important thing you can do on climate might be the simplest: talk about it now.


Let’s be honest. It’s not cool to talk about the climate crisis. Not at Thanksgiving dinner. Not at the bar with friends. Not at the neighborhood cook out.

We get it. No one wants to be the one to take the conversation from what’s going on with Tom Holland and Spiderman or the new football season to, you know, the greatest real-life threat humanity has ever faced. Maybe you don’t exactly know what to say, and in any case, no one wants to be that guy.

But not talking about the climate crisis today? Right at the exact moment that scientists are telling us we need to radically change course on fossil fuels by 2030 or all those heatwaves, hurricanes and more go from bad to truly biblical?

It’s kind of like being at a party if an army of guys with machine guns suddenly started pounding on the door. And the host just smiles and says, “Mojito, anyone?”

It’s Transforming the Planet – So Why Aren’t We Talking About It?

Look, we know that for all the headlines and scientists screaming at the top of their lungs, we’re not talking about the climate crisis like we should be. Even as we suffer through the summer and grimace at the news that, globally, July was the hottest month ever. Even as the Amazon rainforest is in flames, with some terrifying carbon math to follow.

How do we know? In April, Yale and George Mason University released a new study showing that less than four in 10 Americans (37 percent) “occasionally” or “often” talk about global warming with their friends and family.

You don’t have to be Nate Silver to know that with those kinds of numbers, climate action just isn’t going to be a top priority for most policymakers. Not when they see their constituents talking about other issues much more frequently and vocally.

So how do we change this? Here’s where you come in.

Big Change Begins with Small Talk

You don’t need a cape to help save the world. A study released in July showed that an act as simple as talking to your social circle (think friends, family, guy at the next cubicle over) about the climate crisis can jumpstart a feedback loop leading to greater awareness and concern.

According to the researchers, it goes like this:

1. When people talk about the climate crisis with people they know, they’re more likely to learn key facts. Most important, they’re likely to learn about the clear scientific consensus on climate change being real and human-caused.

2. As people learn about the scientific consensus, they begin to believe the crisis is happening. They also get more concerned. Significantly.

3. Greater belief encourages greater discussion of the issue, which starts the cycle again. More discussion. Greater belief. Greater concern.

Of course, none of this is surprising. But consider that you start this cycle with everyone you talk to. Which raises the chances they not only become as concerned as you are, but begin talking to their circles and starting this cycle with them.

Before long, we get to a place where awareness and concern begin rising to the levels that politicians can’t ignore. (At least, if they like the view from their office.) After all, both social research and your own life experience tells you that when people see a threat and get concerned, they take action.

You Are the Secret Weapon of Awesome

As in so many things, who’s talking matters. Your friends and family are much more likely to listen to you on the issue than they are a voice on television. Particularly if there’s a political divide in the way. And the results add up. As researchers concluded:

“Discussion with others in one’s close social network, on the other hand, appears to be an important route by which people learn key facts about an issue, such as the scientific consensus. Without discussing global warming, people may never learn important facts about climate change, or that close friends and family care about the issue.”

It’s worth emphasizing this last part. Seven in 10 Americans think the climate crisis is a danger today or at least will be a danger in the future. But you’d never know from how little we talk about it. The collective silence can easily make us feel like we’re alone in our concern and we can’t solve this. Even though we’re basically all on the same page and have the numbers to win this.

As Matthew Goldberg, a social psychologist at Yale and one of the lead authors on the conversation study said:

“If you think everyone disagrees with you, or most people disagree with you, then you are not going to want to speak up. It starts this spiral of silence where people misjudge the beliefs of others, and then they remain quiet about this important issue.”

We are social creatures. How we act helps set norms and expectations for our tribes. When our friends see us talking about the climate crisis and saying, “Hey, I’m concerned, but here’s what we can do about it,” it legitimizes their own feelings and tells them they’re not alone. It says, “People like us talk about this issue.” Which makes them more likely to talk about it when you’re not in the room. Which starts the cycle all over again, helping spread awareness and raise concern to the society-wide levels that policymakers’ attention.

All of which is to say, being that guy on climate? It might be one of the most important things you can do.

OK, I’m in. Where Do I Start?

If you’re going to be the one kicking off the conversation, you want to know what you’re talking about.

If you’re ready to start reading, check out our 101-style e-books below: