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Say What?: Starting a Climate Conversation

Everyone knows we’ve got to start talking about the climate crisis. So where do you begin?


You’re hearing it everywhere now. From us at Climate Reality back in 2017. From us again in 2019. From the Los Angeles Times. From rock star scientists at TED.

Everyone saying basically the same thing.

If you’re concerned about what the climate crisis means for the Earth and our future, the single most important thing you can do is talk about it with your friends and family.


Because in between all the shouting voices, they might not know who to listen to. Who in the media they can trust. But they know they can trust you. And when you talk, they listen.

That’s powerful. Because no one else can reach them like you can. No one else can make the crisis personal like you can. No one else can make them rethink their perspective and inspire them to act like you can.

Plus, chances are they’ve heard from all the usual suspects already. Most likely, they’ve heard as much as they’re going to hear from the famous voices in the news and – one way or another – they’ve done as much as they’re going to do.

Or at least as much as they think they’ll do. Because there’s someone important they haven’t heard from. Someone who – just by speaking up – turns climate from a huge issue out there about people in faraway places and famous voices in the news to one about us. An issue we care about and act on.


You’re Telling a Story

“Alright, I’m in,” you tell yourself.

But where do you start? Don’t you need a PhD next to your name and all the latest scientific reports and climate facts at your fingertips to be the one talking to your friends and family about the climate crisis?

Not at all.

Sure, you can dump all kinds of facts on your friends. But there’s a better way to move them and make them remember what you say. (And if facts alone were going to convince people and carry the day, we’d have solved this a long, long, long time ago).

It’s simple: tell them a story. Cognitive science shows how stories engage the brain in a way that facts alone don’t – with at least one researcher claiming that we’re 22 times more likely to remember facts wrapped in a story than facts alone.

(This is as true for you as it is for the people you talk to. After all, you don’t want to be there all ready to go and then have your mind go blank.)

Of course there are many powerful stories you could tell about the climate crisis. But there’s a simple one we’d suggest that takes people on an emotional journey from concern to hope to a feeling of empowerment and courage. Best of all, you don’t even really have to be the kind of person who thinks of themselves as a natural storyteller to use it.

It’s a story that’s about us as much as it is about the science. We call this story “Climate Hope” and it’s this simple:

We must change. We can change. We will change.

Nine words for the big takeaways. And if you’re ever stuck, just remember it by repeating, “Must. Can. Will.”

The Story of Climate Hope

What we were saying about an emotional journey? It goes like this:

Step One: We Must Change.

Your listener hears what burning fossil fuels are doing to the Earth and what the crisis means for them. They feel concerned for their future and those they love.

Step Two: We Can Change.

Your listener learns about the solutions in our hands today and feels hope that we can act in time to avoid the worst.

Step Three: We Will Change

Your listener hears about the incredible progress already happening and feels empowered to act, confident they can make a difference.

Making the Story Hit Home

Of course, a good story is more than headlines and statements. You need some specific facts to wrap up in there to make it hit home and stick.

This is one place where the home field advantage comes in. After all, you know your listener. Who they are. What matters to them. What makes them tick. One approach is to take the Must-Can-Will framework and flesh it out with the details of what the crisis means for the people and places and things they love.

What does that look like?

If they’re a parent, talk to them about how we must change because summer heatwaves will turn lethal more and more often, putting their kids in danger just from being outside. If they’re a medical professional, Must Change is about rising temperatures helping mosquitos carrying dangerous diseases spreading farther and faster. If they’re a construction worker, Can Change is about all the green careers that clean energy is creating in both Red and Blue States and all around the world.

If those details aren’t already at hand, don’t worry. Keeping things general can work well too. Below are some basic talking points to help you tell the story of Climate Hope and (hopefully) move your friends and family to act – just like you.

We Must Change

  • Burning fossil fuels is causing a global climate crisis. Greenhouse gas emissions from oil, coal, and natural gas are causing temperatures to rise and transforming the Earth – with devastating consequences for all of us.
  • Scientists agree it’s us. Over 97 percent of climate scientists agree that human activities like burning fossil fuels are driving this crisis.
  • We have to act quickly. We’re approaching a catastrophic and irreversible tipping point. Scientists warn that unless we slash global emissions by 2030, dangerous impacts like disappearing water supplies, endless wildfire seasons, and lethal heatwaves could become the new normal.
  • The climate crisis is a moral crisis, hitting the poor and people of color the hardest. When rising temperatures turn hurricanes into wrecking balls and rising seas swallow homes, those worst hit and first forgotten are inevitably the poor and people of color. The injustice couldn’t be clearer – and it’s got to end.

We Can Change

We Will Change