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ScienceNovember 24, 2023

Why climate conversations are essential climate action


One of the most powerful climate actions you can take is simply having a chat with friends and family. Here’s how.

This is an excerpt from our weekly environmental newsletter Future Proof, brought to you by AMP. Sign up here.

Two billion people, mostly from developing countries, don’t really know the term “climate change”, the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication estimates. That’s based on a survey of more than 139,000 Facebook users around the world. “But when we give respondents a single sentence description of climate change, we find that more than 80% immediately say, ‘Yes, that’s happening’,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the program.

The survey included more than 1,000 New Zealanders too. Here’s what it revealed about Kiwis and climate change:

  • 64% said they knew a lot, or a moderate amount, about climate change, but 4% reported that they’d never heard of it
  • 77% of New Zealand respondents believed climate change is happening
  • 45% thought climate change was caused mostly by human activities, and 32% thought it was a mix of humans and natural changes
  • A combined 65% of respondents were very or somewhat worried about climate change
  • 41% said that climate change was extremely or very important to them personally

These results don’t seem too different to other surveys on New Zealanders and climate change (albeit with different questions). A bunch of us know and care about climate change, but plenty of our friends, family and communities don’t. And a decent chunk of us have misconceptions about climate change and how best to tackle it.

Which brings me to the big question: how can we engage more people with the basics and urgency of climate change?

One of the most powerful actions you can take is simply to have a chat. This doesn’t mean schooling someone with data and science. It means talking from the heart, connecting over shared values, and telling stories. Here are some tips:

  • Listen, and ask questions. You’re having a chat, not giving a lecture. Find out what’s important to your convo partner and reflect back their concerns to demonstrate that you’re really listening. Seek common ground. What do you share?
  • Find a frame that resonates. Climate change can feel distant or abstract. But maybe the economy or health or food offer “ins” to a climate conversation by stealth.
  • Tell a story. Facts alone aren’t sticky. But facts wrapped in a narrative and emotion stick in our brains like glue. The Climate Reality Project suggests telling a story of climate hopeThe Workshop suggests leading with a positive vision, and “selling the cake, not the ingredients”.

By regularly having these conversations, we can create networks where talking about climate is the norm, friends and family feel empowered to act, and where we all don’t feel quite so alone.

Keep going!