Groundwire Labs

The art and science of citizen engagement.

You are here: Home Groundwire Labs Writing Content 5 Ways to Talk About Climate Change
Article

5 Ways to Talk About Climate Change

An Alex Steffen presentation on climate change is different. His kinder, conspiratorial approach gently coaxes you away from “I can’t take an hour and a half of Mad-Max talk” to a place of “Oh, yeah, we can do this. We really can.”

Talking Climate ChangeGoing to a presentation on global warming is pretty much like going to the gym: about thirty minutes before you go, you think of every possible excuse not to, then finally you make yourself go and after it’s over, you’re totally exhausted but hopefully a little rejuvenated.

And an Alex Steffen presentation on climate change is even better than that. His kinder, conspiratorial approach gently coaxes you away from “I can’t take an hour and a half of the Mad-Max talk” to a place of “Oh, yeah, we can do this. We really can.”

As we work with environmental groups on messaging around sustainability, environmental protection and conservation, we can weave in some lessons from the approach of Alex Steffen.

1)    Acknowledge the work being done.

One of the first things Steffen did at his sustainability presentation last night in Seattle was to acknowledge how tough climate change is to talk about, think about, work on, make a dent in. He addressed a depression sweeping over climate change scientists, and how environmentalists need to take care of themselves in this marathon toward sustainability. The crowd at Town Hall gave a collective sigh, relaxed their shoulders a bit, nodded in agreement. And they were ready to listen in a different way.

2)    Don’t play the blame game.

The minute we start accusing people of being ugly, greedy consumers—we lose them. This is crucial to winning the hearts and minds of the general population as we continue on the climate wars. So here’s how Steffen does it: 1) he acknowledges that innate part of the human species—the need to take nature and make stuff out of it, and how those who did that really well in the past were actually the ones who survived and then 2) he encourages us to draw on that entrepreneurial spirit, which is at the heart of the American Dream, toward the solving of this problem we’ve created.  Something Psych 101 about this and I love it.

3)    Frame climate change as “Something To Be A Part Of.”

Non-enviro friends of mine know about Copenhagen. Al Gore was on The View yesterday. You have to believe the soil is loosening, that people are hearing the message, and that people can change.

Over the years, I’ve practiced A/B testing and messaging on my cattle-ranching, mill-town friends and family.

Most successful:
“You know more about the environment than anyone. You live off the land. You can be a part of a new way we do things.”

"Did you know the decisions we make over the next 40 years will affect a thousand generations to come? You have a lot of power right now.”

"The sun still has 1 billion more years left to burn! If we can find a way to live in balance with the planet, we can have 1 billion more years!”

Least successful:

"Meat is bad. Very, very bad."

"Stuff does not equal happiness." (PS: This line often comes across as "Money doesn't make you happy."  Which can be a hard concept to swallow when living paycheck to paycheck.)

4)    Encourage people to think about climate in a different way.

Do you know about leapfrogging—how some countries are bypassing our toxic way of running things and going right toward a smarter infrastructure? Did you know that right now it would cost Mexico substantially less than the U.S. to become a sustainably-operating country? Did you know kids in Ghana power their schools by playing on merry-go-rounds and that a Nigerian teacher named Mohammed Bah Abba invented a refrigerator out of clay pots that doesn’t need power? It doesn't have to be all Debbie-Downer, all the time.

5)    Make the solution tangible.

We are at 387. We need to get to 350. People have no idea what that means but they want to get to 350 because we are a competitive bunch and we like to prove we can do stuff. As we saw a couple weeks ago, the 350 campaign is resonating. The best thing Steffen did last night? Challenge the Seattle environmental community to work toward being the first carbon neutral city in the nation, by 2030. You know that lit a little fire.  Bring it.


Alex Steffen is the executive editor at Worldchanging, a nonprofit media organization headquartered in Seattle, WA, that comprises a global network of independent journalists, designers and thinkers. Watch for video and podcasts from the Seattle event.

Contact Us

info@groundwire.org
(206) 286-1235

Signup for our Newsletter
and get Groundwire tips, tools and news sent directly to your inbox.
Privacy Policy
Support Groundwire

Help us continue to build capacity for social change groups.

Donate
Support Groundwire

Help us continue to build capacity for social change groups.

Donate