By Elizabeth Ashley ’21
This semester I was given the incredible opportunity to create William & Mary’s first-ever Sustainable Living Guide! It’s been a fantastic journey, being able to work closely with sustainability topics while collecting information that I know will help others in the long run – two of my most favorite things. However, while I collected tips on saving energy and learned more about public transit in the Williamsburg area, I noticed a hole in sustainability discourse in general; how do we talk about the environment and sustainability to those who don’t believe in the necessity of disseminating those topics?
It’s not exactly news that a portion of the world’s population, and a rather large portion of Americans, do not believe that climate change is real or anything worth worrying about. Lucky for us, science holds the truth; climate change is real, it is bad, it is caused by and exacerbated by human activities, and we still have the ability to mitigate its outcomes.
Simply throwing facts into a void – already full of questionable information – will not make the impact necessary to impart real change, but reframing how we have conversations with climate deniers holds the ability to reframe the issue entirely, and may help remove environmental issues from the political sphere.
In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change (IPCC) released a report for effective communication and public engagement on climate change (you can read the full report [pdf]), citing six fundamental principles:
- Be a confident communicator
- Talk about the real world rather than abstract ideas
- Connect with what matters to your audience
- Tell a human story
- Lead with what you know
- Use the most effective visual communication
By using tools such as these to create climate conversations that elicit shared values and relevant community experiences, connections between science and personal ideals can be forged. Climate communicators will have a stronger ideological platform to stand on when confronting climate denial and will be able to more productively show their audience not just that they should care, but why they should care.
But sometimes talking to someone with a strong set of ingrained beliefs is difficult, and often not enough to sway their ideas and decision-making. And, from personal experience, asking someone to ignore rhetoric they’ve been exposed to for their entire life can ruin relationships if they view your communication as an attack on their set of beliefs. If effectively distributing climate information begins to turn into a war, point your friends and loved ones towards resources that expose them to facts coming from like-minded people.
Actors like republicEn and the American Conservation Coalition are rallying the Eco-Right movement through building support for conservative climate policies. They, as conservative actors, speak to conservative voters about how to make the climate an issue they care about.
The moral of the story? If you have the facts, use them effectively in order to impart real change surrounding a real issue that won’t be solved unless there is support from both sides of the aisle. Help stop the climate denial machine for good with conversations, not accusations, and check out these resources to learn more about becoming an effective climate communicator:
- Principles for Effective Communication and Public Engagement on Climate Change (pdf) – This IPCC handbook was specifically written for the organization’s authors, but provides a wealth of information regarding their six fundamental principles (see above), including tips on taking these principles from theory to practice.
- Climate Interpreter – This website is brought to us by the National Network for Ocean and Climate Interpretation (NNOCCI), and provides free courses, resources, blogs, and are community-centered around framing climate conversations and effective climate communication.
- Climate XChange’s Communicating the Climate Crisis – This website provides a wealth of information surrounding climate communication, from tips for effective conversations, to current statistics on climate denials, to up-to-date articles about the state of climate communication across the globe.
- The Climate Reality Project – This project, founded and chaired by Al Gore, has a mission “to catalyze a global solution to the climate crisis by making urgent action a necessity across every sector of society.” Their website contains information regarding the history of the climate crisis, how to effectively motivate climate action, and much, much more.
- Grist’s How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic – This webpage contains a complete listing of the articles written by Coby Beck in his series “How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic,” each tackling commonplace skeptical arguments and misconceptions surrounding global climate change. A fantastic resource for educating yourself and those around you about common climate falsifications!
- republicEn – A conservative group providing information and a community for right-leaning individuals to learn more about and contribute to climate action. From their website, “We are the EcoRight, a balance to the Environmental Left. We stand together because we believe in the power of American free enterprise and innovation to solve climate change. Together, we encourage, embolden, and applaud conservative climate leadership.”
- American Conservation Coalition – This organization is based on mobilizing young, conservative actors around environmental action. Their mission is “changing the narrative on environmental discussions through promoting a mix of free-market, pro-business, and limited-government environmentalism in legislatures, college campuses, the political arena, and beyond.”