Climate conversations with new acquaintances

climate conversations

Having good climate conversations requires following a few simple steps. With some quick role-play, CCL group leaders Miranda Phillips and Mark Vossler demonstrate how.

Climate conversations with new acquaintances

by Pam Shaouy

As Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) supporters, we’re passionate about the bipartisan climate solution in Congress: the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. To continue building support for this important bill, which will drive down America’s carbon pollution, we need to get through to people. Getting through to people requires having effective conversations. “Climate Conversations with New Acquaintances” is a recent Citizens’ Climate University webinar that uses real-life conversational scenarios—situations we may all find ourselves in—to demonstrate bad, better and the best approaches to climate conversations.

Community organizer Miranda Phillips co-leads the CCL chapter in New York’s 23rd district. Phillips advises, “It’s important for all of us to be consistent in how we interact not only with members of Congress and the general public, but in one-on-one conversations.”

In those one-on-one conversations, knowing who you’re talking to is key. Cardiologist Mark Vossler, MD, leads CCL’s Kirkland, Wash. chapter and serves as the liaison to Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA-01). He says, “People are different and have different psychological, cultural and political reasons for acting—or not acting—to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Identify where your acquaintance stands

Yale Research identifies “Global Warming’s Six Americas.” Each of the six audiences responds to climate change in a distinct way.

The Alarmed understand the reality and seriousness of climate change. They’re taking individual, consumer and political action to address it.

The Concerned understand the seriousness, but haven’t yet taken personal action.

The Cautious, the Disengaged and the Doubtful represent different stages of understanding and accepting the problem. None are actively involved.

And the Dismissive believe that man-made climate change isn’t happening. They’re active opponents of a national effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

To have a good climate conversation, first determine which group best matches your conversational partner. Happily, the data shows that 70% of Americans are predisposed to care about climate change. That should help us feel more comfortable having climate conversations.

Bond, connect and inspire

Before we peek at the scenarios, let’s look at three steps for better climate conversations from climate scientist and communicator Dr. Katharine Hayhoe.

  • BOND: Start with shared values. What do you and your connection have in common?  Are you neighbors, parents or pet owners? Do you share concerns about your community, jobs or health? Find common ground.
  • CONNECT: Show why climate matters. Tell personal stories that are close to home. For example, how smoke from distant wildfires polluted the air across your state and triggered the asthma of a friend’s child.
  • INSPIRE: Demonstrate working solutions. Link real-life benefits of our solution back to the shared values you’ve found. For example, healthier air means less lung disease.

Let’s practice

To demonstrate these practices, Phillips and Vossler play a “Strangers On a Train” scenario. Phillips pretends to be an enthusiastic CCL volunteer and Vossler, a nondescript stranger commuting to work. In this clip, can you tell where Vossler fits in Yale’s Six Americas? Is Phillips bonding, connecting with, and inspiring Vossler?

Did that sound familiar?

“We’re excited about our solutions, anxious to win over the other person, to get them on our side, so as to make progress. So we line up all our best arguments and spill them, one after another,” Phillips remarks. But as we saw from the role playing, that’s not an effective way to engage someone.

In the second take of Strangers On a Train, we see a better conversation that shows the two interacting and reveals a sense of where Vossler may fit in the Six Americas:

And the third take shows the best approach, with Phillips engaging Vossler and making sure he wants to hear more information before she delivers it:

Watch the webinar to see the full bad-better-best takes, plus two additional scenarios that explore working with people in the “dismissive” or the “alarmed” categories.

Use effective communication skills

Instead of starting with your own climate concerns, ask open-ended prompts like, “It sounds like you’re concerned about climate change?” You’ll quickly discover who is and isn’t likely to be effectively engaged.

“Before engaging in a conversation, remember the goal is to bond, connect and inspire. The goal of our interactions is partnership—see where we can partner, not to persuade,” Phillips stresses.

“If you don’t win over someone on the emotional level, they won’t connect with you and see your positions and solutions as persuasive,” Vossler reflects. “Connecting on an authentic human level is essential. It reminds me of the phrase I heard Mark Reynolds share at my first Climate Advocate Training: be interested instead of interesting.”

Vossler concludes, “If we are going to influence members of Congress to take a Carbon Fee and Dividend vote, we have to convince others that conversations about climate solutions aren’t intimidating. And once we get there, then we can talk about our policy.”

Every week, Citizens’ Climate University hosts a live, online learning session to educate and empower climate action volunteers. Browse past lessons in CCL Community, and mark your calendar for upcoming sessions.

Pam Shaouy
As a child, Pam refused to let her parents cut down a maple tree, even though its roots were causing plumbing problems. Today, she's a semi-retired copy and scriptwriter with deep experience writing about IT solutions that help industries work smarter and more sustainably.