Climate change is affecting Idaho right now. We’re seeing hotter summers, increased severity and intensity of wildfire, changes in water availability, and more. These impacts are already felt by many Idahoans—69% of Idahoans think climate change is happening and 62% of Idaho voters think it’s an important issue. Yet it can be really difficult to talk about climate change with friends and family. We can't fix a problem if we can't talk about it. You can help change that. So how do we talk about it?
1. Meet people where they are.
It’s tempting to want to share all that you know about climate change, but that can be overwhelming. Try starting the conversation where others are. If they are most concerned with agriculture, start there. If they are interested in wildfire impacts, start there. If they want to talk jobs and family, that's also a good starting point.
So how do you find out where they are? Ask questions and listen to the answers with patience and interest. Begin your conversation with genuine openness to another’s perspective.
2. Connect on shared values and experiences.
It is a sense of shared identity and connection that makes what you say most impactful. Connect climate issues to your local surroundings—relate on changes in the seasons, increased wildfire, heat waves and lessened snowpack, or impacts to recreation activities that you both enjoy. People tend to be most open to acknowledging climate change when they are able to observe its effects locally.
You may feel like you don’t know enough to talk about climate change, but you don’t need to be a climate scientist to have an impactful conversation. We believe the truth is important and that science-based solutions matter. Having the right facts is essential to good decision-making. But facts alone do not change minds. In fact, people tend to ignore inconvenient facts in order to accommodate the conclusion that they find more emotionally satisfying. Facts are good, but connection is better.
3. Focus on solutions and share your hopes for the future.
We have immense opportunities to implement solutions that will help curb future climate impacts, strengthen our economy and support the health and wellbeing of both people and nature.
Research shows that when a problem seems too big, we freeze up and distance ourselves from the problem entirely. The good news is that we have climate solutions like regenerative agriculture and forest restoration that have amazing benefits for communities and nature. Who doesn’t want better land management practices that capture and store more carbon emissions and also create healthier soil for crops, more green spaces to enjoy and cleaner air to breathe? And while climate solutions have the most impact when implemented through policy and collective actions, individual conversations are a great first step towards bigger changes. By focusing on solutions and benefits, we can create a vision for a better future and find common ground and shared values to get there.
4. It’s okay to leave the conversation unresolved.
It is tempting to hope that your conversation will lead to an “ah-ha!” moment of understanding and agreement. In reality, processing new information and perspectives takes time. But your conversation about climate change doesn’t have to reach a resolution in order to be valuable.
It’s important to remember that engaging in dialogue and choosing to speak up for nature, rather than staying silent, is a positive step. The goal is connection and conversation, even if you never reach an agreement. In a world with so much divisiveness and polarization, especially around complex issues like climate change, a kind, compassionate and respectful conversation can make a big impact.