This time of year, many of us spend time with family. It can be hard to have a conversation with the people you love about subjects like religion (too personal!) and climate change (too political!). But there is evidence that we are not talking enough about it, and in fact may be afraid to, thinking that our family members or friends are more doubtful or hesitant to talk about climate change than they really are.
Here are 12 tips that can help you have a climate conversation that brings you closer together rather than driving family members apart.
- Share why you care. Talk about how your faith calls you to love the earth and all the people on it. Share a favorite story from your religious texts.
- Share your feelings. Talking about the climate crisis elicits difficult feelings. For some folks, the topic is too big and too far into the future to think about and so they turn away and try to ignore it. Many have anxiety, fear, even shame for not doing more. Most of us have all of the above. Share what’s coming up for you and make space for your family members to share how they are doing.
- Connect with family memories. For example, ask about the special places in their lives, or in your shared family past – and how climate change will affect these places. Sites showing how much hotter someone’s home town has become since they were born can also be very interesting to share.
- Connect with family interests. Talk with your sister who loves to garden about how the seasons have changed in her lifetime. Mention to your NASCAR-loving uncle that the Pocono Raceway has been totally solar-powered for almost a decade. Having a beer with your father before dinner? Even the beer supply is affected by climate change!
- Stories — not facts — move people. What stories about climate change have broken your heart or given you hope? I’m inspired by the thousands of people of faith and spirit across the globe who are turning towards each other and creating GreenFaith Circles, communities of care and resilience.
- Focus on solutions and the beauty of people coming together. Neighbors are helping neighbors who are losing their homes to wildfires and flooding. Renewable energy is spreading rapidly and creating jobs. Children who get to breather cleaner air are having fewer asthma attacks – including the children in your family. Together, we can create a better future.
- Share how your faith and values help you face this problem. I’m a Presbyterian minister and my faith reminds me that God is always doing the impossible through us. Our beliefs give us strength to come together in the face of great adversity.
- Know your family! Some of your cousins might be interested when a climate change conversation is focused on issues of security and safety. Pointing out how the American military perceives climate change as a major risk might be interesting to them.
- Avoid potentially contentious language. Consider avoiding words such as crisis, emergency, movement, and revolution with family members. Sometimes it’s best to talk simply about the ‘climate changing’.
- Listen more than you talk. Don’t lecture, ask non-leading questions, and seek to collaborate. Don’t argue!
- Remember – climate change is hard to talk about. People you love may get frustrated or upset by the conversation. Acknowledge how hard this issue is and that you believe it’s important to face it directly.
- Be patient and kind. You are not going to convince someone in just one conversation but it might open a door for many more.
When I think about my family, I remember my 3-year old niece Cordelia. She reminds me of what is at stake for the future, and for our shared earth.
Wishing you a peaceful holiday season.
Rev. Abby Mohaupt