How to have a Useful Conversation about Climate Change in 11 Steps.


Something I’ve learned through working in mental health and education for 20 years is that nobody likes being told what to do.

And I think sometimes, when we want to talk about topics like climate change with friends or family, or with a stranger on social media, we too quickly launch into proclaiming the superiority of our opinions. We lecture more than we listen, and this gets in the way

A key question is this:

How can we have productive conversations about climate change, conversations that result in the people being more engaged, informed, and willing to do something different?

Here is an 11-step guide that will get results.

Step one: 

Know thyself. Before you have a conversation with someone else, it’s important to start with having a conversation with yourself (thank you Richard of City Atlas).

Begin with asking yourself the question, “Why does climate change matter to me?” Spend time becoming familiar with your own thoughts, emotions, assumptions, stories, and consumption habits. Ask yourself the questions included in the 11-step map, and really listen to everything you have to say.

This will give you an invaluable foundation of self-understanding and self-awareness, and will make you well prepared to have your first conversation.

Step two:

Appreciate that, like any skill, having a conversation about climate change takes practice. It’s best to start small and work your way up; just like if you want to lift weights, you start with lighter weights and train up to lift heavier ones.

Begin by choosing someone you know well and who is open to having the conversation. This 11-step approach is not for taking on trolls or deniers. It’s for talking with regular people who just aren’t used to talking about climate change. So choose a friend, and set yourself up for a win, so you can build your skills and enhance your confidence.

Step three:

Begin the conversation by asking for consent. Just be direct and gentle, and say, “I was wondering if we could talk about climate change,” or “I’d like to talk about climate change with you, would that be okay sometime?” Maybe say this when it’s relevant to the present conversation, or just go ahead bring it up because it’s important, it’s been your mind, and you want to talk about it.

Remember, when you do bring it up, make sure your friend has the freedom to say “yes” or “no.” Nobody likes being told what to do, but people do like when you give them respect and space.

If they say “no,” accept their answer and let it be. It’s none of your business why they don’t want to talk about it. If the answer is “yes,” ask them when they’d like to talk and agree to a time. Again, consent.

If they ask why you want to talk about climate change, tell them, “I think it’s important to talk about, and I’d like to know what you think, and, if it’s okay, maybe share what I think.” Your job is to lead with curiosity, make space, and mostly just listen. MORE