In order to normalize climate change we must be willing to talk about it, to meet others, and have compassion for those who hold opposing views.
This summer, Megan (Senior Programs Coordinator) and I were invited to meet new partners at the Climate and Urban Systems Partnership (CUSP) in Western Pennsylvania and share this approach through our Talk Climate Institute model. Over the course of two days, 20 local climate change providers ranging from scientists and solutions resources to social justice organizers workshopped talking climate change with us.
Participants represented communities from urban to rural areas, meeting us with a challenge we expected: the state’s rich fossil fuel history.
Western Pennsylvania is pockmarked with coal mines, both abandoned and active, that have historically played an influential role in the local economy and cultural identity. We were curious and eager to test out Talk Climate in this setting and hear local perspectives on climate change conversations.
As we listened to workshop attendees experiences and stories, the importance of our key message was reinforced; talking about climate change is really not about how well you talk, but how well you listen. After all, opinions on climate change extend far beyond agreeing on the causes and consequences.
Fundamentally, our beliefs and behaviors stem from our identity, worldview, and value systems — and it’s rare to have the opportunity to test out finding common ground with those who don’t agree with us. Practice conversations, discovering and sharing personal connections to climate change, and identifying and aligning values allowed participants at Talk Climate to experience tangible strategies to boost confidence, dismantle assumptions, and address barriers to talking about climate change.
We need to start by stripping away the barriers, peeling away the layers that divide us and start from a place where we can find alignment and then build from there. Sharing a personal story, a memory or experience, or how you feel about threats to what you value most is much more difficult to dispute.
When talking about climate change it’s important to know that it doesn’t have to be perfect, it’s more important to just get started.
We need people who are willing to take massive imperfect action, and in the process there will be room to refine and finesse our own unique ability to bring others along and invite them to join in on solutions.
Listening to and learning from participants in Western Pennsylvania was a powerful experience. We heard perspectives that were different from ours, but also had our similarities reinforced through stories of place, love for the people who make it home, and the emotions they elicit such as grief and hope. Both, I recognize, are universally resonant.