365 Conversations about Climate Change

 EarthQuaker Issue 92

Three weeks ago, Harriet Martin and I were at the Resurgence conference to celebrate fifty years since the magazine was first published. There was a fine line up of inspiring speakers, many of them on the topic of the challenge we face on climate change. We were both inspired by George Marshall, talking about the importance of engaging with people who disagree with us, and whose values are different, and seeking to find common ground. He suggested a very practical way of doing this, and Harriet and I have resolved to take up this challenge.

The idea is to engage someone in a conversation that relates in some way to climate change, if not every day, then as often as is feasible. It could be a stranger, someone on the bus or train that you get talking to, or it could be a friend or family member – and in a manner that is linked with the conversation, bring up something about climate change. We know it is easier to rise to a challenge if you are doing it with other people and can share experiences, so we are going to set up a site on social media – we will take advice as to whether it is Facebook or a blog – where we can share some of our experiences, and hopefully lead others to join us in the challenge.

Would you be interested? If so, please email me, and as soon as we set up the site, I can let you know.

Rachel Berger

Harriet Martin adds:
I have attempted climate conversations with strangers several times over the last three weeks. I find it works best if I am sitting next to someone, on a train, a bus or park bench or at a café table. Particularly if I am alone and the particular venue is crowded, this has been quite easy. In any case, I have been saying “hi” to people passing on the street lately, so I find the starting “hello” to a stranger comes pretty easily easily.

George Marshall apparently goes straight for the jugular with “What do you think about climate change?” I prefer to look for something we are both seeing or experiencing to start a chat (some shoes with purple laces like the young Elizabeth Fry’s worked well on a park bench; a magazine on model railways did the trick on a train). The weather is, of course, always available.

I find it works well to talk a bit around the chosen subject, trying if possible to establish what my conversationalist and I have in common. (I read somewhere that if people feel you are in the same social group as they are, they will be more inclined to want to agree with your opinions.) The park bench/purple laces lady was on a walk; I spoke of how much pleasure I have been getting over the last few months by trying to walk and/or take public transport to reach my destination and I also feel great satisfaction when using less fossil fuel because of climate change. What did she think of climate change?

In this case park bench lady pulled into herself a bit with, “Oh, every time I hear someone talk about it, someone else disagrees. It’s not very certain, is it?” I need to find a better response to this than just, “Oh, 97% of climate scientists are fully convinced of it.”

George Marshall urges us to appeal to people’s emotional brains, not their calculating brains. (It is our emotional brain that normally ends up making decisions regardless of logic.) Thus next time I may try, “I have no doubt at all about it. Anyway, I find I am really happier all round when I am living more the way I did in the 1970’s—walking more, talking with neighbours more and shopping a whole lot less.”

It is gratifying when some conversations prove really easy. The young man interested in model trains was very enthusiastic about talking train travel, why trains are so energy efficient, why they are so much better for going places in this era of climate change. Better still, our train carriage was pretty quiet, so lots of folk on surrounding seats could overhear.

Even if, for some reason, the conversation doesn’t get past the “hi”, I find I feel better for having smiled at a stranger.