'Conversation, Not Conquest' — A Guide On How To Talk Climate Change

Sep 19, 2019

This week we’ve been reporting on climate change and its effects on Maine, but there are those who dispute that climate change is real or that it is caused by human activity. To help depolarize the debate, The Nature Conservancy has created a how-to guide for talking with family, friends or colleagues who doubt the reality of climate change.

State Director Kate Dempsey spoke with Maine Public’s Ed Morin for Here and Now:

Credit The Nature Conservancy

Dempsey: So when I talk about conversations, I'm talking about things that most of us do, probably in a normal day anyway, which is we say, 'hey, winter is coming, when do I get to start fishing? When do I get to go ice fishing?' And if you've been around a long time, you might say, 'Well, you know, hopefully by after Thanksgiving, but before the New Year, I'm going to get out on the ice.' And, you know, you begin to then have a conversation about when ice is in. And then what I have found when I started those conversations is that someone might say, 'Well, I've noticed ice is coming in much later than it used to.' And then that's a good way to begin a conversation about climate change.

My job in that conversation is not to convince you that I'm right, or that your job isn't to convince me that you're right, but it's to begin to have common language and a common understanding of what we're experiencing here in Maine, and then we can, together, say, 'Hey, what's that going to mean for our communities that rely on smelting? Or what's it going to mean for the snowmobile industry?' and things like that. So it begins to move us out of a debate and into solution space.

Morin: So I am holding a brochure as a how-to guide called Let's Talk Climate. And in it you offer four simple tips. What are these tips?

Yeah, so simple tips for starting the conversation are meet people where they are. So that means ask open-ended questions. You actually want to be sincere and learning from the person you're talking with, What's their experience?

What's most important is number two: connection is really as important as the facts. So remember when grandma used to take us to the beach, and we would have to bring, you know, two layers and a blanket to wrap up in. And we don't have to do that anymore.

Third tip is the goal is a conversation, not a conquest. Many of us are trained to try to prove our point and prove that we're right. Again, that's not what the purpose of this is. The purpose is to have commonality. And as basic as it sounds, you know, the less we can all call each other names, and focus on what is common between us, the more we're going to gain together.

Morin: At the same time, ultimately, you're hoping to change some minds here, right? The goal is conversation, not conquest. That's tip number three. But you would hope that people would cease being climate change skeptics, would you not?

Yeah, well, that's that's a great point. We know that most people are not climate change skeptics, but that what we hear from a variety of sources is that skepticism. And so the first step is making sure we all understand that most of us see that the climate is changing and that we need to act.

And so you're right, that the next point is what kind of action we can take. And what we also know is that for politicians to act, they want to know that the people that they represent believe and want them to act. And so here in Maine, that means that whether you live in Prescott or you live in Kittery or in Rangeley, that these are important conversations, because in the end, it is our politicians that will take votes and take action, but so can each of us, and so that's why we try to get it started kind of away from the politics and more into the community element of it.

Morin: But ultimately, what you're thinking about is that there might be a political answer for this. If enough people, in fact start to believe that there is human intervention, climate change?

We know that that is one piece of the puzzle politics and politicians are one piece. But each of us in whatever world we live in, whether we are fishermen, a logger, a teacher, a lawyer, working as a cashier, each of us can take actions and be part of the solution. And I think that's what we kind of forget. There's opportunity for us as a state to increase economic benefits, to think about what we want to be as a state going forward, and every person is going to matter to finding those solutions. So, political solutions are one piece of the puzzle, but there are many other pieces that are vital.

This interview is part of a week-long reporting project “Covering Climate Now,” by Maine Public and more than 300 other news outlets around the world. The series comes in advance of the United Nations Climate Action Summit on Monday Sept. 23 in New York. More information is at MainePublic.org/climatenow.