In Commentary, Research

Everywhere we turn it seems we bump up against something political. The news we watch, the athletes we support and even the restaurants where we eat are all increasingly viewed through the lens of partisan politics. Climate change has been viewed similarly, but we have an opportunity.

When it comes to trying to engage climate skeptics, too many scientists and advocates fall into the trap of debating the science — believing that just one more fact, one more chart, one more anecdote about the causes and consequences of climate change will persuade them. Alas, this approach falls short.

So for those who care about climate change, about creating happier and healthier communities, what is there to do?

Based on our research, we came up with 5 simple rules for climate advocacy in an era of intense political polarization. This guidance will help you feel more comfortable speaking to issues all Americans care about, while avoiding nasty debates that go nowhere.

  1. Lead by Example: People are inspired when they see others taking action. Show them that climate action can come with a spectrum of benefits. Carpool, bike more often, or switch to hybrid or electric vehicles to decrease climate pollution while increasing health and dollars in the bank. There are a number of local, state, and federal programs that help lower the cost of all electric vehicles. Switch to clean energy. Weatherize. Vote. There are dozens of solutions that are accessible, affordable, and immediately beneficial.
  2. Be Human, Relevant, Positive, Supportive, and Solutions Oriented: The goal of climate advocacy is to inspire others to take action. Connect with people personally, and highlight shared values and common ground. Inspire them to care by being positive, supportive, and solutions oriented. Listen as much as you speak.
  3. Stick to the Basics: When it comes to climate advocacy — keep it simple and clear. We have everything we need to stop damaging the climate. Clean energy is cheaper and more available than ever. It creates good-paying jobs for Americans, saves money for families, and helps maintain cleaner, greener neighborhoods. These Clean Energy Talking Points are readily-usable, and Let’s Talk Climate: Messages to Motivate Americans offers deeper guidance for message personalization.
  4. Location Matters: When you’re talking about climate, start local. Talk about how climate and pollution affects family and friends, neighborhood, work environment, and community. People care about what affects them and their loved ones directly. Equally, if not more important, is to communicate the local benefits of solutions. Americans need to know that climate solutions benefit their health, strengthen their community, and can put more money in their pocket.
  5. Offer Concrete Action to Solve the Problem: Know what you are asking for when you engage others. If you are discussing clean energy with your congregation, have a plan for action. If you’re discussing sustainable transportation, improving energy use, or water conservation with your neighbors, provide a resource that empowers them to take the action you are seeking.

The fact is, most of us are surrounded by opportunities to cut waste, save money, and benefit our communities in almost everything we do. Improving our lives and strengthening our communities — while also making a difference on climate change — is one of the few big things we can do accomplish in little steps everyday.

The more we talk about climate change with our friends, families, co-workers and communities, the more comfortable it becomes. To help you get started, ecoAmerica offers the latest research on how to talk to people about climate change, and what to do to be part of the solution. Check out these guides and start to lead on climate in your community: Climate Talking Points, Let’s Talk Climate: Messages to Motivate Americans, 15 Steps, and our Moving Forward Guide.

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