Let’s talk about how we CAN talk about climate change

How can we start talking about the issues we care about with the people we care about? Two words: climate communications.

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes 

The question that comes up MOST in our lives professionally and personally, in our newsletters, and in the Soapbox community is: “How do I talk about climate change?” And it’s usually followed by…

  • “…without coming off as judgmental?”
  • “...when I don’t really know what to say?”
  • “...with my family and friends?
  • “...at the workplace, or with people I don’t talk to very often?”
  • [insert your own — we’ve probably heard it before]

THIS TOPIC IS HARD. But it’s also extremely simple (please note that simple ≠ easy. It’s simple and hard).

Talking about climate change is simple because there is a large, growing body of research that tells you how to talk about it! It’s also extremely difficult because, well, we are emotional creatures. When conversations don’t go our way, we tend to freak out. Let's change that!

Here’s what we’ll cover step-by-step: 

  1. READ: What does the research say?
  2. WATCH: How can we use communication frameworks to talk about difficult topics?
  3. ACT: How can we talk about climate change with our kids, parents, family members, coworkers, and much more? 
  4. REFLECT: How can our stories change the world?

It’s time we have a chat on HOW to chat about the issues we care about. 📢

Fight climate change in a way that works for you.

💌 Thinking about sustainability can be overwhelming after a busy workday, so we're here to help. Join over 7,000 other busy people and subscribe to Changeletter, a bite-sized action plan that'll take you 3 minutes or less to read every week.
Headshot of Ash Borkar (a woman with glasses and a cardigan)
"The info is always timely, actionable, and never stale." - Aishwarya Borkar, Change.org
Headshot of Meghan Mehta speaking at Google with a microphone in her hand
"Making social change always felt so overwhelming until I started reading this newsletter." - Meghan Mehta, Google

Do our values influence how we talk about hard topics?

🎯 Action step 1 of 4: READ — Let's start by looking at a few articles together.

Let’s break down two things: intrinsic vs. extrinsic values, and the values-perception gap. Both of these topics fully blew our minds and we will NEVER look at the world, or other people, the same way again.

These concepts are broken down into our assumptions, facts on why we believe them, mind-blowing evidence from research studies, and key takeaways.

Concept 1: Intrinsic vs. extrinsic values

  • 🤔 Our assumption: Most of us think the people around us are selfish 🦆, 🍆, and/or 🪡s. (Replace with a noun of your choice if you don’t get it.) Many people have been taught that when we want to communicate the climate crisis (or anything really — just look at car ads), we should appeal to people’s extrinsic values like wealth, social status, promotions at work, etc.
  • 💡Fact: some people are more disposed towards extrinsic values vs. intrinsic ones (like creativity, equality, peace, community feeling, etc.)
  • 🤯 However… “it doesn’t matter whether an individual is relatively more disposed towards intrinsic or extrinsic values. Texts framed in such a way as to engage intrinsic values are found to be more effective in encouraging intentions to take action in support of a social or environmental cause, regardless of a person’s value disposition.”
  • 🔑 It turns out that everyone is more compelled to action by intrinsically-framed messages!

For now, remember that when you’re talking to someone, it might seem obvious to say “You can save money by buying this zero-waste product!”—as we’ve been told for years. But maybe that’s not the most effective route. ​Page 12-19 in this nicely organized guide by the Common Cause Foundation is perfect if you want to learn more.​

Concept 2: Values-perception gap

  • 🤔 Our assumption: Most of us think the people around us are selfish 🦆, 🍆, and/or 🪡s. In fact, a survey of youth in the UK and Turkey reported that almost half of the youth thought that others prioritize self-interest values over compassionate values.
  • 💡Fact: Yeah, sure. Some people do. But only 14% of young people surveyed reported self-interest values.
  • 🤯 Other people care WAY more than we think they do! 96% of respondents said caring for other people was ‘quite’ or ‘very important’ to them, and 86% said the same about caring for the natural world!
  • 🔑 We are increasing our climate anxiety by living our false reality that people don’t care.

The takeaway? People do care! Yay! This makes our job communicating climate change much, MUCH easier! Learn more here and soak it in. 

How do we talk about climate change
Here's an image of the values that people hold. Check out more resources here: https://commoncausefoundation.org/about/

🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 1 of 4: READ.

Climate change is a hard topic, but don’t let that stop you

🎯 Action step 2 of 4: LISTEN — we'll watch a short video or listen to a podcast to further expand on our topic.

​​We tend to exaggerate, but we’ve been 100% serious both times—when we put these concepts into action, everything changes.

The toughest part of communicating “well” about hard things—like how our planet is on fire—is that these topics are highly emotional.

Our communication how-tos tend to go out the window when we get emotionally flooded. However, the more we practice these simple and proven ideas, the more we let our logical brain prevail and have productive conversations about things we care about!

Our DREAM is that you actually read the book Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg

In the meantime, this video will do — it breaks down the key concepts to the framework. We found that the nuances and practice exercises in the book were key to actually helping our brains understand how to communicate non-violently, but this video will at least introduce you to NVC.

You’ll learn that: 

  • ⚡ Marshall Rosenberg writes, “All violence is the result of people tricking themselves into believing that their pain derives from other people and that consequently, those people deserve to be punished.”
  • 🤝 NVC is based on the premise that we all have the same basic needs as humans: trust, safety, appreciation, etc. When we clarify these needs, it can help us actually resolve conflict instead of just “winning” an argument and causing harm.
  • 🧠 The NVC framework has four key parts — observations, feelings, needs, and requests. 

Here is also an INCREDIBLE visualization of how we perceive others vs. the truth about how we are generally good people who care about each other.

🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 2 of 4: LISTEN.

How to talk about climate change

🎯 Action step 3 of 4: ACT — Now it's time to do something. Let's go!

If there’s ONE THING we’re hoping you take away from this action pack, it’s that we have been really dramatic about approaching climate conversations. We’ve made it seem like people aren’t on our side when they are. We’ve made it seem like the majority of people disagree on the facts when that’s not the case.

So, takeaway: talking about climate change is way less intimidating than we think. Here, you’ll learn some simple strategies to have these convos with the people around you.

1. Urge tech to lobby for climate action.

​This is specifically for employees of Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft. If you aren’t one, sign this petition on behalf of a friend! It’s SUCH a simple action to take. 

2. Write down three if-then statements in your life.

​One reason we dread talking about hard things is that we feel unprepared. The simplest way you can prepare is by identifying common conversation onramps that show up in your life. For the next seven days, pay attention to situations where it could be a good time to talk about climate or social justice. Write down three of these.

​Maybe someone brings up how depressing the news is. Maybe a company offers to send you swag in response to a feedback survey. Maybe you’re organizing a dinner. Whatever it is — these are your “ifs”. Once you’ve identified three circumstances, write a “then” statement. 

3. Have ONE conversation this week about something sustainable you did that makes you happy.

​Getting confident is about finding your allies! Find a “joy anchor” that you love talking about — a sustainable action that you want to shout from the rooftop because it’s benefitted your life in so many ways. For us, the top three things are bragging about my bike rides to our friends, investing in Carbon Collective, and joining our local Buy Nothing Project group. You’ll likely find that your joy anchor is something that most people in your life can relate to, regardless of their enthusiasm for climate action.

4. Get curious at your workplace.

We covered nonviolent communication: observations, feelings, needs, and requests. Test it out at work by finding a simple question that works for you. For example, “I’m having a hard time figuring out what [our company] is doing to measure our carbon emissions. Where can I find information about that?” That’s all you need to do! No arguments are needed!

5. Talk to a child about climate change.

​MANY Soapbox parents have shared this as a concern. The great news is, kids are way more resilient and attuned to the world than adults. The NRDC has a great guide on how to talk to kids of all ages. One activity that works well for kids and adults alike is asking… what does your dream world look like?

​You could journal or draw this together. The next time you go out into the world, you can actively look for signals to point out that this ideal world is happening. For example, if your kid imagines a world where the whales get to live freely, you could teach them about blue parks.​ Make sure to capture what YOU learn in this conversation!

Note: These steps are simple because they’re straightforward, but you actually have to practice! They’re not just about tips—it’s also about finding ways you’ll look forward to talking about climate change.

🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 3 of 4: ACT.

The power of storytelling to fight our climate crisis

Before we go any further, it's time for you to pledge your commitment. It takes less than 30 seconds to pledge and we can bother you about it in a friendly way, so we can hold each other accountable. Pledge here!

🎯 Action step 4 of 4: REFLECT — what can you commit to? What fresh perspectives can we look at?

Now some personal news…

Our founder, Nivi, and her fiance, Ben, got engaged in 2022!! The Washington Post shared her decision to opt for an engagement bike instead of investing in a ring. Climate communication is SO important because her happy little story could have stayed with us, but now, it’s on a platform where 60 million people a month access digitally.

When we share our stories, we give people new frameworks and ideas to get creative about priorities. These stories can create magic!

When you talk about happy life decisions that are also good for the environment, you can inspire people in your life to think differently and make better choices. Not just better in a judgy stereotypical tree-hugger way — better in a way that’s fun, joyful, and exciting! Climate communication can inspire people to be better in every way. This can be truly life-changing. 

When the engagement bike article came out, we got the best email: 

I just read the article in Washington Post about your “engagement bike” and want to thank you for bringing a smile to my early morning. I love that you love to bike and that you’ve made it an important part of your life. It touched me and made me think that maybe I can add a little something as a wedding gift.

The wedding gift is an ebike trip in the European countryside from eBike Nomads. Their founder, David, read the article and just reached out with zero expectations.

Salzburg, Austria, one of the destinations on this tour: https://ebikenomads.com/alps-to-amadeus-lienz-austria-to-passau-germany/ 

And, par consequence, introduced Nivi and Ben to a completely new paradigm of what travel can mean! 

Some concluding thoughts from this engagement bike saga:

  • ☀️ Joy is the point. Sharing the actions that are good for you and the planet can inspire lasting cultural change.  We’d love to know if anyone else is pondering an engagement bike!
  • 📚 People WANT to hear your story. Most of us are wary of broaching climate or social justice-related subjects with people around us. But humans are searching for inspiration! Telling someone “I just found a life-changing recipe” is SO different than saying “you must never eat meat or else you’re a bad person.” People are actively searching for the former.

Some things you could do next:

  • Check out ebike Nomads. Share eBike Nomads with your network too. This is a new company and I really want to see them succeed.
  • Check out our fireside chat with David to learn more about his passion for ebike travel and how ebiking can be in your future! 
  • If you work in media, you can change the narrative of travel away from flights and towards trains/bikes/other fun low-carbon experiences. Write about this ebike trip or similar!

We’ll end with a quote from the engagement bike article that we’re still cackling about: But if happiness or a long marriage is what you’re after, it’s worth asking if the objects embedded in our rituals are special to you — or special to a mining corporation with excellent marketing.

​Read the Washington Post article here and make sure to sign up for their Climate Coach column by Michael Coren! Remember—your voice matters and it can have so much impact. More than you know. 

🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 4 of 4: REFLECT.

Check out our membership community for more resources like free weekly events with social justice experts, sustainable product discounts, pre-written email templates, a social impact job board, and in-person hangouts with new friends. Thanks for taking action with Soapbox Project!

Fight climate change in a way that works for you.

💌 Thinking about sustainability can be overwhelming after a busy workday, so we're here to help. Join over 7,000 other busy people and subscribe to Changeletter, a bite-sized action plan that'll take you 3 minutes or less to read every week.
Headshot of Ash Borkar (a woman with glasses and a cardigan)
"The info is always timely, actionable, and never stale." - Aishwarya Borkar, Change.org
Headshot of Meghan Mehta speaking at Google with a microphone in her hand
"Making social change always felt so overwhelming until I started reading this newsletter." - Meghan Mehta, Google

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