Introducing the topic of climate crisis into conversation is a risky game. Not uncommonly, the phrase will elicit a raised eyebrow, a smirk, or even a derisive comment. Similar to the way in which some people shy away from discissions about feminism and veganism, climate change is often considered an improper topic of conversation, and one that is taboo within polite company. Despite the fact that the environmental crisis is worsening at a greatly troubling rate, many people recoil from verbal announcements of its existence. In modern society, no-one invites climate change to a dinner party.
The link between feminism, veganism, and taking environmental responsibility is that all three of these concepts represent a departure from the dominant institutions of patriarchy and capitalism – and therefore they are all topics of conversation that people are hesitant to address. Feminism presents a challenge to the traditionally male-dominant socio-economic structures, and veganism is linked to women due to meat’s historic association with men and masculinity. The natural environment has also traditionally been regarded as a feminine domain, a link which is not accidental. Just as women have historically been subordinated and oppressed, so does mankind exploit natural resources such as water and oil for financial gain. Therefore, when speaking up about the climate crisis, or when labelling oneself a vegan/vegetarian or a feminist, people may feel that the interconnected social structures that shape the lives we lead are under attack. It is for this reason that many people find it so difficult to talk about the climate crisis with their friends and relatives.
When suggesting things people could do in order to become more environmentally friendly, or simply discussing the present state of the climate crisis, you may find that a lot of people’s gut instinct is to neutralise the topic of conversation. This may be achieved through a mockery or a critique of the person who initiated the conversation, possibly by labelling them as an ‘eco-warrior’ or by suggesting that their priorities are skewed. In light of this fact, this article will discuss the best ways to talk about environmental issues, both with people who have some pre-existing knowledge of the climate crisis, and with those who are complete climate-deniers.
Situation 1: Talking to someone who accepts climate change
If you choose to discuss environmental issues with someone who understands and accepts the science behind climate change, you are much less likely to get shut down straight away. The best course of action is therefore to talk about issues and solutions that are most relevant to the individual with whom you are conversing. If you are talking to a coffee-lover, for example, it would be most productive to talk about the importance of using reusable cups, and, if talking to someone who loves fashion, it may be most worthwhile to talk about recent advancements in sustainable fashion. In this way, you will be best placed to convey your passion for matters of environmental importance by connecting with the individual on the basis of their particular interests. Furthermore, it is important to avoid dramatic statements and staggering statistics, as this conveys the false impression that we are powerless to make a difference. Instead, you should strive to create this same sense of urgency through a calm and logical spoken manner, and impress upon your listener the importance of taking action as soon as possible.
Situation 2: Talking to someone who denies climate change
There remain some people in modern society who either deny that climate change exists, or who believe that it is not their responsibility to care about environmental matters. In such contexts, the best thing to do is strive to make a connection with the individual by engaging with them in a warm and friendly manner. You may not be able to change their mind in a single conversation, but at the very least, you can ensure that they have a good opinion of people who do care about the climate crisis! And if this is all that you are able to do, you should still be proud of your efforts.
The other angle that you may wish to take is to talk about your personal experiences. When did you begin to care about the climate crisis? What actions are you taking currently to mitigate your impact upon the environment? By talking about environmental issues from a personal perspective, rather than a faceless political one, you are much less likely to be condemned as ‘scaremongering’, and much more likely to make a positive impression on the individual.
– Alice Walters
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