How to Talk About Climate Change (Without Losing Friends)

Ahead of the Global Climate Strikes on September 20 and 27, twelve-year-old climate activist Belle shares a speech she gave last month for her local climate action group, exploring how we can use our own values to communicate effectively in a time of crisis.

March 15, 2019 Climate Strike in Sydney, Australia. Image via Shutterstock, ID: 1340782715

I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet today. And recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture. I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.

Caring for our Earth

Climate change is a huge issue, and our Earth’s survival is extremely important to me. I have many values, and one of them is caring for our Earth. This is one of my values because I care about the wellbeing of my home, your home… our home. Our leaders have not been taking prompt action on climate change. It almost seems as though they don’t see it as an issue that is important or because they don’t want to be responsible for preventing it. Our leaders don’t seem to care that much about the millions of lives at stake. A true leader would listen to their people and figure a good and long-term decision. Our politicians are only thinking of the short term, only thinking about their lifetime. Whereas they should be thinking of long term sustainability, and if they did, we could have a better chance of becoming a fully renewable country by 2030.

Love, safety, equality

Another one of my values, equality, is important to me because it means that everyone has a fair chance. Climate changeis life threatening for millions, and even billions of people, unless we take action, but some people are already having to migrate to other countries because of climate change. We can save millions of lives if our leaders would just listen and take action. It is not equal; it’s not fair that people have to migrate from their home country to another country because of climate change. How would you feel if you had to leave your home, your country and leave everything behind, because of climate change? This makes me angry because equality is so important to me and right now people are not getting a fair chance.

Love is also really important to me because it means that people are being kind, generous and caring to one another. We are not being very loving at the moment because we are killing our Earth. Killing is not showing love. We are trashing our one and only home. You can say you love something, but if you really do you need to show it in your actions. 

Safety is another value of mine. Everyone wants and needs to feel safe. I know I can’t feel safe if I know that my planet is dying. Imagine, leaving your home because of climate change and not having anywhere to go. That is where love and welcoming comes in; we need to be welcoming to climate change refugees because they have nowhere to go. They do not have to leave their homes because of a natural disaster or a war. They have to migrate because of a man-made catastrophe.

Be kind and listen

Talking to people about climate change can be really hard. When I was in primary school I studied ethics. Learning about ethics was really good because we got to share our views with one another and everyone was kind.  Whenever someone had something to say everyone would listen. After they finished talking, we would either build on their idea or view, or we would say, “I like your point, but I think this (xyz)”. We were polite and respectful to each other, even if we had different views, and there were a few things that helped us to achieve this.

We only had a few ground rules, but these rules really made sure that other people could be heard and that no one would be nasty to anyone about their view. One of the rules was ‘no putdowns’. This made sure that everyone was kind to each other. Another rule was ‘only one person speaking at a time’ — this made sure that everyone had a fair turn at speaking.

You could use these ideas to have a conversation with someone who doesn’t really have a view on climate change or who might have some concerns on how to take action. It might not work for someone who doesn’t believe in climate change and who isn’t interested in listening to anyone else’s views, but it could be a good way to talk to someone who might not seem to care that much. This would be good because it is not two people who have strong views talking at each other. When you talk to someone about an important topic, make sure they understand that you should each get a say and an opinion. Also, that you should be kind to each other even if you don’t agree. It is important to let the other person speak as well as you, because you need to make them feel like they are being included. They also need to feel as though they have a say.

Respect everyone’s values

Values are important to me, and maybe you too. Values express who I am, from our Earth’s survival to equality, love and safety. Figure out what your values are and why they are important to you as a person. Listening to each other’s opinions is extremely important because then we feel as though people want to hear what we have to say. It expands the conversation; it lets us explain why we believe something and what our values are.

For example, imagine you were having a conversation with a friend or someone you knew, and you were talking about a coal mine that might be closing. You or the other person could say, “I want the coalmine to close because coal is not good for the environment”. But the other person could say, “yes, I understand that coal isn’t good for the environment, but if the mine closes, what happens to all of the families who lose their jobs?”. Letting everyone speak their mind, and speak up about their own values, opens up the conversation in a respectful way and puts new ideas on the table. This means that you can find ideas to support many groups of people. In the end, it’s not just one group of people winning, it is multiple groups winning.

Belle presenting “How To Talk About Climate Change (Without Losing Friends)” in August 2019 at her local climate action meeting.

Belle lives in Sydney and is currently in Year 7. She is a climate activist, a member of Stop Adani group and other local climate action groups. Her favourite subject at school is maths, because it allows her to solve problems and there is only one answer. Belle is the daughter of one of SEI’s researchers, and to respect her privacy we have omitted her last name and school from this article.

The Global Climate Strike will be held in over 117 countries on both September 20 and 27, ahead of the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit in New York. More information on the strikes, local rallies and registration can be found on the School Strike For Climate and Global Climate Strike websites.

The University of Sydney has announced that students who choose to join the strikes will not be penalised, and we encourage everyone to show their support and unite behind the science.