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We are in a climate crunch. Decades of procrastination, stalling and looking the other way on climate have left the world in a near desperate struggle for survival as the earth’s temperature nears 1.5C warmer than pre-industrial levels. Canadians and Americans will be going to the polls in 2019 and 2020 respectively. What better time to ratchet up the dialogue on climate and end the silence that has left climate change as a peripheral issue in previous election campaigns. Ending climate silence is the first step needed to move the environment and the future of our children and grandchildren to the top of the political agenda. Either we solve the climate crisis or we don’t. (Editorial comments)

Source: Collage created by Below2C, images from NASA, Climate Central, WEF

Ending The Climate Silence

We don’t talk enough about climate change.

Canadian climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe recently gave a TED talk titled “The most important thing you can do to fight climate change: talk about it.” In it, she cites the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, which finds that two-thirds of Americans never talk about climate change even though 70% believe it is a real problem. This “spiral of silence” is itself a big problem: “People concerned about the climate avoid voicing their worry because they rarely hear others discussing the topic, and thus the spiral continues.”

But collective silence is dangerous, especially for a problem as large and urgent as climate change. How do we pull out of this spiral? According to Hayhoe, we have to talk about it. But that can be hard to do.

It’s hard to talk about It

Humans are social creatures. Belonging is a fundamental and universal human need, and as a result, we often choose to conform to our group. That’s why our friends and family have far more influence on our view than do experts. Research suggests that the silencing effect is most powerful when talking to family, friends, or neighbours about obtrusive issues. So, the need for belonging makes overcoming the spiral of silence with friends and family even harder.

But in fact, we have much more common ground on climate change than expected. In a research project using dialogue between people of opposing views, participants agreed on key points, and in each case there was at least one topic where the two took positions contrary to what they predicted of the other.

How to talk about climate change

Even when we do talk about climate change, our instinct on what to talk about is typically unhelpful. Rather than starting with the science and facts as we’re apt to do, Hayhoe suggests that we find that common ground by looking for shared values. For example, maybe you’re both parents, or maybe you both have the same hobby. Second, don’t use fear, but rather rational hope. Talk about solutions that are “practical, viable, accessible and attractive”.

A November Angus Reid poll showed that 61% of Canadians say they feel they can personally help to reduce climate change. Clearly many regular citizens are thinking about acting, even if they’re not yet talking about it. But maybe they’re ready? You can always show them your behaviour change, and then ask them a curious question to see if they want to talk about it. Then listen. Start with someone you trust.

Don’t forget policy

Speaking up for good policy is a key part of this game of climate show and tell. Given the need for climate policy to take us through this low-carbon transition in the coming decades, debating what good policy looks like right now is more important than ever. Opponents are raising their voices, supporters should too.

Abacus Data polling from November showed that 59% of Canadians think that the national carbon price is a step in the right direction. Could the spiral of silence also be affecting Canada? Are some people more on board than they dare say? If so, what can we do about it?

Going first and going second

Disagreeing with our friends and family is hard. Recent research shows that some will choose non-environmental behaviours to fit in with their group, despite caring about the environment.

Going first is hard, but important. In any given group—of coworkers, friends or family—someone has to be the first one to stand alone and talk about how carbon pricing actually makes pretty good economic sense.

But going second matters too. It’s risky to lead. So, it’s equally important to have a person who supports the initiative of another as the first follower. That means supporting others when they speak up for climate action. Voice your agreement rather than staying silent. And of course, voice your concerns as well! Join the discussion rather than avoiding it, even if it’s hard.

Tell us how you’re speaking up

Here at the Ecofiscal Commission, you’ve heard our position many times: do as much as you can with carbon pricing, and support it with policies that do things carbon pricing cannot.

What is your position on climate policy? What conversations are you having in your communities? We’d love to hear in the comments below your stories of action and efforts to end climate silence; and how you’ve followed someone else’s lead too! Let’s start a conversation.

This article was first published in the ECOFISCAL Commission Blog section by Annette Dubreuil.

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14 COMMENTS

  1. Rollie – I just posted this reply to Annette Dubreuil’s article “Ending the Climate Silence”

    Seat belt use, anti-smoking, recycling, anti-litter all started in the elementary schools with outside programs and within a decade permeated the culture throughout North America. That is why we are designing and have now tested in 26 schools in 6 states the Green Actioneers program, an exciting and uplifting day in the school getting the kids appropriately excited enough to bring their parents in for Family Night. At Family Night parents learn from their kids how they can save money by going green. For parents it’s all about saving “green” but for kids its about saving the planet.

    This is not just an education program for children. It is a program designed to get families to take significant action, by harnessing the only unlimited energy source in the universe, the nagging voices of children. We’ll be ready to present programs here in Florida in Fall 2019 and would be happy to train Canadian teams to visit schools with the program.

    News Flash – schools pay for these sorts of outside “edutainment” programs with their PTA assembly budgets, if the programs are excellent, complement the STEM curriculum and are upbeat.

    Dave Finnigan
    CEO, Green Actioneers
    “Saving money for families and saving the Planet for children”
    402 Elderberry Court
    Celebration, FL 34747
    770-329-1152

    • Dave – thank you for sharing this exciting program you have going in the U.S. I see that the roll-out is later this year. Please keep me posted because I have a couple of friends/colleagues who may want more information and possibly try it out in some of our schools here in Ottawa.

      As you point out, “the nagging voices of children” cannot be ignored. We’re seeing that right now in #FridaysForFuture and #ClimateStrikes around the world.

      I like this phrase – “Saving money for families and saving the Planet for children”. It’s a winner.

      Rolly

  2. Yeah right, let’s keep talking and talking about the climate issue ad-nauseam instead of doing anything about it. I first started talking about it 25 years ago – after I came up with a means of ending the climate problem and I’ve come to the conclusion that talking about it and not doing anything is akin to imposing a death sentence on the human race, and for one I’m not at all comfortable with being complicit in mass murder as apparently so many others are.

    “The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil but
    because of the people who don’t do anything about it”
    ~Albert Einstein

    “We’re the first generation to feel the impact of climate change, and we’re the last generation that can do something about it. We only get one planet. There’s no Plan B.”
    ~ President Barack Obama

  3. We are in a climate crunch. Decades of talking, procrastination, more talking, stalling, more talking and looking the other way on climate have left the world in a failing and desperate struggle for survival as the earth’s temperature nears 2C warmer than pre-industrial levels.

    • Les – Tomorrow I will be on Parliament Hill with Extinction Rebellion and other activist groups to counter the pro-pipeline convoy driving to Ottawa from Alberta. And so I’m not just a desktop activist. You need both – talk plus action.

      Thank you for your feedback.

  4. JFK put the United States to work on a project to land a man on the moon saying; “There are risks and costs to any program of action, but they can be far less than the long range risks and costs of inaction”~ President John F. Kennedy. The operative word there is “action.” Let me know when you think action on the climate issue is called for.

    • Climate action, of the type that is really needed, is long overdue. In fact, it’s too late to avoid catastrophic climate change.

  5. Many people just don’t know what they can do. They ask themselves what can one individual possibly do? They suffer from despair. They require direction. They need to get involved. — Rolly Montpellier The operative word there is “do” not talk..

  6. Albert Einstein (who was more intelligent than I) said; “The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil but because of the people who don’t “DO” anything about it” and Buckminster Fuller (who was also more intelligent than I) said “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete” and I’ve taken his advice and done that. And Sir Winston Churchill (who was also more intelligent than I) said “Americans will always “DO” the right thing… after they’ve exhausted all the alternatives.” Americans are under the mesmerizing spell of the dodo in the White House and are not even ready to talk about doing the right thing. So if any of you Canadians are ready to do the right thing let me know. It’s your chance to put we Americans in our place in the dust bin. If you want to do the right thing find a firm in Canada that wants to manufacture the technology needed to repower all our energy needs by backing up hydro, solar and wind with clean NET-ZERO and NEGATIVE EMISSIONS and readily dispatchable renewable energy. Email me at LBlevins@aaecorp.com for my position paper and read up on it instead of talking endlessly about what to do…

    • Einstein, Fuller and Churchill were indeed very intelligent human beings. I wonder how they would have handled the planetary crisis facing humanity. None of them faced the world-ending-extinction reality of this modern world.

  7. Well, those conversations are starting to manifest in action too. While the movement is slow, as legislation dictates that air pollution from heating, vehicles, power plants, etc, will be phased out and penalties/fines imposed, it is starting to change attitudes by necessity. But it is also starting actions by choice too… People are basically wanting to do the right thing as long as it is within their ability to do so.

    The moves already happening are…

    Electric vehicles

    Replacing or reducing plastic goods

    Recycling initiatives

    Returnable deposits

    Cleanup of beaches, and trashed areas by general public

    Broadcasters putting out more informative programs on TV

    Social Media forming action groups

    Manufacturers taking tentative steps toward less polluting products and packaging.

    Governments starting to listen to concerned citizens and form cleaner policies.

    None of this is sitting on the sidelines, talking, but rather the first signs of everyone doing their bit.

    For me, the steps are tiny… Picking up plastic litter, using fewer resources, curbing my shopping and refusing to buy something because it is plastic, unnecessary, or wasteful. Refusing to take unnecessary car trips, walking more. Increased solar power collection to reduce reliance on fossil fuel.
    But, all those tiny steps do keep us thinking about the problem. Certainly, if we vote with our spending power, those tiny steps send a clear message to manufacturers.

    • I think the writer of that Guardian piece, echo’s the sentiments of Guy McPherson, who, for many years now, has said that we will reach 6°C of warming very quickly, regardless of what we may do now to mitigate. It is an apocalyptic vision that will see collapse of our ecosystem.

      In truth, we need some almost unobtainably large commitments, world wide, to stop ‘hothouse earth’ conditions from occurring. This doesn’t mean though, that we should just continue wasting our resources, using them in unwise ways, or ignoring the fact that we are causing the death of the planet’s life forms (including our own). We must, and will change our use of materials that acerbate greenhouse warming. We must and will reduce population. We must and will change our eating habits. We must and will stop our rampant consumerism for newly manufactured stuff, tossing perfectly good stuff away. If we don’t, nature will eliminate us as the bloodsucking pest that we are, and cast us into oblivion. It is that simple.

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