How to talk about climate change with friends and family

It's not always easy, but an open, respectful conversation about climate change is one of the most powerful things you can do. Here's how to do it right.

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Study after study shows that when it comes to making up their minds about an issue, people trust their family and friends more than almost any other source.

So although it’s not always easy, having an open, respectful climate conversation is one of the most powerful things you can do. Here’s how to do it right.

1. Pick your moment, and take your time

Generally we have our best conversations when we’re feeling positive, and have the time and energy to do the topic justice. So if you’re feeling tired, angry, rushed or anxious, save it for another day.

The same applies for the other person, of course. Are they in a position to be thoughtful and open-minded right now? In certain situations or in front of certain groups, people might feel they have to quickly shout you down or change the subject so they don’t lose face.

2. Don’t try to ‘win’

It sounds strange, but often the best way to be persuasive is to stop trying to persuade people. Trying to turn the whole room into die-hard climate activists before lunch sets you up to fail, and sets everyone else up to have a terrible time.

Rather than playing the advocate working to ‘get people on board’, be the moderator: the one who gives people a chance to explore the issue in their own way, without feeling judged or pressured. And this isn’t just about changing minds and inspiring action. In an age of rising climate anxiety, creating this space can really help people’s well-being.

And remember you don’t have to pack everything into one conversation. It’s better to have an interesting, friendly exchange that leaves the door open for next time, than to rush to a solid conclusion.

3. Share your story

Remember you’re talking to people who (hopefully) love and trust you, and care about your life. So don’t be afraid to make it personal. Your feelings, hopes, questions and experiences are more powerful than all the stats and talking points under the sun.

Try telling the story of how you came to care about this issue. Talk about what makes you feel afraid, frustrated or hopeful. Share your experience of taking action, and ask for help or advice.

4. Listen, and show you’ve heard

Even if someone’s being critical, let them speak without interrupting. Then rather than trying to immediately argue back, take your time to really absorb what they’re saying. Sometimes it’s even worth paraphrasing the person’s idea back to them.

For example, if someone is complaining about a proposed bike lane causing traffic jams, chances are they already find getting around town slow and frustrating. So say that! By showing that you understand where they’re coming from, you’ll make the other person much more receptive to whatever you want to say (or ask!) next.

This can be tricky, particularly if you disagree. But genuine listening gives people space to explore their own potentially complicated and negative thoughts.

5. Ask questions

Asking open questions gives people the space to reflect and feel heard. And remember, you don’t have to have all the answers. Asking things like “How could we change that?” or “What do you think should happen instead?” can open up the conversation and stop it from feeling one-sided.

6. Be kind to yourself

Every conversation is worthwhile, even if it might not seem it initially. You might not change someone’s mind on the spot, but you’ll have given them a chance to think about things in a new way.


This guide is adapted from ‘How to talk about climate change‘ by the brilliant climate change campaign Possible, and the Greenpeace action sheet ‘Inspiring action through conversation‘. Content from Possible is used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

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