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Why we should all talk more about climate change

Words: Sarah Walkley and Robert Langkjær-Bain

Graphics: Hvass & Hannibal

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Sometimes it seems easier not to talk about climate, even if we want to. If that’s how you feel, then we’ve got good news.

If you’re reading this, you probably care about the climate. But how often do you talk about it? We all know it can be a tricky and sometimes divisive topic. And when we bring it up, we sometimes wish we hadn’t. Although climate stories are hitting the headlines more and more, you can go a long time without hearing the topic mentioned in the news, or in our culture generally.

Scientists believe that this silence is a big missed opportunity. According to research by Reuters Institute and the University of Oxford, the majority of us trust people we know personally for information about the climate and environment. In the US, 56% of people do, and in India it’s as high as 73%.

Most people in these countries would trust people they know for information about climate and the environment. It’s a good sign.

But even though we feel we can count on our friends for reliable information, we don’t hear a lot about the climate from them. Fewer than one in five of us say a friend has commented on a climate change story on social media in the past week.

The number of people seeing such comments is much higher in some countries than others, perhaps reflecting the impacts of climate change that people in those places see around them.

In the UK only 4% of people said they had recently seen a friend comment online about a climate change story. Even in countries where the numbers were highest, it’s still barely one in five people.

At the same time, more than one in three of us think our friends aren’t doing enough to tackle climate change …including talking about it more often. Which all bring us to the question… why don’t we all talk about it more?

Scientists at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands think they might have the answer. They looked into what people value in life, to try to get a sense of how people balance concern for themselves with more altruistic concerns for other people, and the natural world around us.

They also looked at what we all believe about the values of others around us. When they began comparing what people said about themselves with what people thought about everyone else, was when things really got interesting.

It turns out that most of us value nature and the environment above ourselves. The problem is, we have a habit of assuming that we’re alone in this, and that other people are more selfish than we are. We have no idea how many others actually feel the same as we do. 

That explains why we stay quiet. But in fact, our worries are misplaced. In the US, almost everyone (80-90%) underestimates how much their fellow citizens care about climate change. If more people realised that, maybe they would speak up about the issue more often.

The conclusion of all this is pretty clear: this isn’t an issue we should be afraid to talk about. If we have the courage to give voice to concerns and share the actions we take, we have a big opportunity to inspire those around us, and make a real difference.

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