Global heating doesn’t exactly lend itself to easy, lighthearted conversations with new acquaintances. Yet talking about the problem is “the most important thing you can do to fight climate change,” says climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe.

So what’s the best way to proceed? We gave this question a lot of thought while polishing an update to our class on climate communications, which is part of our 12-week Learning for Action fellowship. 

It can feel tempting to bombard people—your neighbors down the street, say—with a barrage of information, as if knowing more about the science and its ramifications might be all it takes to convince people to care and to act. But this isn’t a winning strategy, experts like Dr. Hayhoe advise—nor is going all-in on guilting people, or terrifying them, or spending much time at all arguing with anyone dedicated to, well, arguing.

Instead, a key first step for meaningful conversations about climate change is listening. Find out what people care about, what their values are, what they do for fun. Odds are they’ll tell you about something related to climate change.

For example, they might be skiers or anglers or gardeners, or be dedicated to caring for people who are less well-off, or just want a better future for their kids or grandkids. The idea here is you want to help them recognize how climate matters to the things that are already important to them.

Through this crucial step, you might just find out they're more motivated to transition from conversation to climate action than you realized.

Learning for Action

We build on the above idea in our communications class—from tips for interviews with reporters to the humble recognition that peoples’ stances rarely radically shift over a single conversation.

After all, we at strive to help folks learn more, from the basic science of climate change to its political and economic aspects to what this means for farming and energy—and then, to help you communicate accordingly. The last thing we want is for you to keep everything you learn to yourself!

Find out more about our Learning for Action fellowship here. The 12-week online course mixes live discussions with instructors and experts, hands-on projects, and asynchronous learning for 5 to 10 hours weekly. New cohorts launch often so don't wait to apply. Financial aid is available.

You can also check out a replay of Dr. Hayhoe’s talk with students.