15 May 2016

Summoning the Courage to Speak Our Minds (and Hearts) on Climate Change

Hannah and Rachel from Birmingham
getting their brave on!
As part of my introduction at our Break Free from Fossil Fuels presentation in Victoria (British Columbia's capital city, not the state in Australia) this past week, I talked about how often I find myself lowering my voice when I'm talking about climate change in a public place such as a restaurant. As I do this self-censoring, I chastise myself for being a coward at the same time that I'm rationalizing that I don't want to upset others.

Well, as so often happens in this world, synchronicity kicked in and the very next morning, an article on self-silencing around climate change came across my desk. In it, Chris Mooney for the Washington Post outlines research done by Nathaniel Geiger and Janet Swim of Penn State University. It turns out that I'm not alone. A lot of people self-silence when they think others aren't as concerned about climate change as they are. The researchers found that:

"[P]eople are often afraid to talk about climate change with their peers [let alone near strangers in a restaurant!] because they wrongly think those peers are more doubtful about climate change than they actually are. This incorrect perception -- which the authors dub 'pluralistic ignorance' -- then makes people fear that others will think they're less competent [or unkind, in my case], and thus, view them with less respect, if they bring up the subject or talk about it."
Reading that reminded me of the year we discovered on Christmas Eve that we hadn't been invited to a traditional Christmas get-together the next day. I was able to laugh it off (made for a very relaxing holiday!), but my hubby was more bemused than amused when the only explanation we could think of was that we'd talked about climate change at the previous year's Christmas dinner. We're pretty sure other friends have shunned (well, dropped) us because we have a lot to say on the topic of the changing climate. 

Certainly I've had friends suggest that I not be so negative (hmm, well, um, the end of most life on the planet will certainly give jellyfish the chance to flourish ... how's that for positive?), or not be so emotional (we seem to have chosen a path to extinction, ho hum, pass the peas ... is that better?). Have you seen my article on this topic in Alternatives Journal? Love in the Time of Climate Change. (Not my title -- I wanted to call it Can Deep Green Climate Change Activists Have Friends and Find True Love?)

When I speak to educators and other audiences, I often underscore the necessity of summoning our courage and compassion to becoming heroes for today's children -- and all future generations -- of all species. I hadn't registered that the simple act of speaking about climate change to others and speaking up about it in front of others is actually an act of courage.

Since I read that article, I've got my brave on and have started fighting back against the deniers (who are still around in full force despite the sheer weight of the evidence of climate chaos from around the world) by calling them out in the comments sections of online articles about climate disruption. They're often so irrational, so lacking in compassion, or so just plain wrong that it's not at all hard to respond to them. 

In other words, one doesn't have to be a climate scientist to counter the deniers, one just has to be a person who understands, as Greenpeace Canada's Laura Yates does, that "climate change is the most urgent threat humanity has ever faced." She wants to "be part of the generation that listens to the science, moves away from fossil fuels and begins the clean energy revolution." I'm a lot older, but so do I!

Just remember to talk compassion for the children and the world's most vulnerable who are already losing their lives or their livelihoods, their food security and water sources, their homes and entire homelands. You can also mention the precautionary principle, thinking like an ancestor, and how you'd like to leave behind something other than progenycide as your legacy. Let's all start speaking up on climate change!


  1. It is difficult to speak about climate change with almost anyone who is not on your wave length. That's life, always has been , always will be. Some people want to know what it's about and as usual, it's how you frame the conversation.

    If you start off by telling people the truth then that's a turn off. For most people. They just shut down.

    My daughter, who has told me that she has decided not to have children as she thinks that knowing what she knows it would be a over the top selfish act.

    Yes, it'S difficult.

    You say a good doctor will tell his patient that he/she has cancer. Now he has said that our very existance has a cancer and it's dying. But there is a cure.

    I don't believe the general public will make sense of any of this before it's too late.
    So maybe, just maybe, there's another level of denial happening here. So, what are we suppose to do?

    Maybe we need to realize that we really don't have a lot of time left.
    Time for denial is over. Abrupt climate change is upon us. And like any good doctor will tell you, get your affairs in order.

    Regardless, keep sending out your reminders Julie. It's good therapy.

    Rick Habgood.

    1. Some interesting thoughts to consider, Rick. Thanks. As someone who didn't have children (through bad luck and timing), I feel for your daughter. That's a tough decision to make ... and she'll see people all around her not making it.

      I agree that the general public won't all start jumping up and down for change. That's why it's so important that we create political will - it's our elected officials who should be promoting and creating change on our behalf. I know that's a big responsibility to lay on them, but hello, they asked to represent us and be our leaders!

      Thanks again, Rick, for taking the time to write.

  2. Hi Julie. I have also found it very difficult to talk about climate change and I have often wondered why. I realized that one reason people do not like to hear about it is the negativity associated with it. Here in the US, most of us only want to deal with our own life, family and work. Rarely you see people even turning on the news because they do not want to hear the bad, the ugly and the negative that is going on.
    Another reason is some people think it is over their head when you start talking about the science and they should leave that only to scientists, politicians and heads of states.
    Ahh, but those who are so irrational that leave you not knowing where to start with them are the worst.

    So I think as educators even when we are talking to adults, we should educate them like kids.Do not give them the message like a doctor giving the cancer news to their patient. Besides courage, we need to use psychology, marketing strategy and storytelling to get the message across.

    Thank you


    1. Hi Haleh, I hear you! I get so upset with people who don't do anything about climate change because just talking about it makes them "feel bad." Imagine that! Because they don't want to feel bad right now, today, they're going to allow their children's future to be fried. I'm desperately searching for a way to name that cruel (or is it just fatally thoughtless?) phenomenon. I talk about progenycide, but this is something different, more individual. Pervasive denial by default.

      Interesting point you make about how we ought to talk to adults who need (and want) to learn about climate change. (Adult education of all sorts benefits from pedagogical teaching strategies.) It's true that to understand the science takes some time and energy, but it's not at all difficult to simply accept that spewing 90 million tons of something that warms the atmosphere into the atmosphere every day is going to cause some changes. And those changes won't be good or helpful.

      Alas, eh? At least we can keep supporting each other in our efforts. For that, I thank *you*!


I would appreciate hearing your thoughts or questions on this post or anything else you've read here. What is your take on courage and compassion being an important part of the solution to the climate change emergency?