Toronto climate scientist says just talking about the issue can make a big difference

How Facebook's new climate conversation coach can help

David SuzukiDavid Suzuki is the host of the CBC’s The Nature of Things and author of more than 30 books on ecology (with files from Ian Hanington).

Many of us have listened to someone confidently assert that climate change is a hoax or that it’s no big deal. How do we talk to them? Should we bother?

Although most people know the climate emergency is serious and needs addressing, we are all in denial to some extent. For those in the know, it’s partly what allows us to go about our days.

“Talking is the most important thing we can do and it does make a difference!” argues climate scientist and former Torontonian Katharine Hayhoe. But how do we do that?

It’s a difficult subject even for those who study it. And many people feel they don’t know enough to discuss it. Others have been misled by massive industry-funded campaigns, supported by politicians and media, to downplay or deny the evidence.

Hayhoe says we shouldn’t argue about science with those who dismiss it, but rather, we should be “connecting the dots to why it matters to us, and what we and other people are already doing to fix it.”

Technology is increasingly helping people cut through polarization on subjects ranging from U.S. politics to climate. The David Suzuki Foundation’s new CliMate conversation coach is designed to help people through difficult but important conversations about climate disruption and its solutions.

CliMate, on Facebook Messenger, allows users — regardless of their position on climate change — to move through a conversation with possible questions and responses, offering feedback to help people find common ground and shared values. It’s not about winning a debate but about reducing polarization and cultivating empathy — based on a growing body of evidence about the best ways to make progress on contentious subjects.

Research shows emotional language can be more compelling. And many people trust peers, family and loved ones more than they trust scientists, experts and environmental organizations, so anyone who cares about resolving the climate crisis can make a difference.

Sharing stories is especially important. People relate more easily to others’ experiences of pollution-related health issues or dealing with wildfires or flooding than statistics and evidence. You don’t have to be an expert to have good conversations. Talk about what you know and have experienced and ask others about their experiences. Above all, avoid trying to score points or make others look stupid.

Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO