Why Climate Conversations Are Essential At Work & At Home
A Guest Post By Environmentalist Heather White On How To Talk About Climate Change With Your Family & Friends. Hint: We All Need To Listen More!
Today, I’m sharing the spotlight with Heather White, the founder & CEO of onegreenthing.org. Her twenty-plus years of service include working as a litigator at a prominent Nashville law firm, serving as a campaign staffer and recount attorney for Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign, the energy and environmental legislative counsel to a U.S. Senator, and an adjunct law professor at Georgetown University Law Center. She directed environmental education advocacy at the nation's largest conservation organization and served as executive director to an environmental health watchdog in Washington, D.C.
This excerpt is from Heather’s new book: One Green Thing: Discover Your Hidden Power to Help Save the Planet
The book offers an easy-to-follow guide for climate action while brilliantly weaving together warm and funny stories from her childhood in East Tennessee, anecdotes from 20+ years of environmental advocacy, and scenes from parenting two GenZ daughters in Bozeman, Montana.
I encourage you to apply this lesson to whatever cause is most pressing to your heart right now.
The latest IPCC report warns that the window of opportunity for transformational action on climate change is closing. Our experiences and anxiety about climate change may differ across generations, but the need for climate action at the global and national level is essential.
An “intergenerational partnership” can drive culture change. But how do we begin? First, we create space to listen to young people about their concerns about the future.
Here’s why: “eco-anxiety,” also known as “climate anxiety,” is impacting people around the globe as we experience more climate-fueled disasters. The American Psychological Association defines, “eco-anxiety” as the “chronic fear of environmental doom.” While not yet listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental disorders, mental health professionals are treating clients whose eco-anxiety impacts their daily lives. But stress about the future is a natural response to the science.
Gen Z, children born after 1997, are entering the work force in record numbers. They are entrepreneurial, independent, and socially conscious with an expectation that their brands work to protect the planet will all share. And they worry about the future they’re inheriting.
A recent survey of 10,000 young people globally ages 16 to 24 found that one in four don’t want to have children because of climate change. Opening up a conversation about the climate crisis, especially with the young people you know at home and professionally, creates space to process all the feelings—anger, hope, despair, loss—and then can help us all move from hope to action.
To have a “climate conversation,” first create space to spend time together either virtually or in person. Meet with someone who’s older and someone who’s younger, to chat about “cathedral thinking,” what you want to build long term and the climate solutions that appeal to you for a vibrant, sustainable future.
What behaviors can you change individually or together to support momentum for this vision? What are you doing professionally and personally to support that vision of a regenerative future?
Here are some Intergenerational Partnership or “Think Beyond Your Age” principles to consider:
Ask. The first step of an Intergenerational Partnership is to ask. Use open-ended questions about the issue—in this instance, climate change—and learn.
Listen. This is a challenge for most of us. Consider setting a time limit and establishing respectful ground rules. Put your phone down. Don’t interrupt or think about what you want to say next. Be curious. Ask a follow-up question, and then ask another.
Share. Talk about your own feelings, concerns, ideas. Don’t assume the person you’re talking with knows the historic event you’re referring to or understands your perspective. Walk them through the experience you want to share.
Learn. Commit to growth. This isn’t easy, especially as we age. Hearing someone from a different generation explain their fears, dreams, and lessons learned can change your perspective.
Laugh. This is easier said than done when you’re talking about the climate crisis. If you’re able to incorporate humor, even if it’s laughing at yourself, you can open up space to be creative. It’s also a way to break down intergenerational barriers and see the possibilities before you.
Brainstorm. A partnership is not only listening and validating the other person’s experience but also trying to form a positive vision of the future together. Ask “what if?” What can you do now—at home or at work—to make a positive impact for the future or help adopt a climate solution at a large scale?
Act. After the previous six steps, come up with a plan. For example, you can choose a few One Green Things to do together. Promise to share articles on social media. Watch a documentary and then hop on Zoom to discuss it afterward. Commit to energy efficiency at the office, focus on office-wide composting, plan to do a group hike. Share your progress with each other.
If we want a true Intergenerational Partnership, then we need to have a clear vision of what’s possible at work and at home. Systems change takes a long time, but individual action is at the center of the change. The political will shifts when individuals act, and a daily practice results in a powerful compounding force for progress.
Whatever your political affiliation is, my request to you is to move in close. Connect in your community, have conversations about climate change with your family and friends, and talk about and with future generations and our duty to them.
Commit to working toward an Intergenerational Partnership. Embracing long-term thinking and experiencing moments of delight together will enable us to move forward with joy as we work toward a greener, healthier, more equitable future. It all starts with listening and learning at work and at home.
What conversations are you ready to have in your life and who can you listen to for a new perspective? Let us know in the comments below.