October challenge: Talk

Before we begin, since October’s theme is Talk, I decided to record a quick audio version of this edition, in case it’s easier for you to absorb content that way. If you find me whispering sweet climate nothings in your ear helpful, please let me know, and I’ll figure out the best way to keep doing them.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming . . .

On page 1 of this Choose Your Own Adventure, you’re working in an office, and suddenly the fire alarm goes off. Everyone stays bent over their desks. Maybe it’s a drill? you think. I can’t see any smoke . . . If you keep working, turn to page 2. If you hustle quietly out the nearest exit, turn to page 18. If you scream “FIRE!” at the top of your lungs, turn to page 46.

I’ll save you the metaphorical page flipping: two of those options lead to a lot of devastation.

When it comes to climate change, most of simply keep working. Because how could it be an emergency if no one is acting like it? I’ve borrowed this analogy from Margaret Klein Salamon, a psychologist who points out that it’s vital to be a person who acts like the building is on fire. Doing so fights pluralistic ignorance, a social psychology term that describes our tendency to go along with a perceived norm, even if we disagree with it. In terms of climate change, not only does this often keep us from taking meaningful action, it keeps us from even talking about our feelings. According to a 2020 Yale communications study, two in three Americans say climate change is at least somewhat important to them personally, but 64% rarely or never discuss it with family for friends. The result? We end up feeling frustrated, disenfranchised, and alone.

But we can’t keep acting like nothing’s happening, and we can’t keep assuming we’re alone: that’s the thing that poisons the present and dooms the future.

So, this month, we’re all going to work at being the people who yell fire. And we’ll do that simply by doing the thing that often feels weird and transgressive: we’re going to talk about climate change as much as we can. That might sound like you won’t be invited to any parties, and a total bummer, but as anyone who’s done therapy can tell you, facing your fear, your anxiety, your despair, and having it validated can be nothing short of transformative.

Before we get going, I want to reassure you that you don’t have to be an expert in policy or science or have solutions at hand to have climate conversations. That being said, if you’re a faithful FMFP reader, you know more about this than most people. You are equipped.

Let’s do this.

Get in your feelings.

The first really meaningful climate conversation of my life was with total strangers. I was attending my first (and only) Extinction Rebellion meeting. At the beginning we had to sit in a breakout group and say what brought us there. Though as an introvert even the words breakout group are horrifying, meeting someone’s eyes as they talked about their own difficult feelings felt more validating than any $250 therapy session.

I have big climate feelings. Anger and frustration, fear and sadness. Guilt. Grief. Despair. And, yes, sometimes hope. I lean in to that last one for this newsletter, because no one wants to open an email that’s practically radioactive, and we need all hands on deck for the societal overhaul required in this fight. But I also want you to know that my Rosie the Riveter can-do attitude is only one side of me, and sometimes I’m convincing myself as much as you.

Recently, I took part in Margaret Klein Salamon’s Climate Awakening, a free one-hour online session that brings people together to talk about their climate feelings through videos and discussion prompts. I was nervous again (you may relate), but despite spending an hour talking about all of my Climate Feels, I left feeling buoyed for the same reason as before. It didn’t make me hopeful, exactly, but it validated my feelings and it made me feel like I wasn’t losing my mind. Being in touch with your difficult feelings can also be clarifying and motivating if you feel supported and heard.

If you’re dealing with some climate feelings of your own, consider this fantastic program. You can sign up for a time slot and get paired with strangers or you can use the program to have the same guided discussion with people you know. If you’d like to have sessions set up with other FMFP readers, I’m happy to facilitate.

And if climate feelings are regularly getting you down, I encourage you to sign up for Britt Wray’s Generation Dread newsletter, and specifically check out this issue that outlines a lot of resources for dealing with climate anxiety.

Talk climate.

Sometime after the 2018 IPCC report, I started having a lot of one-on-one climate discussions. (Maybe with you! Hi!) While these could be heavy, they weren’t ultimately a bummer for the reasons we’ve already discussed. I discovered people do care, they just don’t talk about it and often they don’t know what to do. It was part of the reason I started this newsletter.

Talking about climate can be tricky though, so here are a few general tips.

  1. Start easy. You don’t need to begin with your climate-change-denier uncle, or parachute into a Reddit forum ready to make trouble. Start with a partner, a friend, a family member. The people who care about you are more likely to be swayed by you. Part of the reason we’ve seen such rapid advancements in LGBTQ+ rights is simple: people love their children, and sometimes that’s enough to bring about an ideological transformation.

  2. Know thyself. Make sure you’re clear on your feelings around the climate crisis and why it’s important to you. While you might just want to sputter, “The future of all living beings on Earth!” try to get more specific. I’ve found it helpful to start with people’s feelings.

  3. Find common ground. Scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, a Canadian now living in the second-most conservative city in the U.S., has made it her mission to talk about the climate crisis as much as possible, and she’s found it most helpful to try to identify what the person cares about most, and then relate it back to the environment. This is especially important when talking to someone with a different ideological bent. (Watch her TEDTalk for great examples.)

  4. Know which interventions work. While not every conversation will get to “but what can we do?” it’s good to have a grasp of the most important interventions on a personal and a societal levels. Luckily I’ve rounded those up for you!

  5. Repeat. Keep having these conversations, and be patient with yourself and others if they don’t feel successful. The climate crisis forces us to confront our entire way of life, our future, our very existence, and that’s emotional and threatening, especially for people who don’t read articles about collapsing ice sheets on the regular. Keep trying.

You might start by holding a sustainability summit at home, looking for high-impact actions and low-hanging fruit. But don’t stop there: bring up the melting icebergs in the room at any place you have influence: your book club, gardening society, intramural league, workplace, or faith institution. If you’re a content creator, consider how you can highlight eco issues that fall within in your wheelhouse.

If you’re a woman, you could also sign up for the new, free, unscary Talk Climate to Me program, which gives you the tools and support you need to become a better climate advocate in your everyday life. The first cohort starts in October.

Seed other climate discussions.

I listen to a meditation podcast that tackles all kinds of big issues — racial injustice, burnout, technology, body image, and more — and while climate change has been mentioned, it’s never been the focus of an episode, nor are there any specific meditations for climate grief or anxiety in the companion app. So I sent in feedback asking for more climate content. It only took a minute, and not that long after a specific eco anxiety blog post appeared!

Another great example? On September 22, a group of seven late night comedy hosts decided they’d all do shows on climate. Shout-out to veteran late-night writer-producer Steve Bodow, who mobilized the shows as part of Climate Week in New York City. Bodow told the New York Times, that there was initially a little nervousness: “Everyone, before committing, wanted to be assured that, really, we’re all jumping into the pool at the same time? If I jump, you’re not going to be standing at the edge of the pool, laughing at me and I’m all wet?” We’re all nervous, but the more we do it, the more normal it becomes.

What podcasts, newsletters, and other forms of media that you consume could use a sprinkling of climate content? Take a minute to send a note or write a comment that says that the environment should be on the agenda. Because we can’t solve a problem we won’t even talk about.

Wins of the Week

“There is no solution to the problems we face, but there are solutions: multifarious, collaborative, egalitarian, localized. For every so-called end of the world, a thousand smaller worlds must be born.” — Lisa Wells, Believers: Making a Life at the End of the World

As we roll into fall, I’d hand a bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils to:

  • Holly, who installed a heat pump at her house! (More on amazing, energy-saving home renos here.)

  • Sarah Joy, who picked up sewing as a new year’s resolution a couple of years back, and since then, instead of buying new clothes, she has been making gorgeous new garments out of repurposed fabrics. Right now she’s making a brilliant League of Their Own Halloween costume out of an old sheet. A personal fave is the dress she made out of her childhood E.T. bedsheets.

  • Jenna, who got her mom’s diamond set in her new engagement ring and also sold back some unwanted gold to be melted into something new. Mining is ecological devastation and human exploitation all wrapped up into one bright, shiny package. Avoiding mining new materials is always a big win!

You should know by now, but I’ll say it again: I can’t get enough of your wins. When my Climate Feels are bringing me down, your wins are the bright lights that keep me going. Please do comment or hit reply if this newsletter has inspired you to do something eco. Plus, talking about positive actions that don’t feel like sacrifice and deprivation is another great kind of climate talk. Share your joy and satisfaction — be a publicist for a happier present and a liveable future.