Communicating climate change to young people

How do we talk about climate change in a way that will engage young people?

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes get slightly tired of talking about climate change. It is a super important topic, one of the most important topics we can talk about, yet it sometimes feels like so much hard work and absolutely no progress. So many people just don’t care, and so many more just don’t get it, no matter how hard we try. But there is hope:

The Climate Outreach and Information Network (COIN) recently released a study on young people’s attitudes towards climate change. The results were not really surprising to me, but they came up with recommendations on how to talk to young people about climate change, and some of those are really helpful reminders.

I can read the short or the long report or even just the recommendations on their website, but here are my personal take-home messages from their work:

  • Talk about how climate change impacts them, here and now, in terms of their own reality and people and places they care about, not what it might mean for future generations or places they cannot relate to. For that, you obviously need to figure out first what they care about, and then relate those places to the bigger picture.
  • Concentrate on convincing the people you are talking to, not on fighting sceptics’ arguments that the person you are talking to might not even be aware of. This is something that I personally really need to learn. While a scientific discussion of course needs to deal with all the arguments that you know exist, talking to an interested laymen you do not need to mention every single argument for and against everything within the first minute of conversation.
  • Be a trustworthy messenger. Young people rely on social media as a source of information a lot more than on conventional media, so your blog, facebook group or twitter is a great medium to reach them. But talking about climate change often comes with a stigma, so avoid being “uncool” or preachy to help them avoid that stigma, too.
  • Focus on solutions more than on science, and give specific recommendations. Young people want to change the world. Give them something they can (rather than should!) do, and tell them what, when, where and how it could be done. Then be there to practice what you preach, and report on it via social media, so the whole thing can grow. And let me know about it, too, so we can all be part of the solution!

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