But I would also be sure to pair this information hand in hand with what we’re doing to fix the problems from our end and how it’s paying off. Give people analogies so it’s really clear, so they can see it. I love giving examples of how many X worth of Y we’ve reduced; for example, something like “Through increasing the energy efficiency of our facilities, we have taken the equivalent of 500 cars off the road. Isn’t that incredible? That’s what we’ve been doing through our efforts.” Or, “We have reduced our waste by 50%. That’s the equivalent of X garbage trucks of waste per year.” Or, “We are now powered by 38 wind turbines; that’s X trainloads of coal we don’t need to use anymore.”
Finally — and this is the most important part! — I’d engage the employees themselves in the solutions. As humans, we want to be part of a solution. We want to make a difference. That is part of what gives us hope and what gives us energy, the idea that we’re actually doing something good for the world.
So, for example, I might say, “We’re aiming for an even better milestone. I want your ideas to help us get to this new milestone, too.” That’s even more incentivizing, when you feel like a company encourages you and supports you and wants you to be part of their plan.
Does this advice extend to people who might not believe that climate change is that severe — or that it exists at all? What might this kind of conversation look like in a professional setting?
Only around 10% of the population is dismissive [of climate change], but they are a very loud 10%. Glance at the comment section of any online article on climate change, check out the responses to my tweets, or search for global warming videos on YouTube — they’re everywhere. They’re even at our Thanksgiving dinner, because just about every one of us has at least one person who is dismissive in the family. I do, too!
A person who is dismissive is someone who has built their identity on rejecting the reality of a changing climate because they believe the solutions represent a direct and immediate threat to all they hold dear. And in pursuit of that goal, they will reject anything: hundreds of scientific studies, thousands of experts, even the evidence of their own eyes. So, no, there is no point talking to a dismissive about climate science or impacts, unless you enjoy banging your head against the wall.
But it can be possible to have a constructive conversation with a dismissive — and I’ve had these! — by focusing solely on solutions that they don’t see as a threat because they carry positive benefits and/or are good for their bottom line. And the fascinating thing is that once they are engaged in helping fix the problem, that very action can have the power to change a dismissive person’s mind.
I want to end by asking about the importance of climate conversation over the next few years. I’ve heard anecdotally that companies are hearing more questions from younger job candidates or employees: “What are you doing? How are you addressing climate change as a company?” Does that resonate with you at all? Should companies be preparing for more conversations like these?
We see a very strong age gradient when it comes to levels of concern about climate change primarily among conservative populations, with younger people caring much more and being much more engaged than their elders. (Among more liberal populations, levels of concern are relatively high across all age groups.) At my own school, the number of students going to the president and asking, “What is our university doing?” has increased noticeably. I hear this anecdotally from colleagues all around the country, too. And when those students graduate, that’s what they ask in their interviews, because they want to be part of the solution. Young people understand how urgent the problem is, and they know that there’s no time to waste. A lot of them don’t want to do a job that is not helping to fix this massive problem that we have.
If companies want to be competitive, if they want to hire the best and the brightest, the ones who are most engaged, the ones who are most in tune, the ones who really put their heart and their soul and their passion into their work, then they have to start talking about climate change differently. Because this is increasingly becoming something that young professionals really care about.The Big Idea
Dr. Katharine Hayhoe is a professor of political science at Texas Tech University and the director of the Climate Science Center. She hosts the PBS digital series Global Weirding: Climate, Politics and Religion, is the World Evangelical Alliance’s climate ambassador, and has received a broad range of recognitions and awards, from Working Mother’s 50 Most Influential Moms to the UN Champion of the Earth in 2019. Hayhoe’s 2018 TEDWomen talk “The Most Important Thing You Can Do to Fight Climate Change: Talk About It” has received almost 2 million views.