Nā Alex Johnston, Oxfam New Zealand campaigns coordinator and PSA EcoNetwork member
Tried talking to your Dad about the bushfires in Australia only to discover he’s a climate change denier?
Or does your friend or workmate despair that rising sea levels in the Pacific and drought in the North are signs of an apocalyptic future?
How do we talk to people about climate change when it can provoke such extreme reactions?
That is the question that Oxfam New Zealand commissioned the think-tank, The Workshop to find out.
They’ve put together a great resource kit on talking about climate change and encouraging collective action.
Collective is an important word here, because while shifting our own behaviours – such as driving less or eating less meat - are important steps, we need to inspire large-scale systemic action to make everyone’s good intentions really count.
The toolkit suggests the way we typically talk about climate breakdown is not working:
“Mainstream climate communication has…, focussed heavily on fear, economic impacts, and facts. And while climate change is alarming,…inspiring action at the right level requires more than communicating the facts and the dangers.”
What the research suggests will motivate the widest audience (though it may not change those who still deny there is a problem) is to lead with a vision of the type of world that we want to see.
Instead of saying “the world is burning, this is such a catastrophe!” we can try something like “everyone deserves clean air, secure homes, and a stable environment to build their lives in.”
Then identify the human impacts of climate change on that vision at a local level. For example, “right now, climate breakdown is disrupting the ability of people to grow food in Northland, fuelling bushfires that have destroyed livelihoods in Australia, and is forcing coastal communities in Fiji to relocate to higher land.”
Next name the agents that cause the problem: “people in government are holding back the changes we need to cut our pollution and play our part in building a secure future for everyone.”
Finally focus on the ability of people to solve this crisis and the need to accelerate action: “If we use our voices in this election, we can make sure we elect people who are committed to cutting our pollution faster and will support communities to make the changes we need.”
Words matter. They shape how we think and feel, which in turn guide our actions.
Talking about climate breakdown in ways that inspire us to act collectively is crucial.
Our overheating planet is under threat but we have the tools to act.
PSA members and local communities joined forces in February to protest restructuring that threatened hundreds of jobs and quality client care.
While the restructuring by HealthCare NZ is now set to go ahead the protests have thrown a spotlight on issues besetting the home care and support sector.
Union organisers from the Pacific have spoken about the challenges some face while trying to improve conditions for workers in their countries.