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How do you effectively engage in a conversation about climate change? Dr. Katharine Hayhoe has an answer.

Katharine Hayhoe, a professor at Texas Tech University, wrote a great book a few years ago:   Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World. In Saving Us, she makes the case that one of the most important things we can all do to fight climate change is to learn how to communicate about it.

When I originally read her book soon after it was published, Dr. Hayhoe inspired me with the amount of hope she conveyed regarding the climate, a subject that is usually so mired in resignation and despair. After recently reviewing Saving Us, I’m left inspired once again—so much so, that I wanted to share some of Dr. Hayhoe’s findings, particularly those that closely align with World Tree’s vision and how we work.

Preaching doom doesn’t work.

For many who care about climate change, it’s our natural inclination to tell others how terrible the state of the planet is and how terrible it will continue to be if we don’t take action. Yet, describing to others how a mass extinction may be coming will not change minds. Doom and gloom doesn’t move people into action. While it is true—the planet is currently in a terrible state of duress—this information does not necessarily persuade others to take steps to tackle climate change. It actually has the opposite effect: it leaves them in a state of resignation and inaction.

We need to connect with people on a personal level.

How do we actually get people to join in the climate movement? We relate to them in their own world. Yes, it sounds obvious and it’s certainly a good communication skill to have in general, but conversing with others “where we find them” instead of “where we wish them to be” is critical for much of our work.

Years ago, I was a board member of a wonderful nonprofit, Utah Clean Energy. The staff at the organization realized very quickly that the best way to speak to Utahans about climate change was to speak about air quality. Deteriorating air quality, especially in the winter, is an ongoing and worsening issue in the Salt Lake Valley. By framing climate change in terms of air quality, the staff at the organization was able to gain support for a number of important legislative and regulatory improvements while framing the same proposals in climate change language produced little support.

Moreover, connecting with others based on what they find important has not only been effective at Utah Clean Energy, it’s absolutely essential for our work at World Tree. Many of our farmers in the Southeastern United States, for instance, may not be overly concerned with the threat polar bears face or the thickness of the ice in Greenland. However, they are concerned about the changing planting cycles occurring due to climate change. They are concerned about the increasing length and severity of droughts and floods (and the number of extreme weather events in totality). They are concerned about how climate change may affect their farms five or ten years from now and, most of all, how it will affect what they will leave their children.

Give hope to inspire more action.

According to Dr. Hayhoe, people take action when they see that they can make a difference. Providing only the brutal facts tends to leave others with despair and resignation (and a lack of inclination to take any sort of action). However, talking to individuals about the possible solutions to our climate problems—telling them about others that are working to make a positive impact—can and does offer hope.

World Tree’s goals with our Eco-Tree Program are to support small farmers, sequester carbon, produce a source of renewable and sustainable timber, and provide soil and biodiversity solutions for the natural world—all while generating financial returns. In striving toward these goals, we believe we can contribute another positive story to help inspire others.

For anyone who hasn’t had a chance to read Saving Us, I invite you to do so. As World Tree continues to grow and work to achieve our mission, Dr. Hayhoe has offered us insights into the often-overlooked keys of addressing climate change: inspiration, passion, vision, and human connection.

By Doug Willmore – World Tree, CEO

as a part of the CEO Insights Series

Sharing insights into new and ongoing developments within the sustainability sphere, as well as our own progress in deepening World Tree’s contribution.