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How to Talk About Climate Change in a Way That Makes a Difference

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Why is it so hard to talk about climate change?

While scientists double down on the shocking figures, we still find ourselves unable to discuss climate change meaningfully among friends and neighbours - or even to grapple with it ourselves.

The key to progress on climate change is in the psychology of human attitudes and our ability to change. Whether you're already alarmed and engaged with the issue, concerned but disengaged, a passive skeptic or an active denier, understanding our emotional reactions to climate change - why it makes us anxious, fearful, angry or detached - is critical to coping on an individual level and convincing each other to act.

This book is about understanding why people who aren't like you feel the way they do and learning to talk to them effectively. What we need are thousands - millions - of everyday conversations about the climate to enlarge the ranks of the concerned, engage the disengaged and persuade the cautious of the need for action.

304 pages, Paperback

First published July 2, 2020

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Rebecca Huntley

18 books12 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 41 reviews
Profile Image for Kali Napier.
Author 6 books60 followers
July 26, 2020
A rewarding read. I say that because it will literally reframe the way I "talk about climate change". The premise is simple: we cannot persuade with more climate science; we can only persuade with emotion. Something that should have been obvious to me as a tutor of rhetorical writing. But there it is. For some reason, we seem to think that political action will be taken on climate change 'if only' climate sceptics and deniers 'knew' the science. The science was known in the 1970s. All the scientists have been doing since then is tracking the losses. Instead, Huntley takes us through the emotions that climate change invokes, and shows us how these emotions hinder communication on climate change and how they can be harnessed. And like everything else, it all boils down to storytelling. Stories are how we make sense of who we are in the world. Compelling climate change stories are local and personal. This is a book I will need to read again and again.
Profile Image for Linh.
258 reviews39 followers
September 3, 2020
I powered through this book today in preparation for an event with the author this coming week. (So, full, and quite a lame, disclosure: I know the author, many of the people interviewed for this book and climate change makes up about 87% of my life).

It's been awhile since I've read a non-fiction book in one sitting though, which I think is a testament to the accessible language Huntley writes with. Given that this book is about how we can better communicate and engage with people on climate, that's a good thing! There's a focus on doing so through using social sciences especially psychology and how we process our emotions. It's interwoven with her journey over the course of a year since her own "a-ha" moment, propelling her to many changes in her personal and professional life.

I'd recommend this for people "newer" to the climate "space" (both are pretty amorphous things in my opinion, that is probably best left undefined) looking for an overview of communications best practices. And, maybe there's no higher praise, from someone who is up to their eyeballs in all things climate, that this felt like a good use of my Sunday.
Profile Image for Lauren James.
Author 16 books1,424 followers
September 23, 2020
One of the most useful books about climate change I've read, from the perspective of someone working on a novel about the climate activism movement. There were so many insights here into the thought processes and personal histories of activists, scientists and deniers alike. Truly understanding your opponent's beliefs is a difficult skill, but essential in a time when debates are so binary - good or bad. This really opened my eyes to a lot of different ways 'into' the climate change conversation, and it's going to be very helpful in my work. Thank you!
Profile Image for rachel, x.
1,691 reviews856 followers
August 10, 2022
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Profile Image for Phil McNamara.
Author 1 book5 followers
September 23, 2021
This book is not intended to provide the facts about climate science but it does start from the stand-point, and rightly so, that there is consensus amongst climate scientists that our climate is rapidly changing due to human activities. It also acknowledges that the majority of Australians agree that more needs to be done to adapt and mitigate its effects. But there are barriers to this. What is the intention of this book is to give the reader a better understanding of the social and psychological factors that underpin our, mostly slow, response to climate change. It argues that talking about the science is not enough. In order to talk about climate change in a useful manner we need to understand the different emotional forces that shape our discussion: guilt, fear, anger, denial, despair, hope, loss and love.

Rebecca Huntley draws upon the findings of her research, and research from around the world, on the various emotions that affect the way we talk about climate change. She also draws upon her own emotional responses, and those of community leaders, school children, climate scientists, climate sceptics and, importantly, people already severely impacted by a rapidly changing climate. These reflections are tightly woven into each chapter and give context to the research she describes. This makes this book easy to read and easy to follow because we can always relate to the examples provided. There is also lots of well placed humour and the writing very often feels real because the author has lived those emotional responses herself.

How to talk about climate change in a way that makes a difference was also surprisingly uplifting for me. Climate change is a topic normally drenched in negativity. I often have negative thoughts about the current and future impacts on our community, and get angry at the lack of local and global action. I am sure that most people, including climate sceptics, feel something similarly negative about the subject. As someone that doesn’t particularly like talking about climate change, this book made me see there is a pathway through those negative feelings. By understanding our own emotional responses to the issue, and the responses of the people we might talk to, we will feel more confident in having those conversations with our family and friends.

One of the surprising aspects of the book is how I found myself responding to each chapter. You’d think that chapters on guilt, loss and anger would send you spiralling into despair (which is another chapter heading). Similarly, you might think that chapters on hope and love would have some sense of positivity about them. As Rebecca Huntley points out, each of these emotions can have an upside and a downside to the way we talk about climate change. Context is everything.

“A message about climate change that tries to inspire hope and resolve in one person may in fact provoke fear and anger in another, despair in their friend and indifference in their neighbour” (page 65).

There is no one way of delivering a climate change message.

The author clearly sees this book as one to help people advocate for action on climate change but I think it has wider appeal. Whether you are an outspoken advocate for doing something about climate change, disengaged from the topic, a sceptic or someone that sits back quietly wanting government’s to act, readers will benefit from understanding why they and others think the way they do about climate change. It may even dispel some assumptions you have about climate advocates, climate sceptics, politicians and religions. It is an engaging read that will help readers talk about climate change and help build community led pathways to action. This can only be a good thing for creating consensus on what we all want for the future of our planet.
Profile Image for Lisa.
3,277 reviews415 followers
September 7, 2020
How to Talk about Climate Change, in a way that makes a difference is another book that I discovered through this year's digital Melbourne Writers Festival. Rebecca Huntley was on a panel ably chaired by Adam Morton with Ketan Joshi (whose book Windfall, is now on my TBR), and Victor Steffensen (Fire Country).  It was a very good session, but this is a case of having to get the book and read it for yourself.

It is exactly what the title says it is.  It's a kind of self-help book to help you learn the powers of persuasion, on the contentious issue of climate change.  It shouldn't be contentious, because the science is clear, but the vested interests so explicitly outlined in Judith Brett's recent Quarterly Essay (#78) titled The Coal Curse, Resources, Climate and Australia’s Future have made it so.  As Huntley demonstrated in her Quarterly Essay (#73), titled Australia Fair, Listening to the Nation , market research shows that Australians do want change.  Her book is a manual on how to achieve it.

She begins by explaining how she herself had a change of heart.  She had long been convinced of the need to tackle climate change, but the school climate strikes made her realise that it's not just an issue of logic and facts, it's an emotional issue.
This emotional change intrigued me.  I consider myself a highly rational person.  I'm a trained lawyer and social researcher.  I base my judgements on demonstrable evidence that will stand up to scrutiny from lawyers, good journalists, academics and Senate committees.  But this transformative moment—the moment I tipped from being concerned about climate change to genuinely alarmed about the threat—didn't happen because I read a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) or sat through a presentation from a climate scientist about carbon dioxide levels.  I reacted to a crowd of children holding up signs in the streets, girls who were only a few years older than my eldest daughter.  Suddenly, it was personal.  (p.4)

As you'd expect, Huntley anticipates the argument that it's up to governments and corporations to act and that our feelings are irrelevant.  Her response is that we need multiple fronts of pressure on governments and corporations, especially those that are resisting action.  To do that we need to understand our own responses—the social and psychological factors that underpin how we react.

To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2020/09/07/h...
Profile Image for Robin Eleanor.
117 reviews
April 22, 2021
So very rewarding. It can be hard to talk about climate change. And the way in which we talk about it makes such a big difference! If you're like me, and can get frustrated or angry when talking to someone about climate change, then read this!

This book teaches you how to talk about climate change in an effective way with chapters that focus on an emotion each. For example, focusing on fear or guilt, as we often do, might not be as effective as focusing on more positive emotions, such as love or pride. Critiquing someone's lifestyle and telling them terrifying facts can result in defensive responses or denial and will often not make them change their behaviour or get involved in the movement. On the other hand, focusing on the love for your children, home or nature can make people change their behaviour in order to protect what they love. Of course it is more nuanced than this and fear and guilt can be effective emotions as well.

I really really really recommend this book if you want to learn to communicate about climate change in a way that makes a difference.
Profile Image for Claire.
5 reviews
September 26, 2020
Important, motivating and practical advice - would highly recommend!
7 reviews
August 11, 2020
This really addressed my climate anxiety and despair I have been experiencing. I learnt a lot from reading this book about the different reactions and mechanisms people have in response to climate change. A definite read for anyone who wants to work towards a a better future.
167 reviews1 follower
December 2, 2020
This is more of a literature review than a book with new ideas. Huntley frequently reiterates and summarises other people’s conclusions about the best way to talk about climate change. This is certainly useful but there’s not much that is new here. The book also feels a bit undercooked and padded at times, as if the writer was racing towards a deadline.

For me the key takeaway was to frame climate change action as an opportunity - galvanise support by present climate action as an exciting, creative undertaking. This approach reinforces the idea that we have more to gain (economically, socially, spiritually, politically) from taking action than we will lose in the transition. Another useful takeaway was that to engage people, find out what makes them tick and illustrate how this thing that they love will be impacted by climate change. 3 stars because it could have been 100 pages shorter.
Profile Image for Blair.
Author 2 books44 followers
December 31, 2020
Vitally important. A book that I'll be returning to and using with my students.
Profile Image for Isabell Angel.
23 reviews
December 6, 2020
Emotional book for me to read but well needed. I struggle with how to approach tough conversations regarding climate change and this book provided valuable insight for me.
Profile Image for David Risstrom.
91 reviews1 follower
August 14, 2020
If you've thought this book might be worth reading, it is.
I love Rebecca Huntley She is a real spunk. Bright, thoughtful, caring. human. Australian.
Since studying climate change science in 1995, I've travelled many of the waves Rebecca explores in her book. It takes time to understand why we seem so prepared to undermine ours and others life support systems. But we do. And it is worth working out if we want to.
It's a nice feeling to be doing something to contribute to more opportunities for others. Including those with four paws, wings and roots. A nice antidote to feeling sorry for ourselves and doing three fifths of [not much] about it.
Read Rebecca's book, How to Talk About Climate Change in a Way That Makes a Difference. Love yourself for it. Go easy on yourself. And me. Not too many of us are perfect. But many of us are good at being ourselves if we want to. And we can be good and good to others in a world were our inattention may afford fewer choices. Read the book. Think about it. And talk to others if that is where it takes you. It's much more restive than watching the news.
18 reviews43 followers
September 3, 2020
i liked it when she called jean-paul sartre a 'moody bastard'
Profile Image for Tess Evans.
Author 7 books32 followers
October 28, 2020
How to Talk About Climate Change in a Way that Make a Difference

Rebeca Huntley Murdoch books 2020

How many of us have engaged in debate over the urgency of good climate change policy? How often have we resorted to preaching or haranguing or even suggesting that those with opposing views are somehow morally or intellectually deficient?
Huntley’s book is centred around a simple message. Many of those we speak to are in a state of anxiety, frustration, anger, even despair. ‘They didn’t need to be convinced, she tells us, ‘they needed to be inspired.’ P. 21
There is a warning on p. 6 that ‘You won’t find a lot of Natural Science in this book.’ Instead of repeating the hard, scientific facts, Huntley uses the social sciences to examine emotional responses and suggests that the first step in the conversation is to listen. Only then we can determine where the person we are speaking to is coming from.
Each chapter describes an emotion Huntley sees as important, and she discusses the positive and negative aspects of each. For instance, hope can either be a blind belief that something will happen to fix things or a hope that keeps activists from despair. There is a chapter on each of guilt, fear anger, denial, despair, hope, loss and love. Understanding these emotions enables us to communicate more effectively because, she argues, humans facing an existential threat tend not to act rationally.
The final chapter suggests we look at what the person cares about that will be lost or is already being lost as the climate changes. This strategy has the capacity to turn a concerned person or even a sceptic into an activist. To illustrate this, the author tells a wonderful story of a group of politically conservative birdwatchers in the United States. She warns that climate activists tend to be better at explaining what they are against than what they are for. These birdwatchers are for birds. They love birds. And they are ready to fight anything that threatens these creatures they cherish. ‘…the starting point in any effective discussion of climate change is not climate change itself, but what we care about, what we love.’ (p 222).
This is a very readable book, with a mixture of social research and exemplary anecdotes supporting the thesis. It has been criticised for dealing with the personal when the problem is political, but we have long understood that the personal is political. Huntley’s book, with its Social Science perspective, is true to its title. It is a valuable guide for anyone who wants to communicate effectively on the thorny issue of climate change.
Tess Evans

Profile Image for Sarah.
39 reviews
April 27, 2022
"We didn't just shit the bed politically, we shit the bed communications wise."

I can't remember the last conversation I had with my friends or family on climate change. It's a difficult conversation to have not least because of its complexity, its rapidity, its politicisation, everything. And it kills the mood in a second flat. There's, understandably, an increasing trend of eco-anxiety everywhere and it's easy to shut down or dismiss climate change either as something distant or inevitable, depending on your disposition.

Huntley writes from a deep personal understanding of this (very human) reaction to our doom. She isn't here to give you the facts of the matter because we already know that. An established social scientist and an alarmed climate change advocate, she writes instead about why we talk (or don't talk) about climate change, why we feel the millions of different things we do when we think about climate change, and what we can start doing to turn our reactions into something that... helps.

The chapters are broken down by emotions like anxiety, hope, despair, and love (among others) that one may experience from contemplating the climate crisis. Huntley draws from the wisdom from people from all walks of life -- teenage girls, climate scientists, faith leaders, entertainers and so on -- not... just... to break down these feelings or to share their experiences. That feels like an understatement. It feels more like a compilation of comforting words from friends who've been there before. In a world where climate change literature is often so disheartening and overwhelming, this book is what we need to overcome that paralysis and fear of the topic.

I especially recommend this read for people who are concerned about climate change but who don't know where to start, and to activists. Although it's centred around climate change, there's also a lot to be learned about effectively communicating important messages. Beyond that, it's an accessible and important read which I would rec to everyone anyway.
Profile Image for Joel Blacker.
37 reviews
October 21, 2020
I believe this book brings a lot to public discourse on climate change, and hopefully it achieves its purpose of not only improving public discourse but also increasing it!

The fundamental premise of this book is that strong climate action is not inhibited by science or a lack of understanding thereof, but by human psychological bias and tendencies. Perhaps implicit also is that our collective shortcomings thus far in effectively communicating the need for stronger action amongst our social circles is somewhat to blame. I found this basic premise to be incredibly logical and seemingly obvious once I read it, but nonetheless important to remember.

The book provides a broad overview of the roles various emotions play in the climate conversation. I think a very good starting point for someone looking to improve their understanding on the topic and thus improve their own communication.

However I would have really appreciated some more specific examples of tactics and how to best leverage these emotions effectively in conversations.

I feel also that it was perhaps not sufficiently touched on, the importance of context, or the variety of potential ways a climate conversation might track depending on each person's own story and even how they are feeling on that day or in that moment. Although, of course I have not personally studied this topic in depth as Rebecca Huntley has and am sure that she has presented her information this way for good reason!

All in all, a valuable read to begin promoting thought, discussion and understanding of effective climate communication. Much more to build upon I think!

Much love all!
February 24, 2023
The question posed by the title of the book is one of the most important we can ask. Rebecca lays out the problem of having to connect to a lot of different people with different starting positions with each chapter starting with a different emotion you have to navigate; Denial, Fear etc when trying to convince people. Then goes about how to navigate those roadblocks to change people's minds. The book includes anecdotes and

Perhaps it was swapping from a male to a female perspective but this book was thoroughly feminist compared to other books I have read on the subject. It took time to focus on what women are doing within the climate movement, often at a local level but sometimes in the public eye. How important the role of a mother can be in motivating someone to get involved in the climate action movement. How women have driven environmentalism, from the very beginning, see Rachel Carson.

The central thesis is that answering the book's title question is all about connecting with people on a personal level. But I feel the book failed to connect with me and my more numbers-oriented brain than I would like. My primary criticism of the book is the overuse of often long quotes from two books in particular, George Marshall's "Don't even think about it" and another that I can't remember :s that made me think that perhaps I should go read those books if I wanted to be able to best answer the question posed by the title of the book.

I'll write a better review latter.
Profile Image for Jordan Moss.
40 reviews2 followers
January 14, 2021
Last year, I decided I wanted to learn more about politics- which I succeeded in. This year, there are a few things I want to learn about, one of them being climate change. I picked this book up at Kmart for cheap and thought it would be a good start.
It was a very good piece exploring the ways to successfully discuss climate change in an era where it is convoluted with politics and religion. Although I didn’t learn much about the science about climate change (and I didn’t expect to anyway since the book is about the communication and education of climate change) I still feel as though I benefitted in reading it.

Personal Reflection: I’ve had a long streak reading no -fiction and I’d really love to go back to delving into some good fiction, as I am writing my novel at the moment. I am 11,000 words I’m currently and it is difficult, but rewarding. I have also been working a lot, saving up for maybe a house deposit. I started a new job since writing my last reflection, at a local grocer in my neighbourhood. It has been fun and pretty easy so far.

I dedicate this to the fictional character Tom from the play Earthquakes in London by Mike Bartlett, who is a young climate revolutionary and made me realise I should care more about the climate and environment. I had the pleasure of playing him last year for Theatre , in which I received a Excellent Achievement score.
Profile Image for Georgi_Lvs_Books.
981 reviews27 followers
March 20, 2021
“Climate change is affecting every one of the earth’s systems. Even the earth’s crust is being transformed.”

Reading books about climate is like reading a horror novel - frightening and very disturbing.

I was very fascinated by this read, I actually believe that I’m one of those people who has “eco-anxiety”.

I’ve been making changes over the last 7-8 months and will continue to do so. I hope I can get others to change as well.

I’m always keen to do research and learn a lot of things however, after reading about what these scientists are going through because they know the truth, I’m a little apprehensive.

Insightful read, and one that everyone should dedicate their time to.

At the end of the book you are given a list of resources and reading recommendations.

Thank you Murdoch Books for sending me a physical copy since I was late in archiving it from NetGalley! I’m really glad I got the chance to read this.
Profile Image for Grace.
282 reviews8 followers
September 27, 2021
This year I have been on a bit of a journey around my place in the environment, what I do about it and how I engage with the things I can control. So it is logical that this book has a place in this journey for me.

This book really worked for me. It was presented in a way I could relate to and understand it, and on finishing it I feel even more empowered to have more discussions about this topic which I care quite a lot about but don't talk about enough.

One thing that really hit me was the whole concept that if we don't talk about it to avoid conflict, politicisation or general discomfort we are only doing ourselves a disservice. We just need to talk about it no matter where we stand on the political spectrum (cause frankly the science doesn't have multiple sides, just facts).

Recommended reading. Thanks Rebecca Huntley!
Profile Image for Natasha Hurley-Walker.
533 reviews22 followers
August 28, 2022
A really important topic given a thorough and well-referenced treatment by Rebecca Huntley. She explores of how different emotions cause different reactions to climate change in different people, and some of those reactions are very familiar since I spend a lot of time thinking and talking about this subject! The section on guilt and how we figure out how to talk to our own children even as we cause problems that they will inherit brought tears to my eyes. Of course, the final chapter on hope is very uplifting. I'd recommend this to anyone even if you don't think or talk about this subject -- you're going to be reacting to climate change one way or another in the coming decades, and thinking through how you feel about it and perhaps more importantly, knowing that you're not alone, is going to help you a lot.
Profile Image for Linda.
Author 28 books146 followers
September 15, 2020
This is an extremely interesting and useful book, and I'd recommend it to anyone who is passionate about a cause and wants to influence others to take action as well. Huntley's basic thesis is that while we often believe we are persuaded by facts, and that others are too, emotions play a huge role. Yet they're often contradictory things: fear can cause us to retreat, or spur us to action - and all emotions exist alongside others, so it's a complex chemistry. For my full review in the Saturday Paper see https://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/c...
February 21, 2021
A great tool to change the biggest source of emissions: people!

This a fantastic, methodical but simple read on the underlying problems stopping us from people taking climate change. From the emotions people have, the identity conflicts that may be caused from taking action, to how we personally can wrestle of being imperfect creatures in a far more imperfect world, Huntley help empower us all to do one of the most important, zero-cost and scalable solutions in the climate action arsenal: engage others.

Read with a highlighter to make sure you capture all the great references, quotes and statistics!
Profile Image for Rachel Smyth.
4 reviews4 followers
March 17, 2021
Important book addressing one of the often overlooked elements of climate action- communicating the problem. I only wish there could have been more focus on actual advice for talking about climate change rather than designating an entire chapter to each emotion that people feel when thinking about it. The tips were mostly confined to the conclusion chapter in bullet point form and seemed a bit like an afterthought. Would still recommend however, provides a new perspective on how to approach the topic with a variety of people.
246 reviews2 followers
August 3, 2021
Such an interesting book and something that hopefully concerns everyone. These discussion need to take place and continue to prompt us into action to help prevent what is obviously happening world wide. Bring a gardener l can see it first hand in my garden how climate is charming and dramatically so. Having been affected by the recent huge once in a life time storms in the Yarra Valley and Dandenong and also Ash Wednesday fires. These huge events are only two but affected our family both times.
8 reviews
September 12, 2021
An enlightening and thought-provoking read, that will cause you to examine your own beliefs and culture as you seek to find ways to understand, and connect with, those of others. The science is irrevocable - Climate Change is here … the world needs us to find ways to talk to those who refuse to believe it and help them understand the urgency of us all acting to change our behaviours now - this book goes some considerable way towards doing that.
Profile Image for Kiara.
84 reviews3 followers
October 2, 2021
Definitely delivered on expectations - a really easy, engaging and informative read about how to talk about climate change with emotional intelligence.

I was recommended this read from another girlfriend who is a climate analyst. I read it in one day, it was so engaging. My four biggest takeaways are:
1. "One of the biggest tasks is to create a positive, alternative view of the future" - stop focusing on the danger, risks and gloom that can invoke anger, fear emotions and rather paint a picture of what is still possible & what actions to take! The latest IPCC report I think did this well by highlighting hope and the action needed from our political and business leaders.
2. Constructive guilt rather than destructive shame - Needing to find the right balance of collective responsibility, "We can and need to act" rather than pointing the finger at individual responsibility that causes shame and people to dig their heels in / bury their head to defend their honour. Think all the Execs in the top 20 Plastic Waste Makers index and the challenging emotions they must be wrangling.
3. Link between increasing temperatures and mental health - this was really alarming and something I didn't know before!
4. Climate Pride & Love - Channeling these positive emotions, pride in your future self and love of the things you care about - nature, wildlife, your children & grandchildren, can cut through all of the above negative emotions.

Definitely recommended read for anyone in a leadership or influence position amongst your family, friends, community. It shed a beautiful light on why this is so difficult and ideas on how to cut through empathetically without also burning yourself out in the good fight! Thanks Rebecca Huntley!
Profile Image for Jeanette.
105 reviews
December 31, 2020
You could probably change Climate Change with any other major polarised and politicised issue with similar tactics. This is an easily digestible and good book on the need to appeal to emotions in science communications and especially as it relates to the unique complexity of climate science, climate change and the need for both individual and global action to combat it.
15 reviews
November 25, 2020
By using behavioural science and psychology, this book proposes an interesting framework to apply to any difficult conversation.
I’m not sure this is an “enjoyable” read, as the topic is understandably heavy, but it is accessible and informative.
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