How To Have Productive Conversations About Climate Change

How To Have Productive Conversations About Climate Change

Struggling to nail your point when it comes to talking about climate change? Katherine chats to Eli Davern from School Strike 4 Climate in Albury, NSW about how he approaches people with different perspectives and how you can too.

With catastrophic bushfires still raging around the country, climate change has been a leading discussion. For some of us this may be the first time we’ve really had to think about our planet’s future; for others it’s been the reality for a lot longer.

The School Strike for Climate (SS4C) movement, started by Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg in 2018 and then taken on globally in early 2019, is a youth-based movement where students take time off from school to protest political inaction on climate change.

I spoke with Eli Davern, age 16, from Albury, NSW about his experience being involved in the SS4C movement, and how he has been approaching this issue as a rural Australian.

“I live in Albury, which is a typically conservative area. We’ve got a Liberal state member and a Liberal federal member but the productive conversations we’ve been having locally are immense. We’ve had one of the largest school strikes in the southern metropolitan area in Albury-Wodonga, with about 3000 people. It gives me a lot of hope that perhaps tides are changing and the mood is shifting.”

Young person standing at podium and microphone at climate rally
Eli Davern addresses crowd at September 2019 School Strike 4 Climate | Source: ecoportal


Country and city folk—do we speak different languages?

As a rural member of SS4C, Eli has important insight into the effects of climate change that many city strikers don’t get to witness. His main concern is that the conversations between city strikers and rural Australians are simply not productive. Neither side are willing to listen and so both leave the conversation feeling like they haven’t been heard.

Eli fears the movement is losing the support of rural people because the conversations aren’t being tailored to them.

“We cannot win this fight and make this right without speaking to and hearing from the communities who we’re affecting the most with these policies,” said Eli.

However, amidst the turmoil, not all is lost. Last year, Eli was handing out how-to-vote cards at his local polling booth when he was approached by a voter.

“At first he came up to me and called me all sorts of names, but then he came back and we had a discussion. We got onto the issue of climate change. He wasn’t on board with us, as someone who worked in the coal industry, but after a 10-minute conversation he became really receptive. He listened to my points and I to his. He took a Greens how-to-vote card and he said ‘I’m voting for them’”, Eli said.


Always lead with respect and empathy

Conversations that are genuine and two-way ensure that both parties feel heard, and even if nobody’s mind is changed, each party at least walks away having a better understanding of the other and can approach the next interaction with a higher level of empathy.

As someone with very environmentally focussed beliefs, I can understand how hard it can be to keep anger and frustration out of a conversation when dealing with different opinions. For a long time this was how I approached these issues, and it never inspired anyone, not myself nor those around me. 

Productive conversations only happen when they are built upon mutual respect and understanding of one another’s situations. It does very little to throw anger at an individual when the problem in question is very much not an individual one.

Watch and read different media sources 

When I spoke to Eli he said that he reads several different newspapers and watches SBS, ABC, Sky News and others, just so he can see where the opinions of the different sides are being formed. You need to know why people think what they do before you can provide them with a useful alternative.

In a country like Australia where there is a largely divided population between city and rural people, there cannot simply be one fix that will apply to, or resonate with, every single group of people. By having a broad understanding of the primary concerns of different communities, be that economical or environmental, then conversations can be tailored to each group to ensure that their needs and concerns are being taken into account of the overarching goal to fix our planet.