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How to Have Climate Conversations Ahead of Elections

May 2024 by Maria Ayala

Image credit: Aaron Blanco Tejedor via Unsplash

This week it was announced that the UK general election will take place on 4th July. With more than 40 countries heading to the ballots in 2024, elections are front and centre in our global agenda. This represents a significant opportunity to elect leaders who implement meaningful legislation and lead the transition to a zero-carbon world – and it is our votes that enable this.

Our votes give us power and influence. Another way we have influence is through the power of conversation. We can use our day-to-day conversations with those around us to raise awareness about climate change, its impact, consequences, and solutions. Having these ‘climate conversations’ ahead of elections can enable us to inform others about how their vote can support climate action and invite them to consider the different climate policies of candidates and parties before voting.

But where do we start?

Different world views

Before we dive into how to have climate conversations ahead of elections, we need to understand the psychology behind labels and our human need for belonging.

Ingroups and outgroups

Are you a Manchester City fan or a Manchester United fan? Maybe both?


From what football team we support to our place of birth, we often seek to make sense of ourselves and the world around us by categorising individuals into different groups. A group of people who share our values and beliefs is known as an ’ingroup’, and we tend to be drawn and have a sense of favouritism towards them. On the other hand, ’outgroups’ are individuals who see the world ’differently’ and whom we tend to be hostile towards.

Usually determined using labels, ingroups and outgroups are all around us.


Britain Talks Climate

Right wing vs. Left wing, liberal vs. conservative.

These are common terms you have probably heard before, but how can these political labels shape our conversations? And why are they relevant when talking about climate change?

Due to growing concern about political polarisation in Britain, during eighteen months, More in Common conducted ‘Britain’s Choice’, one of the biggest national studies in the country to understand its social psychology and core beliefs. The research revealed there is much more to just the traditional political labels we’ve probably heard before and identified seven ‘segments’ within the British population, each with distinctive political values and priorities.

Building upon this research, Climate Outreach then conducted its own research project ‘Britain Talks Climate’ and explored these seven segments in relation to climate change and nature loss, outlining the common ground and differences in how people across these groups think and feel about the topics.

The research project found that most people in Britain do care about climate change and want to tackle it as a society, but different groups have different priorities, questions, and concerns on how to go about this. However, recent updates to the research show that appetite for climate leadership is strong and enduring, and most people strongly believe it’s the government’s job to lead the way on climate.


Finding a middle ground

Political views and opinions are part of our identity from an early age, so understanding where individuals stand and feel about this subject will make it easier to start and shape climate conversations around elections in a way that resonates with them. Otherwise, if we don’t acknowledge individuals’ political opinions and views, they can feel their sense of self threatened, and we risk resistance and backlash.

Diving deeper into these seven segments, let’s look at ‘established liberals’ as an example.

Established liberals hold right-leaning views on the economy but left-leaning views on social/cultural issues. They are characterised by holding financial security and being driven by professional networks. Individuals in this group are worried about climate change but are more concerned about the economy, and only 16% would vote based on a party’s climate policy.

How can this understanding help us shape our conversations?

The economy is a priority to this group, so why not shape climate conversations around this topic to find a middle ground? Discuss the negative effects extreme weather events will have on the economy and highlight wider financial opportunities that can be enabled through climate policy, including innovation through green tech investment and the creation of green jobs.

Explore each of the seven segments and understand how you can find a common ground to engage with others in a two-way conversation where you get your points across but from a place of respect and understanding.

However, take this with a pinch of salt, and remember that not every segment will necessarily apply to everyone, as stereotyping can sometimes lead to further political polarisation.


Addressing scepticism and denial

When having climate change conversations, scepticism and denial are not uncommon, and understanding how to approach this is important.

Remember ingroups and outgroups? When talking with someone who does not believe in climate change, we might feel frustrated as they become part of our outgroup.

This unconscious categorisation and bias may lead us to challenge their beliefs, but remember that they regard you as an outgroup, and the more we challenge their beliefs they will only seek support and affirmation, finding security in their ingroup and reinforcing their own beliefs.

As a result, start by taking a step back and understanding you cannot change someone’s opinion or mindset – and you shouldn’t try. Instead, acknowledge concerns, questions, and why people are sceptical about the subject, so you can address and spread awareness without trying to impose a new mindset.

Without understanding their perspectives and engaging in a respectful conversation, you only risk pushing people further away and won’t be able to address these accordingly. For example, do they think there is not enough scientific information? Don’t tell them this is wrong but instead simply suggest science-based resources for them to read in their own time.

Remember that context is important. Why does someone feel so strongly about this? Where are conversations taking place? Online conversations allow us to connect with a broader audience but remember we don’t fully understand the context of these strangers, and we could even be engaging with bots designed to spread misinformation.

At The Carbon Literacy Project, we are currently working on creating more guidance for helping trainers and organisations delivering Carbon Literacy to address climate change scepticism and denial. If this is something you would like to access or contribute to, drop us an email at info@carbonliteracy.com with the subject ‘Scepticism and Denial Resources’.

Now you know the basics of how to foster climate conversations ahead of elections, explore Climate Outreach’s research to understand the different values and beliefs individuals may hold. And don’t forget that, ultimately, whether we see eye to eye or not, we need to disagree and compromise in a way that does not ultimately undermine us all and moves us further away from the better society and healthy planet we all want to occupy.

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