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How to talk about a world on fire

How to talk about a world on fire without scaring your audience — Key tips on environmental communication.

In charge of environmental communication? Be careful you don’t paralyze your audience with constant bad news. I know, it’s hard when the world is burning. Here’s how you do it.

 

Question: What do the following areas have in common?

Answer: They are all on fire.

 

Waking up to the news that yet another country or region is on fire, can do strange things to your sense of normality.

I honestly had a moment a few days ago, where I thought, “Wait, Indonesia is burning? But that was last year’s news”.

 

With so many disasters happening, it’s hard to keep track of what is what, especially if you haven’t even had your morning coffee yet.

 

But it also means that we have a tendency of zoning out, and becoming indifferent. Basically, your brain is going, “Dude, what do you mean more fires?! I’m still trying to figure out what to do about the Amazon one. You know what? I’m just not going to care.”

 

That’s when we find ourselves shrugging over the news of yet another wildfire.

It’s totally normal.

 

So how can we as climate communicators get the news out there, without sparking apathy?

We start by understanding the inner workings of the brain.

Knowing that too much negative news can cause us to shut down is vital for any communicator.

 

The first way around this is context.

 

Communicating the bigger picture with context

 

In the case of, say the Indonesian fires, you need to communicate that this is a different fire than the one that has been on the news lately. You need to give a little information about why there’s a fire. Are they triggered by the same political situation as the fires in Brazil, or are there different reasons?

 

How does it relate to climate change? Many forest fires are both caused by, and causes of, climate change. And that fact can be a bit counterintuitive if you don’t have a background in the environmental field.

Why?

Because we are used to cause and effect. A leads to B. X + Y = Z.

But climate change is a case of many factors interplaying. While the term positive feedback loop is becoming more and more known, it’s still not a household concept.

This means you need to tell your audience how this story relates to the other news about global wildfires.

You also need to make your news tangible.

 

Making it tangible — have useful reference points.

 

And though I personally hate comparing everything to Olympic sized swimming pools, it’s a useful benchmark. Finding a measure of comparison where the reader has a “feeling” of the size, rather than an intellectual idea (how big is 10,000 sq miles?), allows the reader to understand your message with ease.

Why?

Because, they don’t have to dig out their mental abacus to get an idea about how big something is.

 

You have now made it easy for your audience to integrate this new information into their existing knowledge pool. Great.

Now it’s time to not turn them into nihilists. (And if you work in environmental communication, chances are you’ll need to focus on this.)

 

As I said earlier, the brain can go into a gridlock if it’s given too much negative information. You need to mix in a spoonful of sugar, to make the medicine go down.

 

The easiest way to understand what this feels like is by remembering an awful day you had recently.

 

 

Your alarm didn’t go off, one of your kids spilled their breakfast all over the floor, your stock fell, it was unbearably warm, and on top of that, a politician did something you worry will sling the global economy into another recession.

 

Feel your heart racing a little bit faster? Maybe your finger’s tense up as you scroll down this post, now reminded of all the other things you have to take care of. Buy a new phone, clean up the house, make sure you have enough money in your bank to withstand a potential economic blow. Oh, maybe there’s even a bill coming up.

 

By now, I’ve lost you.

 

You’re no longer thinking about communication, but about all the things you need to take care of, and all the potential threats out there.

 

One thought leads to another, and another, because it’s never just one thing that makes us worry or makes us tense. It’s all the things, combined.

 

Here’s the good news: It’s going to be all right.

 

All the things are real and scary, but they also have real solutions. Doable solutions.

It’s a question of taking one thing at the time, and if you are overwhelmed, filter out the news that seems too big, until you have the mental capacity and tools to start working on them.

Now, the point of this little masochistic exercise was not to get you to hyperventilate for my amusement.

 

 

It was to remind you of what your audience is facing. Every. Day.

We all have stuff that’s stressing us. Some of it we are in control us, and some seem beyond us.

 

But our most significant stressors that the things where we feel we have no agency. And if you don’t believe me, go back to your stressor list and rate the elements on it. I’ll bet you a slice of lemon cheesecake, that you are more stressed about the things that feel out of your control.

SO! What does this mean for communicating the forest fires in Indonesia?

We’re getting back to the spoonful of sugar, to make the medicine go down. And no, you should not be sugar-coating climate change.

 

You have to give your audience agency.

Audience agency in environmental communication

 

Help them act. Give them the option of feeling empowered. Tell them what steps they can take, right now, to act on this.

 

 

It might not make them act, but simply having the option will stop the brain from getting paralyzed.

 

Having agency helps your audience take in the news, even when the news is:

 

THE WORLD IS ON FIRE!

 

 

Always, always, ALWAYS, offer concrete solutions to what the individual can do.

 

That’s it.

So the next time you have environmental news to share, include doable next steps, that your audience can take.

 

 


 

If you found this information useful, give it a share.

And remember, you can always reach out if you want to learn more about environmental communication. Or add me on  LinkedIn.

 

 

The truth about climate change

Liar, liar, globe on fire — why green professionals don’t tell the whole truth about climate change

“The truth about climate change? Well…” How and why environmental professional may not always tell the whole truth about climate change — And how you can inspire immediate climate action.

 

A few weeks ago, I did something I had never done before.

 

I made a video for my friends and family, and for the first time ever, spoke publicly about the actual state of climate change. Then, I shared the video on Facebook.

 

In other words: I told the truth, openly.

 

“The truth about climate change? Well…Shit’s on fire, yo.”

… said no one.

 

I would not classify myself as a lier. In fact, I’m pretty bad at lying, to the point where anyone can tell if I’m not enjoying my food, or my new Christmas sweater.

But for the past many years, whenever I have spoken publically about climate change, I have done so with a filter.

 

The only time I would have an honest conversation about the newest NASA results, carbon readings, or water shortage projections, was when I had one-on-one conversations.

 

The reason? Climate change is fucking scary.

 

Telling the truth about climate change

 

In a face-to-face conversation, I can sit a friend down and explain exactly what direction the world is heading in.

And every day the news gets worse. But I can have the hard conversation while providing real-time emotional support, as well as concrete advice on what the individual can do to act on climate change.

The truth about climate change

Mass-communicating the information leaves me with fewer tools to ensure that the receiving end is ok and feels empowered, not depressed.

 

You may at this point be thinking ‘I’m a bit of an overly sensitive snowflake, who wants to sugar coat life.’

 

I wish.

 

The reason I seldom give unfiltered news about climate change is that repeated neural science experiments have shown us, that when we are faced with information about something big and scary, where we feel like we have no agency, we tend to do one of two things:

 

1)   We dispute the information. The threat seems too big, so instead of plunging headfirst into action, we emotionally safeguard ourselves by merely denying the facts

 

2)   We despair. Though we take in the new data, it’s too big to process, seeing as we still have little agency over the situation. As a result, we get depressed, making it even harder for us to act.

 

 

I’ve written about why this is again, and again, with emphasis on how your words matter.

Recently this knowledge has been incorporated into news outlets. Hurra!

The Guardian recently announced that it would change its approach to climate communication. Up until then, they had, like all other news media, reported on the stories in a fact-centered manner — as is considered the morally correct way.

 

As a climate communicator, you ARE the map

 

Broadcasting climate science news without context is irresponsible and risky.

 

We need to accompany the fact with suggestions on actions. Meaningful action! I’ve seen an article on the potential threat of a 3C warming urge people to “take action by recycling.” Are you kidding me?

 

 

People want to act. But they don’t know how to. We are all overworked and overstimulated by a thousand pop-ups, and likes, and shares. “Just tell me what to do!”

 

Just tell me what to do. Let’s unpack that sentence. It’s an emotional scream — a desperate cry for agency. The world is on fire, how can I stop it?

 

As climate change communicators, we need to be aware of this power, and the responsibility that comes with it.

We are holding the mic on climate change and environmental action, and we chose to say matters.

We have to understand that part of our job is to be a roadmap that readers can use navigate climate change. We are the ones that say, “this one thing is what you can do, right now, to make a difference.”

 

Yes, it’s a lot to ask, and it means we need to stay updated about both climate change, its causes, its effects, and the different actions and organizations out there.

 

Merely stating the facts, that the world is in a dire state, is not enough. We risk being the stick in the wheel if we do not aid our readers through the trauma-inducing state of the world. We risk making the citizens of the world passive, and depressed — depressed warriors don’t win battles.

 

You could argue that the role of journalists is the deliver the news, and it’s the readers’ job to process the information. But we are way beyond that point. Content and news blend together. Pundits, celebrities, and influencers become guides in our attempt the sort though mega bite after mega bite of information.

 

As environmental communicators, we need to do better. We need to tell the truth while offering a way for people to act — a way to gain agency in a world that is increasingly confusing, terrifying, and overwhelming.

 

 

Make your news matter.

 

 

Edit:

I recently saw a great example that I want to leave you with.

 

A writer at Gizmodo, ended her piece about The Extinction Crisis Keeps Getting More Dire, With 28,000 Species At-Risk, with this:

 

“Not all hope is lost, though. Climate change, at some level, is inevitable at this point. Still, the worst of it can be avoided if humans get their shit together. The same goes for deforestation, hunting, and overfishing. Humans can stop these activities, saving the species that’ll be lost if we keep on this path.”

 

That’s how you do it, folks.

 

 


If you want to know more about environmental communication add me on LinkedIn, or sign up for our newsletter.

If you need help communicating sustainability, send us an email and we’ll have you set up in no time.

 

Sustainable Christmas communication

Have a cradle-to-cradle Christmas — Have a cradle-to-cradle Christmas — Use the holidays to promote sustainability and build trust

In this post, I’ll tell you exactly how I used Christmas to communicate sustainability, why it worked, and how you can use it to build trust with your customers and stand out from your competition.

The best part? Your business becomes even greener while being cost-competitive, scouts’ honor. (7 min.)

TOO SOON!

I know, I know… It’s too early to start with Jingle Bells.

Except, it’s not. You’re running a company that’s making the world better while turning a profit. Utilize the holiday season to promote sustainability.

I know you are busy creating an impact on the world, so here’s a 7 min read on using Christmas to grow the trust of your customers and thereby spread the sustainable spirit. 

In bullets:

  • I made a to-and-from card for Christmas, which had information about recycling on it
  • It solved a problem (always lacking to-and-from notes to put on presents) and gave a non-invasive hint about recycling
  • The cards were made of 100% biodegradable paper and are clean enough to eat
  • This cradle-to-cradle paper builds trust with your audience/clients because it shows that you take your role as a green professional seriously
  • Building trust with audience and clients, makes them talk about your service/product or cause because they can relate – Therefor, as a green professional you win market shares by making small sustainable choices
  • If you want cradle-to-cradle Christmas product to build trust between you and your audience and get a leg up on your competition, now is the time to start planning (more tips at the bottom of this post)


The story – Using the holidays to promote sustainability

I was recently cleaning out my drawers and found this card. I made it two years ago, and it’s been sitting in my drawer as a memorabilia since. It was one of those gut-feeling ideas that I knew I had to run with.

Sustainable Christmas communication

I don’t know about you, but I’m always missing the little to-and-from cards you stick on presents at Christmas, meaning I have to resort to, um, alternative ways of writing people’s names on gifts. It’s fun if you do it once, awkward if you do it twice, and it turns out grandmothers remember that kind of thing.

But what if the to-and-from cards had a little something extra on them?

 

I called our designer and had the layout made faster than you can spell ‘Christmas cards’ backward. Then I got them printed as business cards because it’s an easy standard to work with, and it’s fairly cheap.

I left little piles of cards in public places where a steady stream of people would pass by, throughout city hall (my workplace), as well as in cultural hubs and libraries.

Here’s the backside.

Sustainable Christmas communication

Your Danish might be rusty, so allow me to translate.

 

Remember, there’s a new recycling scheme in 2017

For more information see Skidtergodt.dk

 

The cards were a big success and even the chief executive, who is famous for being sparse with his compliments, said they were a great idea — I lived off that shoulder pat for weeks.

Why it worked

It turns out other people are like me and know there’s likely a gift for aunt Ida they forgot all about, and will be hitting the shops last-minute — and forgetting to pick up cards.

As a result people took the to-and-from cards. They were a tangible aid for a recurring problem.

The message on the back was non-intrusive and kind. I was not pushing a sale, or giving a speech about why to recycle. Instead, I was merely reminding them, ‘Hey, there’s a new thing coming up, and this is where you find more information.’

Take a closer look — green to the bone

I forgot to mention something about the cards. They’re made out of 100% sustainably produced, cradle-to-cradle certified paper.

 

In short, this means there is no soil depletion, the production is CO2 neutral and contains only safe chemicals (and as few as possible). This paper is so environmentally friendly you can eat it! I know, I tried*.

 

I learned about this product at a sustainability event where I was giving a talk about behavioral change and recycling. A representative from a company that makes the paper, was giving a talk about cradle-to-cradle products. The concept of toxin-free paper blew my mind, and I’ve been a fangirl ever since.

The name of the company? KLS PurePrint.

The second time I met Kasper, the aforementioned representative, he scolded me because the so-called green municipality I was working at didn’t have chargers for electric vehicles. Yep, PurePrint is a company that is green to the bone while delivering great products. Every. Single. Time.

They are Scandinavia’s only cradle-to-cradle certified printing company, and are one of only three companies IN THE WORLD with the certification.

They also serve as a personal inspiration on how to use sustainability to survive and thrive in changing markets. In PurePrint’s case, they used their green products to stay afloat in a diminishing market.

100 years ago, there were 2000 printing companies in Denmark. Now there are 80. PurePrint is one of them.

See, I told you I was a fangirl, and with good reason.

The best part? They are cost-competitive because they know the only way to stay in the game.

 

Building trust means loyal customers

Why am I raving about this? Because it’s products like these, that give us hope and builds trust.

Having Christmas cards or business cards made entirely of cradle-to-cradle material is a great conversation starter, and I for one have used it countless times.

“Here’s my card. Oh, by the way, this card is so cool, it’s made out of 100% compostable materials, and it’s so clean you can eat it!”

It’s also a way for you to send a powerful message to your audience:

 

You’re not just thinking of sustainability in your given service or product, you are practicing what you preach. You went that step further to make sure you leave nothing but your legacy behind.

 

Why are your customers buying products from you? Because they care about the environment, and they know we collectively have a responsibility to do better.

Imagine your customer opening a package from you and finding cradle-to-cradle certified paper or compostable packaging. No chemicals, no heavy metals, no microplastics.

 

Imagine what that experience feels like for your customer, when he is already purchasing from you, a green company?

 

What is your customer going to think about you? How likely are they to buy more products from you and spread the word about your brand?

 

These products are cost-competitive, but you win customer loyalty, and thereby market shares. You can even use these products to document your work with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

 

It’s a triple win. Your customers are happy, you expand your customer base and sales, and most importantly, you ease the pressure on natural resources.

 

Stand out from the competition

I know you are busy tending to your primary product or service, as you should be, but bear in mind that you amplify your brand and the trust between you and your customer when you go the extra mile.

 

 

Think about it, your customer has a business card or greeting card from you — that they can eat!

 

Then they meet your competitor, who hands them a shiny business card that’s clearly not sustainable.

 

What’s happening in the mind of your customer at that moment? I’ll tell you what’s happening: They’re looking at the shiny card, thinking;


‘Well, it’s pretty, but I’m sure it’s full of chemicals — I definitely shouldn’t eat it.’

 

BOOM!

There’s your leg up. Now regardless of what your competition says, that card is going to be a reminder that you share the values of your clients. Your competitor doesn’t.

For me, the tipping point was learning that 1/3 of fast food wrapping in the EU contains dangerously high levels of fluorinated substances, which has been linked to all kinds of immune system issues, like cancer.

They don’t break down over time, meaning they just accumulate in you.

These were even found in muffin forms. I made muffins for an 8-year-old’s birthday party, so learning about this research changed my shopping habits DRASTICALLY.

 

If you can honestly tell your customers that your packaging is 100% free of fluorinated substances, that awesome. But compare it with the fact that your competitors offer a 1 in 3 chance of dangerously high levels of it fluorinated substances, where will your customers go?

This doesn’t have to be just paper or packaging. Look at your products, your uniforms, your electricity  — if you dedicate yourself to making small, but sustainable changes in your company, you can set yourself apart from the rest of those in your field. And let’s not forget all the sweet karma points you score for simply making the world a little bit better.

Cradle-to-cradle Christmas _ Something Green

My prediction is, that we’re going to see a lot of this in the coming years, especially since companies like Coca-cola and Nike, have started flashing a greener agenda.

Now is the time when genuinely green professionals can make themselves stand out, by being firstmovers.

 

Get on board, and make Christmas greener

If you want to get on the cradle-to-cradle train and showcase your commitment as a sustainable professional, read on.

SomethingGreen works with content and copy from a sustainable behavioral change angle. This means we write anything promoting green actions.

 

From web pages, and newsletters, to company greeting cards, we’ve got your back. We also do graphic design and project management.

And of course, we use only cradle-to-cradle certified paper for our printed materials.

Here are some things we’ve worked on:

  • Business cards
  • Gift cards and greeting cards
  • Annual reports and strategies
  • Booklets on recycling
  • Letters
  • Stickers for recycling bins (not cradle-to-cradle, sadly)

 

So get in touch and let’s make you stand out from your competitors while making the world just a bit better.

There is no unreachable audience! Making recycling sexy – and fun

This post looks at how the so-called hard-to-reach audiences can be addressed in a creative, and somewhat surprising way. Environmental communication at its best.

Warning: This post contains crude language.

 

When working in the environmental sector, you’ll come across a target audience that’s considered hard to reach.

I’ve talked about the importance of knowing your audience before, but in the field of sustainability one segment stands out as the infamous impossible-audience.

These are the ‘I don’t care’ people.

I don’t want to get slapped with the prejudice hammer, but this audience also often consists of males working in construction, carpentry, and similar jobs.

Environmental Communication Recycling

 

The following is a great example of why you should never give up when you encounter a hard audience or experience a push back.

 

Boys will be..?

My brother works as the department manager in a company that produces industrial size printers.

 

It is a very male-dominated workplace, and the tone is often crude and with sexual tones. We all know workplaces like that.

 

That last time I saw my brother, he told me about his latest team meeting.

 

He runs a team of 14 men. Once a week they have a team meeting to address work-related matters.

At the last meeting, my brother had made and brought with him a little game (this is where it gets crude).

 

The Game

He pulled to pieces of paper out and said:

I brought a game with me. I want you to solve this puzzle. What do the signs say?’

 

He held up the first sign: ‘Puh

Then, he dramatically said the word and got his team to join in, in a collective ‘Puuh!

 

He held up the second sign: ‘Say

Again, with a dramatical flair, he got his whole team on board: ‘Say!’

What do the signs spell out?

Puhhh-saaaay’, ‘Puh-say’, ‘Pu**y!’.

(Yes, I’m bleeping the above. Hopefully, you get it. If not, ask a friend. Not a coworker, not a family member, but a friend)

 

My brother got a big laugh from around the table, and a couple of groin-related jokes.

 

I have one more’ he said, and pulled out two additional pieces of paper. The second round was about to start.

 

Onl’. He looked in anticipation and got the table to join in. ‘Ooonl’.

Paapr’. The crowd joined in. ‘Paapr!

 

My bother continued ‘Onl –paapr’ ‘Only-paapr’ ‘ONLY-PAPER!

 

He pointed to the recycling bin in the corner of the room.

That bin is only for paper’, he said to the perplexed crowd.

 

Yesterday I saw someone had put a banana peel in it. If we throw biodegradable in the paper bin, and that goes to the treatment facility, we might end up contaminating a ton of paper because it rots and spreads bacteria. Then the paper can’t be recycled and has to be burned. Waste of money, waste of resources. So can we now agree that Onl Paapr goes in the bin?

 

He had everyone’s attention. They nodded and verbally confirmed. The bin was for paper only.

 

 

Just to recap, that’s 14 men, who just laughed at a pu**y joke, now agreeing that it’s important to recycle. When was the last time you heard about something like that?

Recycle paper

 

Why it worked — Environmental Communication at its best

 

My brother’s a smart cookie and there’s a reason why he’s head of his department at such a young age. He’s also been forced to listen to my ramblings about recycling and psychology for, well, a long time.

He knows that telling his men off, and mentally hitting them in the head with something as uninteresting to them as recycling, isn’t going to work.

Furthermore, he knows he needs their attention, and that laughter is a much better tool than fear, and being told off.

 

He broke their mental barrier to recycling by inserting it right after a locker-room joke.

 

The first joke was a setup, introducing them to a game where the reward would be a dirty word. By doing that, he had them all on the edge of their seats, trying to spot the dirty word in the second round. What would it be this time? Even dirtier?

 

They were open to taking in new information. They were engaged, trying to be the first to figure out the next word.

And bam! Information about recycling.

 

You might be wondering why it’s even a big deal getting this segment onboard the recycling train. Because daily environmental actions, like recycling, open up a door for a deeper conversation about sustainability. It’s your entry point to substantial change.

 

The takeaway — you can make it sexy!

 

No target group is impossible to reach. I repeat:

No target group is impossible to reach!

 

You just have to know who you’re dealing with, and be willing to work on their terms, be it technical reports and pu**y jokes.

 

Set up a situation where your audience is open to taking in new information.

 

In conclusion:

Recycling, high-five bro

Want more dirty, I mean fun advice on pro-environmental behavior? Add me on LinkedIn or go to Somethinggreen.org to get your smile on.

 

Wanna see my spaceship? How to communicate with climate change deniers

Ever wondered how to communicate with climate change deniers. In the previous post, I explained WHY there are still climate change deniers out there. Now I’m giving you hands-on advice, on how to break the neurological stubbornness — and yes, there’s a spaceship.

 

If you work in the environmental field, you will encounter several different personas.

One of them is the denier. He denies the logic of whatever argument you make.

 

I have worked with recycling for some years now, and the denier personae have some telling characteristics.

I’m gonna break down what that denial looks like, shed light on the actual meaning behind his words, and give you the communication tools to get your message out there. Most importantly, you won’t come off as a personal threat.

A conversation with the denier might go something like the following. For the sake of the example, I’m going to give my denier a name.

Meet Dave! He’s attending a talk I’m giving, about the importance of recycling.

 

Communicate with climate change deniers_ Dave

Our “Dave”

Me: Sorting your waste is really good for the environment.

Dave: Hah! Once the garbage trucks pick up the waste, they’re just going to put it all in the same container anyway.

Me: No, the garbage trucks don’t mix the waste. It is kept separated and brought to a processing plant.

Dave: I don’t believe you. They’re just going to mix it.

 

 

Understanding the underlying emotions

Timeout. Let’s look at the interaction. I’m giving Dave some information, and he’s refuting it.

At first glans it may look like Dave just has the wrong information, or that he’s an arrogant twat. He’s basically saying that he knows more about the waste industry than I do. I am the person working with waste after all, and Dave thinks he knows better than me.

If I didn’t know why Dave is acting like this, it might be a frustrating situation, where I leave the room feeling like I’m wasting my time on stubborn, old Dave.

But if we dissect the situation, and look at the emotional conversation of what Dave “hears”, and “says”,  here’s the actual interaction:

 

Me: You need to sort your waste because otherwise, you’re being a bad person by not caring about the environment.

Dave: I don’t want to recycle, cause I’m afraid it’s gonna take a lot of effort on my behalf and I might not be able to get it right. If I can’t sort my waste correctly, it will hurt my ego.  I like to think that I am good at most things, so sorting my recycling wrong will make me feel inadequate.

Therefore I‘m gonna use this old rumor I heard about the garbage trucks mixing the waste, to prove to myself, and to you, that the whole thing is a waste of time and energy. Then I won’t have to change my mind or my actions. More importantly, I won’t have to risk the ego punch of not knowing how to recycle.

 

 

Remember my post about some convictions being tied to a sense of self. Well, this is one of them. On a subconscious level, I am a threat to Dave, because I am “telling him,” that he’s a bad person by not recycling, and that there’s something he’s not good at.

 

There’s a chance you’re reading this right now and thinking:

‘No. Come on, Mona, people are better than that. No one feels emotionally threatened by waste.’

 

Are you sure? Having a strong sense of identity is normal and sometimes that identity is tied up on being good at something specific.

Other times, it’s tied up on being good at everything. Or maybe even being bad at everything.

 

Try taking just a few minutes to, mentally, go through your friends and family members. Do you know people who don’t like being wrong? Do you have relatives who take criticism very personally?

Did you ever go to school with someone who only saw their mistakes and weaknesses, and disregarded every good grade they got?

Humans are not rational beings, and climate change is really scary and complex. Humans aren’t good with complex issues — we like simple solutions and quick-fixes.

 

 

Get on their team — how to not be a threat

Okay, not that we’ve learned to listen to the emotional conversation, it’s time to do better.

With more than 5 years as a professional trash-talker, I’ve met a lot of “Daves”.

When I do, and am greeted with the counter-argument that they just mix the waste, I say the following, magical words:

This is the van. Pretty neat, eh?

I used to think that too!

Yes, I remember the story of when it happened in [insert whatever city you feel like], but then I went to see the trucks in action, and they have made these really cool technological advances on the trucks.

Now, the trucks have separate compartments for the different kinds of trash. It’s really cool!

 

 

All of the above is true, I had heard the rumors of the mixing and had, at one point, believed them. By telling Dave this, I put myself in the same boat as my audience, before giving him more information.

 

To recap:

I, via my choice of words, tell Dave that he and I are the same. I understand him, I am like him. I also (subconsciously) used the excuse of the truck.

If I get the feeling that it’s the fear of not messing up the recycling that’s standing in the way, I say this:

‘Dude, I’ve always been into the environment but I was so confused when I first started recycling. Like, is this plastic or glass, right? Luckily, someone showed me this trick to tell it apart. The rest was just a matter of practice. It didn’t take that long, and now I can help my grandmother recycle.’

 

You need to put yourself on the same team as your audience.
Understand them. Respect them. When you do that, you are no longer a threat.

I do the same when I speak in front of larger audiences.

The following is a little trick I use. Feel free to steal it and use for your own line of environmental work.

When talking to a larger crow of people, with many different backgrounds where I haven’t the slight clue if they are “Daves”, I say hello, I introduce myself, and then I say:

“Would you like to see my spaceship? I swear, it’s not a pickup line.”

 

Then I show them this photo.

 


“This is my spaceship, the big round one. I live on it with 6 billion of my closest friends.

On a spaceship, you have to bring all your resources. Food, water, tools, a guitar, and so on.

When you’ve used your resources, that’s it. You don’t have anymore, it’s gone. So you need to manage your resources and not overspend.

The same thing goes for our globe. We only have a finite amount of resources, and if we use them all, that’s it, it’s gone. This is why we need to reduce, reuse and recycle as much as possible.”

 

Yes, the above will get different reactions depending on your audience. Some will find it childish, and even patronizing. Never the less it still breaks down a barrier between me and the receiver and creates a common frame of reference, giving me a solid based to start from.

 

I repeat:

Starting a talk by establishing a collective understanding of the subject (creating a common frame of reference) means, I build trust with my audience, and get in the same boat as them.

Throughout the talk, I’ll now be able to refer back to the spaceship, and why it’s important that we manage our resources.

 

 

Summing up — how to deal with deniers

1. You’re not perfect either. First of all remember, that you too have been a stubborn mule at some point. I sure know I have (Sorry Jens, you were right about the equator thing).

Remembering that we’re all humans and that we all have areas where we’ve stubborn or feel vulnerable, will make it much easier talking to people, who are currently neurologically tied to their conviction.

2. Don’t be the Hulk. Remember, that when you are in a debate with a denier, you are emotionally threatening the receiver. You look like the Hulk, ready the smash them with your beliefs. To put it in another way; your facts and evidence, are emotionally hurtful.

It’s important for me to stress that this doesn’t mean you should discard evidence and facts, for the sake of making the other person feel emotionally at ease. But if you are an emotional threat, your listener will treat you like that and will either fight or flight. I’m sure you’ve experienced both before.

3. Use your common denominator. Find common ground, something you can agree on, and use that as an entrance to start a respectful conversation about the subject. When you peel away all the convictions, the cultural differences, and our social bubbles, we all really want the same thing — to be happy. Does the change you want to make, tie into the other person’s idea of happiness? Why, why not?

You don’t have to be preaching to the choir to find common ground with your audience — just respect them, and be curious.

 

I know the above is hard work, and the world we live in is making it harder. The social media bubbles only allow us to see what people with similar opinions think. At the same time, the fast pace of the internet is deteriorating our ability to learn complicated subjects and keep a healthy critical mind. (If you want to know more about this subject, I highly recommend reading The Shallows.)

 

Okay, that’s it for now. Now go and test it out in your field. I would LOVE to hear how you’ve used it, and if it helped! So leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail.

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