How To Discuss Climate Change: Insight From Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou Quote

Powerful Learning For The Climate Crisis

These words of wisdom from the formidable Maya Angelou carry tremendous weight. In many ways, the climate movement is comparable to other social justice movements. The struggle for Equal Rights, Women’s Rights, and Civil Rights, are all reflected in the climate crisis. The Climate Movement is culminating, as people stand up for Environmental Rights and Climate Justice. It is a genuine struggle to protect life.

Despite the countless challenges, history has taught us that we can get it done.💪 It will take motivation, persistence, and collective action. We can ultimately succeed in transforming our societies, but we can’t do it alone. It will require so many more people to switch on, and become aware of the danger. That’s where the communication comes in!

2017 Women's March - Pershing Square, Los Angeles, California.
Pic of Pershing Square, Los Angeles during the 2017 Women’s March (image credit: Samantha Sophia). Click to read “4 Rules for Making A Protest Work.”

Collective Action

It’s no longer about a lack of science or data. There is plenty of that! The planet is warming dramatically as a result of human activity. Rather, we now have to convince others of this importance. In and of itself, promoting change is difficult. Especially at the scale required.

Compounded to this is the fact that such change threatens some of the wealthiest people and corporations in human history. The very organizations that have profited so greatly from the status quo. They will not go quietly into the night. Instead, they are spending enormous sums of money to influence politics and manipulate public opinion.

The climate movement really has its work cut out for it. But given that we really don’t have a choice, this then is our burden. So how do we do it? We know we need to communicate effectively, and spread the word of the climate crisis. In combination with civil action, this has the potential to generate the critical mass needed to change the world.

Dr. John Kotter's Step Process for Leading Change
Dr. John Kotter’s 8-Step Process for Leading Change. Click for more details.

A Sense of Urgency

We do however need to be mindful of how we communicate this message. For those of us who have been following the climate crisis for awhile now, we might fall into a panic. While this is totally understandable given the circumstances, it will not help further public adoption.

On the one hand, we should be panicking! It will help stimulate the sense of urgency needed to drive change. As explained in John Kotter’s analysis of leading change successfully (above diagram), we need that urgency to break free of “business as usual“. Our current path of overconsumption and severe environmental depletion & degradation is clearly unsustainable.

Donald Glover, "Why are you making us feel these things?!"

Right In the Feels

On the other hand, we need to win over a skeptic and manipulated public opinion that is resistive to change. We can’t do this by simply sounding the alarm and bombarding them with facts and data (as much as I’d love to see way more of this). Instead, we have to somehow win over their hearts and minds.

We must therefore recognize the strong emotional component and appeal to it. Offer them a compelling narrative that will stimulate their empathy and common sense of humanity. There is so much we can draw from! When we get down to it, we ultimately need to be able to connect with others.

Maya Angelou, "Take up the battle"

A Resounding Message from Maya Angelou

That’s where Maya Angelou comes in. Her poignant message provides powerful guidance for approaching difficult topics. As Ms. Angelou explains, I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

We cannot simply tell others to stop doing something, and hope that they will. Instead, we can offer an alternate path. We can try to provide a vision of a sustainability. One that appeals to both reason and emotion. As we continue these discussions, we can work to engage and encourage others towards confronting the climate crisis, and aiming for a sustainable future.


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