How To Talk Climate At Christmas

  • 6 months ago
  • 5 Minutes to Read

Cosy evenings, twinkling lights, roast potatoes and endless chocolate are just a few things that get us in the festive spirit. So, what could possibly dampen the joyous spirit of Christmas? …Did someone say climate anxiety? 

Did you know that Christmas shopping, travel and decorations account for nearly 10% of the carbon dioxide we produce annually? That’s equivalent to the weight of four grown male reindeer!

While the climate crisis is weighing on our minds, we find ourselves spending the festive season with families and friends, often unsure whether to venture into ‘serious’ topics during dinner conversations.

Christmas provides the unique opportunity to spend time with relatives and friends you might not have seen for a while. Perhaps you’ve grown apart and have opposing views. You can often have the most influence when you’re with people who exist outside your echo chamber. There is no denying that talking about climate change can be challenging, so we’ve put together a couple of pointers below that will hopefully give you the confidence you need to start the conversation.

1. Start with empathy:

Discussing climate change with your family during the holidays can be productive and positive if approached with sensitivity and understanding. You could begin the conversation by expressing your care for your family and concern about the environmental impact of festivities. Let them know you come from a place of kindness, not judgement. It’s also important to approach family members with patience and empathy, understanding that everyone comes from a walk of life that may have shaped our views differently. 


2. Choose the right time and place:

Find a comfortable moment during the holiday season, perhaps after dinner when everyone is feeling cosy and festive, or in the morning when one or two of you have just risen to the sunlight, well-rested and refreshed. It may also be easier to ease into the topic first within a small group or one or two people instead of a big group. There may also be climate deniers that make family conversations about climate change particularly tense and anxiety-inducing. Instead of creating a scene during family dinners, consider finding a private moment to have a heart-to-heart. Approach them with kindness and patience and understand that our worldviews are deeply rooted in our upbringing and exposure to different cultures and information. Often, opinions don’t change overnight, and it takes bite-sized, gradual interactions to influence someone with a different view. It’s okay to let go and try another time when the first attempt at a conversation doesn’t work out.


3. Use relatable examples:

You could share recent news or events related to climate change to make it more relevant to your family members’ daily lives. From local news about Bristol’s new wind turbine, which is the biggest in England, to noticing the latest installation of solar panels during your commute, there are always ways to break the ice and keep the climate conversation flowing and relevant. We’re more likely to care about issues that we feel have a real impact on our lives, so these real-life examples make climate change feel more tangible and immediate to family members. 


4. Easy conversation starters:

Prepare Christmas-related items that could lead to a conversation about the climate crisis. For example, swap out shiny brand-new wrapping paper for recycled ones, or even upcycle wrapping paper from previous birthdays or Christmas gifts! Not only is it creative, it would also pique the interest of your family members. This opens up a space for conversation, and allows you to gently explain why you’ve opted for sustainable wrapping materials for the climate.


5. Share personal experiences:

Talk about how climate change affects you personally and your motivation for addressing it. Is it the heat waves during summer that make you sweat all day or the loss of natural icescapes for skating? You could also share light-hearted anecdotes about sustainable changes you have been making in your life, be it trying a cute reusable “boba” straw or creating an animated digital business card. 


6. Tailor the conversation:

Everyone has different values and interests, so a single approach to communicate the climate crisis wouldn’t work universally. We often know our family members and friends quite well, so think of ways to tailor the conversation in a way that would engage different family members. For example, one of them may like handcrafting, and you could share some sustainable handmade gift ideas like upcycling pre-existing belongings, while another may like travelling and you can share insights on more sustainable travel options, like planning an itinerary in a way that allows lower-impact travel without boarding plane after plane. 


7. Be informed, use humour:

Ensure you have accurate and up-to-date information about climate change to respond to questions or concerns raised by your family members. At the same time, don’t feel pressured to memorise and recite hard facts with perfect precision – we can’t let perfectionism get the best of us. Keeping your responses informative and constructive would help engage and educate your family members. Humour can be a great way to inject lightness into heavy topics, too! Here are some examples of how comedians have used humour to tackle the topic of the climate crisis. Climate Science Breakthrough also created a series of short videos using comedians to translate the science into basic, emotional language. 


8. Keep it simple:

Avoid technical jargon and complex scientific explanations. What are CSR, CO2, AQI or SDGs? While you may be well-versed in climate terminology, it could be a foreign concept to our family members. This sense of unfamiliarity may even intimidate and alienate them from engaging in climate conversations, which would be counter-effective to our goal. Instead, break down the climate crisis into everyday language and tangible references, from seeing the sea level of your city rising year after year to thrifting your Christmas sweater instead of buying a new one.  


9. Discuss the family’s carbon footprint:

Talk about ways the family can collectively reduce its carbon footprint, like conserving energy and water, reducing waste, and choosing sustainable products. Maybe you can get your groceries from the zero-waste store down the street, try Secret Santa among the adults for next Christmas, or wash your clothes together as a family instead of running separate laundry cycles. Embrace opportunities to suggest and implement changes to your family’s habits.


10. Encourage questions and discussions by engaging in shared activities:

Christmas is often spent playing board games and watching movies at home. Classic films like Princess Mononoke and Ponyo by Hayao Mayazaki are centred around the environmental impact of human behaviours. You could recommend watching a family-friendly movie or playing a game about climate change together. Stories and games that are seemingly removed from our current world yet socially relevant can be powerful catalysts for conversations. While discussing the creative works or issues, welcome your family members’ input and be open to answering their questions or addressing their concerns. A two-way conversation is more rewarding as we gain new insights about diverse perspectives.


11. Highlight personal actions:

Emphasise the power of individual actions and how small changes can lead to significant positive impacts. Some people may be put off by caring about the climate crisis because of its sheer scale. Encourage your family members to take action and assure them that every small step counts.


12. Suggest actionable steps:

Consider offering specific suggestions for what your family can do to combat climate change, such as reducing meat consumption, carpooling, or supporting local independent businesses that champion sustainability. Again, we can tailor our suggestions depending on each family member’s lifestyle and interests.

Hopefully, the list above has shed light on various actionable steps that we can take with our family members to spend our Christmas more sustainably. 

While the climate crisis is at the forefront of many important issues to us, it’s the reality that not everyone shares our level of concern about climate change (yet), so be patient and understanding! The goal is not to impose our views on others but to foster constructive dialogue, inspire positive change and ultimately celebrate the festive period in a sustainable way. 

Written by
Bonnie Middleton