How I’m Talking to My Boomer Parents About Climate Change and You Can Too

Over the past few weeks, it has been a particularly harrowing time for the residents of the Northern Rivers in NSW and South East Queensland, as they grapple with the devastating effects of flooding. Growing up in the Tweed Heads area, I have felt completely heartbroken watching the communities I called home for so long absolutely decimated, as friends and family have lost homes, businesses and their livelihoods. 

Naturally, like many people, my concern and focus have turned to how to help prevent climate change tragedies like this in the future by putting an emphasis on moving our country towards net zero.

For a lot of younger generations, the upcoming Australian federal election will be an important one where voters are likely to throw their support behind candidates who are making climate change a key priority when campaigning to constituents.

However, when I was recently chatting to my parents I brought up the floods, climate change and how they pertain to the government, they had a decidedly different viewpoint to mine. The conversation quickly turned terse as I became quite emotional about what was to become of my future as my parents continued to stand strong on their opinion that climate change and the government had nothing to do with each other and suggested I was perhaps making a mountain out of a molehill. 

As we ended the phone call, I had tears in my eyes and I took a moment to reflect. I realised I had entered into this hot button conversation ill-prepared and as a result, it did not go so well. After speaking to friends and peers I quickly learned that my climate change run-in with my parents was a common interaction that others have been experiencing with their elders too.

In order to better prepare for these conversations and equip myself with the skills to open up a constructive dialogue around climate change, I decided to get in touch with an expert. I recently spoke with Blanche Verlie, a social scientist and a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Sydney Environment Institute at the University of Sydney, to get some tips on how best to navigate conversations around climate change with parents.

Get Informed

Before jumping into a heated discussion about climate change, it’s always a good idea to have your facts straight. While I believe the science and I trust the research, I must say that on more than one occasion I haven’t felt totally comfortable engaging in a debate around the minutiae of climate change statistics. If you’re unsure of where to gather this information and get informed, there are plenty of great resources available online to help you navigate any questions that might come up.

“There is a great guide to climate conversations here,” says Blanche. Climate for Change is an NGO that will help you have conversations with your family.” Also if the conversation turns to the federal election, make sure you’re informed on the best ways to vote for climate change action.

“The Australian Conservation Foundation usually has a ‘how to vote climate’ guide available in the lead up to the election,” says Blanche.

Remove Judgement from the Equation

When I was disagreeing with my parents about climate change I found myself becoming increasingly frustrated. Obviously, we weren’t going to get anywhere with that approach. I’ve now learned that the best way to enter into these conversations is to remove all judgement from the equation and approach with understanding.

“My tips are to start with genuine open questions, such as ‘what do you think’ or ‘how do you feel’ about climate change, and just listen, and try not to judge,” says Blanche. “Build a good relationship, and from there, you can progress towards points of disagreement once you have a base for respectful engagement.”

Jumping in with a fiery, emotional opinion won’t get you far!

Lead With Empathy

Just because you have a differing opinion to someone, doesn’t mean you can’t have empathy and respect for them. As the saying goes, “you get more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

When having conversations with my parents about climate change in the past, I realise that perhaps I wasn’t considering exactly how they might be feeling. Climate change can be a pretty daunting concept, and for many, the best way to deal with those emotions is to deflect.

“We can deny things we know to be true because their implications are uncomfortable,” says Blanche. “So, learning how to make change can actually help us clarify what we believe in.”

Having empathy — rather than anger — for how your parents are managing their feelings around climate change can help you to find common ground and a clear path forward more effectively.

Save Your Energy

If you find that you’re coming up against a brick wall when it comes to navigating positive conversations around climate change with your parents, it might be better to save your energy. If you don’t see eye to eye on this topic, don’t feel disheartened, there are other ways you can harness your activism.

“Try to be strategic about whose opinion is worth changing, and direct your other energy to support those who are on board,” says Blanche.

Also, just because you and your parents don’t agree on climate change, that doesn’t mean you still can’t have a positive relationship. Rather than ending the conversation in tears, end it with love and respect, says Blanche, “many of us need a hug right now and that might be more rewarding for you too.”

Don’t Despair

At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that this upcoming Australian federal election is an important one when it comes to voting in politicians who are going to prioritise climate change action, but not a total deal breaker if things don’t pan out that way.

Blanche says that in addition to the government there are, “many other jurisdictions and institutions in Australia that are making lots of positive progress on climate action.”

So, if conversations with your parents around climate change and the upcoming election don’t exactly go the way you planned, don’t despair, there are plenty of organisations who are making sure that there is hope for a brighter future.

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