It is hard for me to review Rebecca Huntley’s book How to Talk about Climate Change in a Way that Makes a Difference (Murdoch, 2020) as after a dozen years of writing and agitating I have little patience with those who do not accept climate science. Huntley is best known for publicising the Yale Spectrum in Australia, which I have commented on here. The spectrum divides the behavioural response of individuals to climate change into six categories between ‘denialism’ and ‘alarmism’.
The aim of the climate activist should be to move individuals towards the ‘alarmed’ end of the spectrum Huntley wrote: “We need to shift more of the ‘Concerned’ group into the ‘Alarmed’ group. We need to find a way to convince the ‘Cautious’ that urgent action is necessary. This very difficultly, often requires language that isn’t fraught with tones of crisis…we need to drive the Dismissive group out of positions of power in our government, stop the flow of their donations into our political parties, and find smarter ways to engage with them in the media, including social media.”
The book continues in the same vein with appeals for us to use various emotions in this process. Huntley’s chapter headings give an idea of what is required. Early examples include ones such as ‘The Problem of Reason’ and “Start being Emotional or the importance of feelings over facts’. Following comes headings such as ‘Anger or how to turn anger into activism’, and ‘Hope’ and ‘Despair’. I have strong sympathies with much of this and in particular see hope as the antidote to despair. Too much pessimism may lead straight to a ‘why bother’ or ‘I can’t do anything’ syndrome – almost as bad as ‘denialism’. The work of Huntley also helps us understand the ‘tribalism’ in politics, and the recent US elections in particular.
To me the most important chapter in the book is the last, which gives plenty of practical advice. It starts with the sentence “Climate Change is one of the hardest topics to talk about…” and then states that this is exactly what we must do. Huntley then lists eleven principles as guidelines to discussion, the first of which is “focus on local issues” and the last “encourage a form of active hope”. She then elaborates on nine personal rules she follows, starting with “Listen and Understand” and “Talk About It” and concluding with “Vote if you can” and “Find your own Climate Story”. Under her “Vote” advice she adds “don’t forget to tell your local politicians what you’re doing.” There is a copy in the East Gippsland Shire Library.