Depolarizing the Conversation around Climate Change

By Natasha Pye

When was the last time you talked about climate change at the dinner table? Unless you’re working at the Pembina Institute, climate change does not often come up in conversation. Especially here in Alberta. It’s an incredibly polarizing topic touching on issues of livelihoods, internalized guilt, and most of all, politics.

How do we communicate about climate change in a way that resonates with Albertans and Albertan values to depolarize and depoliticize this conversation?

From this question, the Alberta Narratives Project was born. Partnering with Climate Outreach, one of the world’s leading climate change communicators, the Alberta Narratives Project is likely the largest citizen social science project on climate change communication to date. The goal of this project is to find language and narratives that resonate with a broad spectrum of Albertans.

As part of my summer internship with the Pembina Institute’s Calgary office, I had the opportunity to work on the Alberta Narratives Project, helping run focused discussion groups and conduct initial analysis on the findings of these groups.

One unique aspect of this research was how these discussion groups were run. We knew the importance of hearing a diverse range of perspectives, and of equal importance, we needed the honest opinions of Albertans. To create an environment for participants to feel comfortable sharing their views, each discussion group aimed to be as homogenous as possible. We had discussion groups made up solely of artists, renewable energy leaders, students, environmentalists, small-c conservatives, farmers, oil and gas workers, etc. so that we could listen and better understand how people feel and talk about thesetopics. The real strength of this research was its breadth: over 50 of these groups were hosted across the province.

Representing the Pembina Institute at the Canadian Solar Conference as part of my internship

Assisting with these discussion groups really made me reflect on the discussions our PLLC forums had each week. PLLC forums are designed to be as diverse as possible, which means we are sometimes timid to disagree, or the discussion turns into a debate. It was interesting to see how comfortable strangers got with each other in these discussion groups when there was strong common ground and sense of identity.

I can also see how societal echo chambers are created so easily.

This experience has opened my eyes to the world of communications — it is so much more than just what is said, but how it’s said and arguably more importantly, who says it. We need to stop asking people to be different than who they are, and rather start conversations based on what they care about.

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