Book review: How to talk about climate change

Review by Third Fuse writer Phil McNamara

Have you ever avoided talking about climate change with your family, friends or colleagues because it makes you feel uncomfortable? It has to be one of the most difficult subjects to talk about. It is complex, political and can be emotionally draining. Rebecca Huntley’s new book, How to talk about climate change in a way that makes a difference, will help you understand why people feel the way they do about climate change and will equip you to talk about it with the people around you.

The essentials:

Title: How to talk about climate change in a way that makes a difference
Author: Rebecca Huntley
Date Published: 2020
Published by: Murdoch Books, an imprint of Allen & Unwin
Genre: Non-fiction / psychology / climate change
Availability: Widely available both online and in stores


This book is not intended to provide the facts about climate science. But it does start from the stand-point, and rightly so, that there is consensus amongst climate scientists that our climate is rapidly changing due to human activities. It also acknowledges that the majority of Australians agree that more needs to be done to adapt and mitigate its effects. But there are barriers to this. What is the intention of this book is to give the reader a better understanding of the social and psychological factors that underpin our, mostly slow, response to climate change. It argues that talking about the science is not enough. In order to talk about climate change in a useful way we need to understand the emotional forces that shape our discussion. This includes guilt, fear, anger, denial, despair, hope, loss and love.


Rebecca Huntley draws upon the findings of her research, and research from around the world, on the various emotions that affect the way we talk about climate change. She also draws upon her own emotional responses, and those of community leaders, school children, climate scientists, climate sceptics and, importantly, people already severely impacted by a rapidly changing climate. These reflections are tightly woven into each chapter and give context to the research she describes. This makes this book easy to read and easy to follow because we can always relate to the examples provided. There is also lots of well placed humour in this book. And the writing very often feels real because the author has lived those emotional responses herself.

How to talk about climate change in a way that makes a difference was also surprisingly uplifting for me. Climate change is a topic normally drenched in negativity. I often have negative thoughts about the current and future impacts on our community. I also get angry at the lack of local and global action. No doubt many people, including climate sceptics, feel similarly negative about the subject. As someone that doesn’t particularly like talking about climate change, this book made me see there is a pathway through those negative feelings. By understanding our emotional responses to the issue, we will feel more confident in having those conversations with others.

One of the surprising aspects of the book is how I found myself responding to each chapter. You’d think that chapters on guilt, loss and anger would send you spiralling into despair (which is another chapter heading). Similarly, you might think that chapters on hope and love would have some sense of positivity about them. As Rebecca Huntley points out, each of these emotions can have an upside and a downside to the way we talk about climate change. Context is everything.

“A message about climate change that tries to inspire hope and resolve in one person may in fact provoke fear and anger in another, despair in their friend and indifference in their neighbour” (page 65).

There is no one way of delivering a climate change message.

The author clearly sees this book as one to help people advocate for action on climate change. But I think it has wider appeal. Whether you are an outspoken advocate for doing something about climate change, disengaged from the topic, a sceptic or someone that sits back quietly wanting government’s to act, readers will benefit from understanding why they and others think the way they do about climate change. It may even dispel some assumptions you have about climate advocates, climate sceptics, politicians and religions. It is an engaging read that will help readers talk about climate change and help build community-led pathways to action. This can only be a good thing for creating consensus on what we all want for the future.

About the author:

Rebecca Huntley is one of Australia’s most experienced social researchers. She is the former director of The Mind and Mood Report, the longest running measure of the nation’s attitudes and trends. Rebecca Huntley holds degrees in law and film studies and a PhD in gender studies. She is also a mum to three young children. It was realising she is part of the problem older generation that caused her change of heart and to dedicate herself to researching our attitudes to climate change. She is a member of Al Gore’s Climate Reality Corps, carries out social research for NGOs such as The Wilderness Society and WWF, and writes and presents for the ABC. This is her sixth book.

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