Talk to Your Neighbors About Climate Change

BY ON July 1, 2015

Neighbors talking over a fence - maybe about climate change.

Do you wish you could get more people to feel like you do about climate change and the need for strong regulations to stop air pollution and reduce our exposure to toxic chemicals?

According to surprising research published in the journal Environment and Behavior, if you want to recruit those folks, start with your neighbors, not your family!


In part, it’s because many families share a “group think” mindset and similar, long-standing habits that aren’t easy to change: Call it the “This is the way my parents did it…” syndrome.

But it also has to do with the fact that living in a community that is NOT your family affords the opportunity to interact socially with different people, hear new perspectives, and even “lessen the distorting pull of media representation and social inequality on consumer expectations,” write the University of Vermont’s Thomas Macias and Kristin Williams, the study’s authors.

In other words, connecting with your neighbors at potlucks, block parties, kids’ soccer games, or back-to-school night may be more “mind-broadening” than trying to win over family members who are locked in to their beliefs and lifestyle.

The research bears this out. For example, reported the Washington Post, people in the study who spent more “social evenings with neighbors” were more inclined to “use less water,” “buy chemical-free produce,” “use less household energy” and “drive less.” In contrast, people who spent more “social evenings with relatives” were less likely to cut back on driving and were also less willing to sacrifice for the environment by paying higher taxes or higher prices for various consumer objects.

What does this mean if you’re trying to increase the ranks of local activists who will join your initiatives to reduce climate change and improve air quality? By all means, don’t give up on your brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins or parents. I know from my own experience that my relatives used to think I was pretty extreme; now they sing my praises for being on the forefront of sustainability, and they all want me to know how much they’re recycling, biking, and changing out their light bulbs!

On the other hand, it took about 30 years for them to see the light.

Meanwhile, my friends and neighbors have been the ones who have not only understood the importance of safe energy and clean air, but they’ve inspired me to do more, too. The neighbors across the street put a sign in their window saying, “Powered with wind energy” long before I did – and it sure made me feel like I better get on with it!

Yes, you can increase your ranks. But you may have better success if you start with the folks you run into when you’re walking the dog or browsing a yard sale rather than your Uncle Bob.

You can also increase your visibility in your community so concerned citizens know where to find you. Why not set up a Moms Clean Air Force information table at the next block party, street fair or kids’ event and discuss the issues with your neighbors? Here’s how to join our team!

Please feel free to leave a comment below telling us about an event in your area where you’d like to share the Moms Clean Air Force message. Thank you!


TOPICS: Activism, Climate Change