Nonviolent Communication™ and Climate Change

“Our survival as a species depends on our ability to recognize that our well-being and the well-being of others are in fact one and the same.”

Marshall B. Rosenberg, PhD.

To be clear, we at PuddleDancer Press believe climate scientists when they say we must reverse the course of human-generated climate change or face devastating consequences as individuals, families, communities, and as a civilization.

Because we live in a time of disinformation and media manipulation, facts are as important as ever.

That said, we offer an update to the old adage, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” More importantly than who you know, it’s the quality of the relationship with who you know!

There’s another expression in the English language that makes sense here: “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

The other person is much more likely to be willing to see your point of view if and when they trust that they also matter, rather than seeing you as someone approaching them with an adversarial energy.

Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D. said social change is “any given number of NVC conversations.” Talking about important issues with a family member or co-worker is one thing. What if you could gain access to someone in a position of power? How would you make a brief meeting as constructive as possible? NVC gives you the tools!

Even with an issue as big and complex as climate change, Nonviolent Communication gives us the best chance at getting on the same page so that we can work together.

The Importance of Communicating About Climate Change Nonviolently

One of the failures of the environmental movement over the last 50 years has been thinking that if we simply give people enough information and data, that that will motivate them into action.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t work. The finger wagging environmentalist trying to motivate other people through shame or guilt is practically a cliche.

When people are motivated by shame or guilt, they will resist and resent it.

It also doesn’t bring them any closer to the deeper reasons for why a particular action is important; they’re just on the receiving end of a guilt trip or being shamed for their actions.

Furthermore, nobody — including climate activists and people concerned about the environment — needs more enemies than they already have.

Rather than alienating potential allies — and everybody is necessary here — we connect with people by reaching them where they’re at in terms of what is important to them. In NVC we refer to this as values or needs (Universal Human Needs).

NVC can help us transform relationships and get heard by the most unlikely people in ways that they will be able to hear our message without also hearing that we are guilting or shaming them. By communicating about climate change non-violently, we are less likely to push people away and leave them turned off in relation to environmentalists and environmental causes.

The changes that need to happen in relation to climate change are necessary at all levels. They include revamping our economic system, new laws, and equally importantly, the fabric of our human community.

Overcome the Barriers of Effective Communication on Important Issues

How do we overcome the barriers to effective communication on important issues? And, what are these barriers in the first place?
The barriers to effective communication include:

  • diagnosing,
  • criticizing,
  • name-calling,
  • avoiding responsibility (including blame),
  • placing demands on others,
  • justification of reward and punishment, and
  • the ways in which we motivate or try to coerce others through fear, guilt, shame, duty, and obligation to get a reward and/or avoid punishment.

In NVC we overcome these barriers by talking about ourselves and what is important to us, rather than resort to blame or name-calling.

Effective communication also means that, rather than tell people why and how they are wrong, we can empathize with the deeper needs behind their choices or their view, while remembering that empathy does not mean agreement.

This last point is important: empathy is not agreement.

Empathy simply means I give the other person the experience of being understood.

Once the other person feels heard for their deeper needs, then we can come back and share what our concerns are based on what’s important to us.

It doesn’t need to turn into a personal argument or a competition of who’s right and who’s wrong. Rather than place demands or coerce others, we make doable, actionable concrete requests — another hallmark of effective communication.

The Importance of Nonviolent Communication in the Climate Change Discussion

When people say “my view is the only correct one” — whether these are climate change activists or climate change deniers — possibilities for dialogue and mutually agreeable outcomes are diminished.

This is not to say that there aren’t actual facts, nor that the facts aren’t important.

The point is that we can approach these discussions more strategically and therefore more effectively. By not putting “being right” or “changing somebody’s mind” above the relationship, we are more likely to preserve the relationships, which in itself could have positive repercussions in the future. Preserving the relationships means that we are avoiding alienating potential allies while also expanding our network of allies.

For example, I can have a discussion with someone about climate change and let’s say that I’m not successful in changing their mind. If that person leaves the conversation thinking I’m an unkind person or with a story that all people who care about climate change are jerks, it will be much harder for them to change their mind later. Even if they do change their mind later, when I run into them they may still have this negative impression about me which reduces the possibilities between us.

On the other hand, let’s say I have a conversation in which I did not change someone’s mind, but they walk away having experienced a positive connection with me despite our having different views. In this scenario, there’s every possibility I might be able to change their minds later. Or if they open up to a new perspective on their own, but we run into each other later, the positive association might still be there which means that the possibility of mutually satisfying outcomes will still be available.

One of the elements of global issues like climate change and species extinction is that we will be more effective as humanity if we can find ways to get on the same page and find common ground without coercing one another.

Communicate Nonviolently to Find a Common Ground that Benefits All Parties

NVC works by helping people see each other as human beings and to connect with each other’s humanity by using the language of Universal Human Needs.

The needs themselves are universal and do not refer to specific actions, tactics, or strategies.

If we can take the time to connect with what’s important to the other person at that deeper level, and to express our needs in a way that people can hear, then we can be connected at that universal level of needs.

Only after what is important to each of us is up on the surface does it make practical sense to explore actions, strategies, or tactics that could satisfy all the needs.

Once we’re connected, we come up with better solutions and strategies.

If we fail to find common ground, then we are destined to continue to fight it out at the voting ballot or in the courts without making headway to achieve a sense of “shared reality” about what is actually happening on the planet.

NVC excels at helping us find the common ground that leads to solutions of mutual benefit.

Momentum, the tyranny of time, and protective use of force

While it’s always more effective, more enjoyable, and more advisable to create connection first and try to get on the same page, there are situations in which we need to use force in order to protect life.

Dr. Marshall Rosenberg made the distinction between punitive use of force and protective use of force.

Punitive use of force — the word punitive has the same root as the word to punish — is about who’s right and who’s wrong so that we know who deserves to be punished.

Protective use of force is using physical force, or other kinds of unilateral actions, in a way that protects life, while still showing care and compassion for all people concerned.

A simple example would be the following: If I’m in the city with my one year-old, and they start running into the street, I’m not going to have a dialogue to try to get on the same page about the danger of cars.

I’m going to snatch up my child, out of the middle of the street, with my physical strength, against their will.

But here’s the big difference:

If I’m in a punitive mindset, I might say, “You bad little boy! That was stupid! Now daddy needs to spank you so you learn about cars!”

But if I’m in a mindset of protective use of force, I can still have a lot of feelings, I’m just not criticizing, dehumanizing, or putting anybody down.

I can take my child out of the street, and with a lot of emotion still say, “Oh my gosh! Daddy was scared and really wants you to be safe from cars!” I’m not judging or putting anybody down. This is a simple example of protective use of force.

Climate change presents us with several dilemmas, including the pressure of time, and the problem of momentum.

One way to explain the problem of momentum is this:
Let’s say that you’re driving a compact car on the freeway, but you know your brakes have a 2-second delay before they respond. You’re going to press on the brakes and you have to two whole seconds before they even start working!

That would probably change the way you drive. You might give the cars in front of you a little more distance because you have that 2-second lag time before the brakes will engage.

Now imagine that you’re driving a heavy semi-trailer on the freeway at 70 miles an hour, and instead of 2 seconds your brakes have a 30-second delay. When you push the brakes nothing will happen for 30 seconds, and only then will they begin to respond.

This is one of the issues with climate change. 2020 saw the most active hurricane season on record in the Atlantic. While scientific understanding continues to improve, scientists estimate that current climate change is being powered by emissions from 10 to 20 years ago.

So even if we “hit the brakes” on emissions and dramatically change course as a civilization, there’s a rather significant delay before those changes will take effect.

Climate change is not an issue with which humanity has the luxury of time.

Climate change is an issue in which we — each of us individually but more importantly, collectively — need to take massive action to avoid catastrophe.

Many people believe that the powers that be may need to take protective use of force or unilateral actions in order to protect life on the planet.

As humans, we need to work as fast as possible to get on the same page about what are the facts and what is the best course of action.

If we can all get on the same page, then we can mobilize together in a coordinated effort which will be much more effective than someone in power making the choice for us.

Marshall Rosenberg on the Role of Healthy Communication About Climate Change

Dr. Marshall Rosenberg used to say that positive social change was equivalent to any given number of transformative conversations. This is especially true if we can gain access to people who have their hands on the levers of power. How do we make even a brief conversation have the most positive and beneficial impact?

Dr. Rosenberg was also concerned that if all we do is give people empathy, we might be helping them feel better within a dysfunctional system. In other words, Dr. Rosenberg did not want NVC used merely as an analgesic!

Dr. Rosenberg saw the potential humans have for creating systems and structures that liberate, support, and empower people.

And he saw how humans would stop destroying our very own life support systems if we only saw the cost and were presented viable alternatives.

Dr. Rosenberg spent five decades mediating conflicts and training others in his methodology for resisting the inner pull toward violence, humanizing ourselves and others, finding common ground, and deepening personal and professional relationships for the benefit of all.

PuddleDancer Press NVC and Climate Change Books

PuddleDancer Press is the foremost proponent and publisher of books on Nonviolent Communication, climate change, and positive social transformation.

NVC has shown time and again that human beings are capable of arriving at mutually crafted solutions which lead to better outcomes.

Because of the inherent trust-building process — and the fact that co-created solutions include everyone’s buy-in — using NVC to inform our political systems and processes will give us far more effective outcomes that meet a greater number of needs and are more durable.

Human beings need to become skilled and capable at cooperation and collaboration if we are going to become effective at handling global-scale issues such as climate change. NVC gives us such tools!

Our books on Nonviolent Communication can help you:

  • Create exceptional personal and professional relationships,
  • Offer compassionate understanding to others,
  • Know when and how to ask for that same understanding for yourself,
  • Prevent and resolve misunderstandings and conflicts,
  • Speak your truth in a clear, powerful way more likely to lead to harmony than conflict,
  • Create mutual understanding without coercion,
  • Co-create systems and structures that contribute to life.

Whether you are a long-time student, or are brand new to NVC, PuddleDancer Press has the educational resources to help you grow your emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills, and communication prowess.

Check out our catalog of books… and give yourself the gift of Compassionate Communication!

Books Related to Climate Change

NVC Climate Change Web Resources

Click here for Marshall Rosenberg Climate Change Articles
Click here for Marshall Rosenberg Climate Change Videos
Click here for Nonviolent Communication Climate Change Articles
Click here for Nonviolent Communication Climate Change Videos

There is a wealth of information on Nonviolent Communication – in articles and videos. Of course we endorse all of Marshall’s sharing’s, however, there are many transcripts and videos created by others. Due to limited resources we do not verify the full accuracy of any particular video or articles created by others, even though there is plenty of wonderful and educational information on the web.,