A conversation between a climate scientist and a climate change denialist often ends in a stalemate. A bot can help.
A conversation between a climate scientist and a climate change denialist often ends in a stalemate. However, as we get better at understanding the psychology of human interactions, more productive ways forward open up.
In their CliMate conversation coach, the David Suzuki Foundation aims to foster meaningful dialogue about the climate. Although this is not the first attempt of this kind, it is certainly one of the more promising ones.
Bringing together knowledge gained from psychology and online communication, the team tried to recreate the experience of actually talking to somebody who lives on the opposite side of the climate story. Are you a climate advocate? Let’s try talking to a climate denialist without accusations and evidence overload. And if you’re more of a climate skeptic, the tool will help you to avoid rushing headlong into “climate change is a hoax” territory so you can hear the story from the other side.
At the basis of the chatbot is the “conversation cycle” developed by Smart Politics, a U.S.-based non-profit. The cycle has five stages and aims to build common ground for conversation. Starting from asking and listening, it moves on to reflecting, agreeing and sharing stories that matter.
This way, different sides can hear arguments that are often much more personal, direct and locally rooted that global apocalyptic narratives. Thus, if the speakers are actually up for a conversation the tool can help them find common ground.
The chatbot does a great job at preventing common pitfalls like “97% of scientists agree that climate change is real” or “you won’t stop driving a car even if the climate is changing”. It also provides a relevant rationale for choosing a particular response in each case and a great framework to see the emotional perspective and hear the story of the other person.
As the creator note about the purpose of the chatbot: “This isn’t about winning an argument; it’s about learning to have productive conversations based on common ground and shared values”.
With all its benefits, CliMate remains only an introduction to effective communication on a controversial topic and serves as a reminder that a story may be better than a thousand facts. And while common ground is just the start of a journey, it can boost our hope and improve our chances for a better future, which is something the chatbot effectively does.